Bernadia Irawati Tjandradewi: Mutual Learning between Asia-Pacific Cities Boosts Common Prosperity

“We should consider how to replicate those excellent innovation practices in other parts of Asia and Pacific,” said Bernadia Tjandradewi, the Secretary General of UCLG ASPAC, “this is the goal of all continents, not just for one city and its residents.”

ugust 2023 – UCLG ASPAC Secretary General Bernadia Tjandradewi visited Guangzhou and attended the 2023 “The Belt and Road” Guangzhou International Forum for Hospital Cooperation and Development.

During the visit, she was interviewed by the Southern Finance Omnimedia Corp. (SFC) reporter and shared how the Guangzhou Award and Global Mayors’ Forum build a platform for urban experience exchange, transfer excellent urban innovation practices to other Asia-Pacific cities, and promote the region’s shared prosperity.

Learn Urban Governance by Observing the “Jumping Cities”

SFC: UCLG ASPAC connects more than 7,000 cities and local governments, covering more than half of the world’s population. What common challenges are these cities facing?

The Asia-Pacific region is vast, with entirely different cities like some big cities in China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and some underdeveloped regions. This situation leads to a high migration rate — large cities provide more opportunities, attracting more to move in. The considerable population brings many challenges to cities, including traffic congestion, air pollution, drinking water problems, and lack of public space and green space. There are also wealth, urban and rural, economic, educational, and digital divides.

Though there are many challenges in Asia Pacific, I am still optimistic about facing the challenges because many cities have managed to make significant changes over a relatively short period of time and effectively improve human settlement. During my visit, many local enterprises in Guangzhou shared successful initiatives and best practices, learning a lot from each other. Therefore, despite all the challenges, I see a bright future and many opportunities for cities in Asia and the Pacific to prosper. There are a lot of huge opportunities with a large number of productive ages; for example, many young populations in Indonesia and Cambodia.

SFC: What measures should Asia-Pacific cities take to address these common challenges? How should they collaborate with each other? 

We have built a strong network with support from many urban governance experts, providing better conditions for urban exchanges and sharing. The learning opportunities brought by urban development are huge because, in some cities, the speed of development and change has become faster, some even less than 10 or 15 years. Many cities can learn from their developing experiences, it is a kind of leapfrog, because they can jump, and can learn experiences and draw lessons by looking at others.

SFC: Cities must communicate and exchange valuable experiences with each other to cope with current challenges.

We share not only successful experiences but also failures because this can help cities and local governments avoid making the same mistakes. It’s essential to apply these good lessons at the local level. UCLG ASPAC empowers local governments and their employees by providing training in capacity building and is also committed to fostering exchanges between leaders so they can inspire and learn from each other to do better.

The Belt and Road Initiative Boosts the Cooperation Between Local Governments

SFC: This year marks the tenth anniversary of the joint construction of “the Belt and Road” initiative. How can the initiative help Asia-Pacific cities cope with today’s challenges and achieve sustainable development goals?

I have attended several international meetings under the framework of “the Belt and Road.” In those meetings, we discussed various topics — the initiative will bring economic vitality and infrastructure improvement to the local government and bring economic activities such as through tourism. Fundamentally, the initiative enhances connectivity, especially by emphasising communication between local governments and among Belt and Road members.

The “Belt and Road” has promoted regional exchanges and development in many ways, including economic cooperation, infrastructure development, tourism development, etc., it also facilitates discussions and collaboration in telemedicine — which was initiated by Guangzhou. The Belt and Road Initiative has generally promoted the development of various aspects in the Asia-Pacific region and greatly promoted cooperation and exchanges among local governments.

“I will rate Guangzhou Award as Excellent.”

SFC: Guangzhou has always been committed to promoting high-level opening up to the world, and through the Guangzhou Award and the Global Mayors Forum, it has unblocked the channels for mutual learning between Chinese and foreign cities. How do you evaluate these efforts in Guangzhou?

I would rate Guangzhou Award as excellent because it’s not just about collecting innovative initiatives and giving awards to specific cities or local governments but building a platform to replicate and transfer innovations to another part of the world. I also hope that more innovative initiatives can be promoted and applied in the future. 

Another important thing is that the Guangzhou Award gives attention to how those innovations are created. Though we can collect thousands of innovations, it’s important to learn how innovation starts, how it can be developed, what is the conducive environment for innovation, what certain requirements are needed, and whether it requires collaborations with different actors. These questions’ answers are important for us to inspire more urban innovation.

SFC: UCLG ASPAC has always been a close partner of the Guangzhou Award. What is your vision and expectation for future cooperation between the two organisations?

First, we should consider how we can promote those excellent innovation practices to other parts of Asia and the Pacific so that we can prosper together and improve people’s quality of life. This is the developing goal of all continents, not just for one city and its local residents.

Second, we should create forums together with Guangzhou because cities need to learn new governance experiences: why does innovation appear in this city, why do some cities have more innovation, what basic lessons can we get from them, and how to continue more and more innovation? To facilitate these aspects of learning, we need a forum, which will be held soon (the 2023 Global Mayor Forum).

Besides, we will invite the winners to the Guangzhou Award ceremony and continue to communicate with them to spread more innovative practices and inspire more urban innovations. Regular exchange is needed, and we have put a lot of information on our website. You can see how to use this knowledge and policies to promote urban transformation and development, and it can also provide references for local governments to improve governance and service levels. I think it’s something both of us should do more.