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Interview with Gérard Wolf, Sustainable City Federator

Gérard Wolf is the Sustainable City “Federator” at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, President of the Sustainable City Task Force at MEDEF International, and also a qualified personality within the Sustainable City by France Board. 

SCbF – Could you tell us about the genesis of the role of Sustainable City Federator? 

Since 2012, there has been a support system for exports structured around priority sectors (currently: agri-food, renewable energy, cultural and creative industries, health, and sustainable cities). This approach essentially involves a public-private partnership between the State and a personality from the public and private sectors appointed by the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs. This “Federator” has a triple role of advising, representing, and coordinating operations to promote French expertise in priority markets abroad. Since the second term of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency, several Federators have joined their respective ministries – such as the Ministry of Agriculture or the Ministry of Culture. The government wanted to strengthen its action in two truly priority sectors worldwide: health and cities. 

Since 2016, I have been responsible for supporting the sustainable city sectors internationally. It is a sector where France has expertise and strong economic positions throughout the entire “value chain” of the city. My goal, as the Sustainable City Federator, is to bring together decision-makers from diverse backgrounds – including operators (companies of all sizes wishing to expand internationally), all the actors of Team France Export (Bpifrance, Business France, Sustainable City by France, Fnau, FMDV, etc.), funders, and representatives of France in international bodies. For example, to bring them together, I have supported the creation of local “sustainable city” clubs in some countries at a decentralized level (currently about fifteen clubs). All these actors have priorities and geographic areas of intervention that may differ, but they share a common DNA: the desire to promote the French sustainable city sector. Collaborating when the opportunity arises is generally a winning strategy internationally! 

SCbF – How does the Sustainable City Task Force at MEDEF International and the Sustainable City by France ecosystem, in which you are a qualified personality, intersect? 

The Sustainable City Task Force at MEDEF International, which I chair, brings together 420 companies of all sizes operating throughout the value chain (construction, transportation, sanitation, etc.). Its role is to offer French expertise on cities to foreign interlocutors. It positions itself as a tool for promoting the French vision of the sustainable city, particularly emphasizing one of its particularities: inclusivity (both environmental and economic and social). As for its four pillars of action, they are design and engineering, inclusive mobility, resilience of networks and services, and “know-how with.” This is reminiscent of the four pillars – sobriety, resilience, inclusion, and creativity – of Sustainable City by France! 

The Sustainable City Federator’s central mission, as I mentioned, is to bring together the various decision-makers in the sector. As part of my mission, I have established an international steering committee (COPIL International), a place for exchange and strategic consultation between key players in the sustainable city sector. This includes, of course, operators who bring together companies, such as Business France or MEDEF, or who promote public-private synergies, such as Sustainable City by France. 

Therefore, my “three roles” (Sustainable City Federator, President of the MEDEF International Task Force, and qualified personality of Sustainable City by France) overlap in many aspects, as demonstrated, for example, by my participation in the recent World Urban Forum in Katowice, Poland, from June 26 to 30, 2022, where I attended as the Federator, and where both the MEDEF International Task Force and Sustainable City by France were represented. 

SCbF – What are your priorities for your mandate until 2024, and what perspectives do you identify for the international mission of Sustainable City by France? 

When I was reappointed as the Sustainable City Federator this year, the mission letter I received was co-signed for the first time by Mr. Olivier Becht (Minister Delegate for Foreign Trade, Attractiveness and French Nationals Abroad) and Catherine Colonna (Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France), which demonstrates the interest given to promoting the sustainable city sector by both ministers. 

My missions will revolve around four priority geographical areas until the end of my mandate: Latin America (particularly Brazil), ASEAN countries, Africa, and Central Asia… without forgetting countries that need us, such as Lebanon or Ukraine, to continue the work on the participation of French companies in the restoration of essential services. However, the roadmap entrusted to me leaves room for imagination, and the directions to follow will be co-constructed with the members of the International Steering Committee. 

As for Sustainable City by France, I am delighted with the efforts made from the beginning to structure international action around the four sectors (state, local authorities, private experts, and companies). The added value of the association lies in involving public decision-makers (the state and local authorities) alongside private actors on our international subjects and playing on complementarity and common synergies with other actors such as the PFVT (French Partnership for the City and Territories). In this regard, the association’s increased expertise in international matters has strengthened the French landscape of sustainable cities for export, and that’s great news! This young association already demonstrates its great usefulness domestically and in promoting our expertise abroad, thanks to the dynamism of its team! 

About Solène

Mission Officer, Working Group, and Projects. Student at the Urban School of Sciences Po Paris, focusing on the ecological transition of cities.

About Quentin

Motivated by climate issues and planetary boundaries, Quentin decided to study land use planning at the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. His experience in associative field at the Fresque du Climat, helped him to better understand the stakes of the ecological bifurcation. Between his native Haute-Savoie and his home town Rennes, where he gained expertise in mobility and sustainable agriculture, he is now based in Paris to deploy the Sustainable City by France’s territorial workshops throughout the country.

About Alice

After five years’ study at Sciences Po Lyon, with a specialization in territorial transitions, Alice joined Sustainable City by France (France Villes et territoires Durables). She actively contributes to the deployment of the association’s territorial workshops and working groups.
See her LinkedIn profile 
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Currently studying as a second-year Master’s student in International Relations at University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Tara holds a Bachelor’s degree from INALCO, with a double-major in Hindi language, and International relations / Environmental studies. Her work with us is in line with her former experiences at UNESCO and the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, thus deepening her professional expertise in the field of environmental diplomacy and international cooperation for sustainable development.

See her LinkedIn profile

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She holds a Master’s degree in Development Economics from the Panthéon-Sorbonne University and is currently studying for a Master’s degree in International Relations and Action Abroad at the same university. She approaches the problems of sustainable cities and territories through these different perspectives and her international experiences.

About Isabelana

Isabelana is a Mexican journalist who holds a Master’s degree in Digital Communication and Data Analysis from the Sorbonne University. She previously worked in communication and press relations in the cultural sector in France and Mexico. Today, she is interested in ecological actions and solutions to preserve the environment and the biodiversity.

About Camille

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With a background in social sciences, art history and architecture, Camille has worked in communication within the VINCI group: from major international projects to La Fabrique de la Cité, a think tank dedicated to urban foresight.

About Alexandra

A geographer by training (Saint Petersburg State University), she started as a geographer and economist at the Academy of Agricultural Economics (Russia), before pursuing her career in France as an administrative and accounting assistant (Air Liquide, Association TGV Provence Côte d’Azur, COFHUAT, Groupe Hervé)

About Marion

Trained in international and European affairs between England and France as part of a double degree at Sciences-Po Lille / University of Kent, Marion started her career in advocacy and institutional relations of non-governmental organisations, in the fair trade sector (Max Havelaar France label). Her experiences are also linked to territories, with a passage in decentralised cooperation at the level of a departmental council.

About Sébastien

Before joining the SCbF team, he held several positions in local government management. From elected official and deputy mayor of his native city Besançon, in charge of university relations and international cooperation, to Director of Economic Development of the City of Pantin, to Chief of staff in Montreuil – where he notably piloted the in-depth redesign of the urban project towards more ecology and sustainable development – he continued his career as Senior Resilience Officer of the City of Paris.
He promotes a holistic and systemic vision of sustainable development and brings his expertise in territorial resilience, ecological and social transition.
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