Marcus Casel graduated from EU in 1989 with a BBA, before staying on to complete his MBA in 1990. Since then, he has gone through many management positions before joining Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeitet (GIZ), where he has been an eminent figure in the business of humanitarianism for the past 18 years.
Hi Marcus, good to hear from you. Tell us about the mission of the company, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeitet (GIZ).
As a federal enterprise, we support the German Government in achieving its objectives in the field of international cooperation for sustainable development. GIZ operates in many fields: economic development and employment promotion; governance and democracy; security, reconstruction, peace-building and civil conflict transformation; food security, health and basic education; and environmental protection, resource conservation and climate change mitigation.
Most of our work is commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, but we do operate on behalf of other German ministries, such as the Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry for the Environment and Nature Conservation, among others; and governments of other countries, European Union Institutions, the United Nations and the World Bank. Our considerable experience with networks in partner countries and in Germany is a key factor for successful international cooperation, not only in the business, research and cultural spheres, but also in civil society.
The company invests in their employees and assures that they will be more effective and experienced within the years.
You have held seven positions within GIZ. Why so many changes?
Our job positions are always related to the duration of a project and one does not always arrive at the first phase of a project, especially since different expertise is needed at different moments of a program. Furthermore, GIZ has a very effective talent management system which implicates that our experts should change posts regularly (one job is for two to five years) and we follow a capacity building plan which includes annual training and various seminars for each staff member. The high-quality and specialized expertise of our work is our main key to success and continuous growth. Therefore, the company invests in their employees and assures that they will be more effective and experienced within the years.
I am currently working on a project whose focus is “innovation, regional economic development and employment”. Within that project I am responsible for a component which works on innovation and employment. On the innovation side I work with selected industries and consult with my team on strategic marketing and human resources management issues in order to improve the economic situation of selected companies and sectors. At the same time we run capacity building measures for local consultants so that we can reach more enterprises and industrial sectors with our services. Due to our capacity building the services will remain available even without or after the end of our program. Strategies and concepts for economic development and multiplication strategies/concepts are developed with our client, the Tunisian ministry of industry and mines.
Governmental organizations are often criticized for their performance in development aid. What would you say to those who doubt the ability of governments in this role?
First of all we need to clarify that GIZ is a limited liability company and has to work under these economic conditions. However, while it is 100% state owned, all its actions and financial results are checked by the German government as well as by external international chartered accountants. This gives a maximum transparency to all sides and our clients. As explained at the company’s profile, we work for governments, ministries and for the private sector which makes it different to regular government organizations.
It also needs to be clarified that GIZ advises people and institutions locally. We are not financial backers, but consultants. In addition, we qualify our partners in project and financial management. This applies to public authorities, but also for companies or NGOs.
As most “structures” working within our field we often face critical questions about international cooperation for sustainable development, about development cooperation or about GIZ itself – from politicians, from the media, and from friends and acquaintances. Asking questions about the purpose of international cooperation and development cooperation is important and appropriate. After all, it absorbs large sums of taxpayers’ money. However, the criticism is often mixed with preconceptions and prejudice. So the main question remains what development actually does and if it has in spite of the high sums of money led to any improvement in the countries concerned. For example, in Africa at the beginning of the 1970’s only 20% of the population had access to clean water. It’s over 60% today and the proportion of children who have completed primary school has increased from 63% in 1990 to 83% in 2005. These results are the joint efforts of many different actors.
How can humanitarian organizations be profitable?
I believe that profit can only be measured in impact for humanitarian organizations. They mainly operate on a non-profit basis and reaching an annual break-even point is the main financial objective. They are strongly dependent on external funding such as governmental support, private donations, industry “CSR” projects, philanthropy, foundations (i.e. Bill & Melinda Gates, Rockefeller, Ford, Aga-Kahn Foundation etc.).
GIZ also offers a wide range of payable services and expertise to governments and the private sector. For example, various countries from the Gulf region demand the services and expertise of GIZ and there is full payment. However, even for a big player like GIZ the main client remains the German government and its different structures.
What do you see as the main humanitarian threat to the world at the moment?
Apart from war, natural disasters and the very poor who still struggle to satisfy their basic needs I believe that the biggest threat is weak education systems which do not permit young people to have a positive vision for their future, life planning and minimal financial security. As you might realize, I am not even talking about financial liberty.
Young people, with a low level of education and without prospects will easily follow people who promise them a better life and some respect in the “community”. This means that they could be instrumentalized by these so-called leaders, to fight or act on or against religious beliefs, racial differences, gender differences etc. Furthermore, it needs to be taken into consideration that the young generations are those who are supposed to run the future economy of their countries. Certainly, there is a privileged and well educated minority – not to call them elite – who run companies or join politics but the important part of society – a kind of a middle-class, where creative and innovative people work and create new processes and products which favor the development of a private sector, is often nonexistent or weak.
Have a look at the Maghreb. The young generation is torn between rather liberal thoughts and goods of the western world and strong traditional structures in their countries. Only a few manage to find the right balance between those different worlds without offending one side or the other. At the same time they face youth unemployment rates of 35% and higher. Their chances to get a job abroad are extremely limited due to language and administrative limitations. Finally, this results in a huge crowd of young and mainly dissatisfied people who will not remain calm on the long run. Security and peace in these regions is a benefit for the EU and indeed the rest of the world. Countries rich in natural resources such as oil and gas can keep their population calm by spending on public issues (i.e. Algeria) – but this is not a long-term solution and never will be in any country.
What is the most valuable thing you learned at EU which has helped you in your career?
In my case it started a little earlier at the Institut auf dem Rosenberg, a Swiss boarding school, and continued at EU. Besides the good curricula, the multicultural aspect allows you to easily learn to integrate in different teams and understand why people from different parts of the world might prioritize or do things differently. Whatever might be great for a central European country could be a disaster somewhere else in this world and it has been most valuable for me to permanently look at challenges from different angles with a different view. It helps me to take different best practice strategies from different countries and cultural backgrounds and to develop a strategy and its implementation plan in a tailor-made way to the specific needs of our international client. It has also been of great value that most EU lecturers had a professional career in their field of expertise before they started lecturing.
What is the most valuable thing that you learned in the first year of your professional career?
The most valuable strategy was to find a very experienced person within the company who finally acted as a mentor or coach on a confidential basis. This can only be someone with whom there is absolutely no professional competition. During the years I found the right ones and I’ve learned and improved permanently. Today I often happen to be the mentor but I am still surrounded by experienced colleagues which permits me to improve my knowledge and management tools on different issues in different situations. However, today it is more a win-win situation between colleagues.
Last but not least – you are only as good as your team is.
Thanks very much Marcus!