Between 1981 and 2019, Medellín strengthened its ties with 27 cities in the world. Latin America, the United States, Spain and Asia are part of the list of regions and countries with which the city seeks to project itself as a tourist destination and forge alliances that allow it to increase direct foreign investment and attract international cooperation resources.
For 40 years, the Paisa capital has embarked on a crusade to strengthen ties with cities around the world. It will change the strategy. 5 memorandums and cooperation agreements were signed by the city in 2020.
Conceived as a bilateral declaration to work on a joint agenda, twinning plays a crucial role in the international projection of the city. What is the origin of this figure? What benefits does it bring to the municipality? and how much money does it cost?
In dialogue with EL COLOMBIANO, several actors who lead this task explained some of the keys to understanding its advantages and disadvantages.
Eleonora Betancur González, executive director of the Agency for Cooperation and Investment of Medellín and the Metropolitan Area (ACI), explains that the twinning strategy is a tool that dates back to the 1940s, when the Second World War was ending; several cities began to forge alliances and overcome the devastation of the conflict.
“Just as States have exchange mechanisms, cities have also claimed that need to have dialogue without the intermediation of the national State. A proper and particular dialogue between cities ”, explains Betancur.
According to the director, although at the global level the strategy dates from approximately 1947, in the case of Medellín it would arrive almost three and a half decades later, in 1981.
During May of that year, the then mayor José Jaime Nicholls issued Decree 297, with which he formalized a twinning with the city of Fort Lauderdale, in the United States. As appears in the records, that twinning had the goal of strengthening the capacity of local emergency agencies in responding to fires.
However, it would take until 1998, some 27 years later, for the city to resume this strategy.
Twinning has been key to promoting Medellín’s internationalization strategy, a task that seeks to attract resources to support social programs and strengthen the regional economy.
The main indicator used by ACI Medellín to illustrate the success of this work is the return on investment, which compares the amount of resources used to promote these relationships with the amount of resources attracted.
In the case of national and foreign investment, for example, last year the agency calculated 381.1 million dollars attracted; and for cooperation, 4.9 million dollars.
Considering that the agency had a budget close to 5,300 million pesos last year, the data indicates that, for every peso invested in these relationships, the city received a return of 261 pesos in foreign investment.
In the case of international cooperation, for each peso invested, the city received 7 pesos.
Sandra Howard Taylor, executive director of the Bureau of Medellín, believes that twinning facilitates the development of territories and enhances sectors of the economy where there are affinities, such as tourism.
“Regarding tourism, twinning can be associated with interesting market niches for us. These cultural ties and affinities can lead to a fluid exchange of people from one destination to another, ”says Howard Taylor.
According to the Director of the Bureau, twinning and other international agreements allow the city to position itself as a relevant tourist and investment destination in other countries.
“They allow us to show a more progressive, innovative and fertile city for business generation. This creates confidence for entrepreneurs and investors and a better understanding of the city as a destination,” adds Howard.
Along with tourism, there are also other sectors of the economy and the public sector that have benefited from these relationships.
For example, according to the director of the ACI Medellín, one of the success stories is the twinning signed with Bilbao in 1998.
At the institutional level, one of the legacies of this alliance was the joint work on issues with a gender perspective, mainly in the administrative strengthening of the Secretariat for Women after its creation.
Likewise, in terms of urban planning, the Bilbao city council has provided advice to the city to replicate successful interventions.
In this case, another important example appears in the award-winning project Parques del Río, which in several components of its planning was influenced by the experience of a similar intervention developed in the Bilbao river.
Apart from Spain, other successful experiences include free scholarships that have benefited officials to train in local government and development issues.
In addition, in the case of the twinning with Fort Lauderdale, which will turn 40, the city fire department still receives advice.
Although in general terms the strategy can be very positive, Eleonora Betancur states that the tendency of main cities around the world consists in prioritizing relationships that include more concrete work plans.
Although twinning shows the intention of two or more cities to work together, these alliances need to be carefully cultivated and translated into concrete work plans, explains Betancur.
“The idea is not to sign just for the sake of signing, because sometimes they simply remain as goodwill intentions. Rather than signing, the task is to ensure that those that already exist have life, follow-up and reinforcement ”, says Betancur, who adds that there are other figures“ less eloquent, but more operative ”, as is the case of memorandums of understanding and cooperation agreements.
Although the signing of new twinnings in the coming years is not ruled out, Betancur anticipates that the city’s priority will be to strengthen the ties that already exist and seek work plans with cities that are in tune with the goals of the latest development plan.
Seeking alliances to attract technology firms and finding educational opportunities within the framework of the software valley strategy will be some of the goals.
Goals for 2021
During this year, ACI Medellín seeks to attract more resources to strengthen social programs and promote the regional economy. In terms of international cooperation, the agency will seek to encourage the arrival of 7.5 million dollars, and in terms of foreign investment, it will seek to attract 140 million dollars.
As Eleonora Betancur, director of ACI Medellín, explained, the focus during the next few years will be to strengthen alliances through memorandums of understanding and cooperation agreements. In 2020, the city signed at least 5 agreements of this type.
Within the group of cities that are projected as the most attractive, Betancur highlighted Boston (United States), with which it is intended to attract business and enhance the Software Valley Strategy.
A NEW APPROACH
Eleonora Betancur, director of the ACI Medellín, explains that, despite its success, twinning has become a strategy whose use is less frequent between cities around the world. Criticized for not turning into concrete work plans, figures such as memorandums of understanding and cooperation agreements are projected more attractive. As she explained, in the case of Medellín, unlike twinning, these types of new agreements can be structured in a more agile way, since they do not require the approval of the Council. “From now on, although we do not rule it out, the be will be not to sign so many twinning arrangements, but rather agreements that lead to more practical work plans,” said the director Betancur, for whose priority is strengthening ties with cities that allow achieving the goals of the Development Plan.
Note prepared by El Colombiano