Q: First of all, congratulations on your election. What will be your top priorities in your presidency?

A: There are a few things that we are working on. One of them is building capacity. Investment promotion agencies [IPAs] need that support, for them to be able to know how to sell or better sell their countries, and at the same time to better advocate their important roles to their countries and their governments. We saw some historical IPAs that have been closed down just because the country thought that there is no need for that, and I think we have to build both an internal capacity to let the governments understand the importance of [IPAs] to attract investment, at the same time as giving those IPAs the tools to continue their investment promotion to attract investments.

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On the other side, we are also working on developing tools for less-developed countries. And we are focusing here on a development that we started with Waipa and the Hamdan Centre for the Future of Investment. It is focused on impact FDI; we really want FDI to be focused on the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] and to do that we need to monetise the SDGs. This is what we think will add value and help to implement the SDGs; at the end of the day companies need to know that they are making money out of it. So we are trying to bring impact FDI that is economically viable.

My third focus is on the rapid change happening around new forms of investment: it is mind-blowing in terms of the new forms of investments that are coming and new types of businesses that are being established. Companies, regions, cities and countries need to really equip themselves with the new language that the world is bringing to us. In a few years’ time those new developments or new companies will be the norm, and investment agencies need to have the right language, knowledge and understanding [to engage with them] and need to to be advising their governments to create the right ecosystems, to be able to attract new forms of businesses. If not, they will lag behind.

Q: Does that mean IPAs should be thinking of restructuring and should there be different ways of measuring success for IPAs, instead of attracting a set number of projects, for example?

A: [It could mean] restructuring what they can offer and at the same time considering how to best advocate for their destinations. But they need to be ready for the changes happening and I think, in this changing world, to be able to access new investment and to have investors believe in your destination, you have to dig deep and think: ‘What is changing, and how I can equip myself, my team, my destination?’

We know smart cities are taking over and it will be for those cities to really get the most benefit [out of investment]. We do not want other destinations to be left behind. They have to have their share [of investments] as well. 

Q: This comes at a time, as you mentioned, when some IPAs have even been disbanded. This usually results from populism and protectionism. How can IPAs and organisations such as Waipa defend against these waves of protectionism we are seeing? 

A: Waipa is the voice of IPAs around the world. Sometimes governments think the best way to reduce cost is to eliminate a few government agencies, but in such times, when you want to cut costs, you also want investments.

How can you want investment when you close down [agencies with] people that have been working there for 20, 30 and sometimes more than 40 years? These are agencies with talent, with people who have been communicating the opportunities for investment, and building up the ecosystems in their countries. It is just about trying to cut costs and eliminating a few government agencies, but [these countries] will suffer later on because there is no one there to sell.