Our Perspective

capacity development

Loud and clear: Rethinking service design in Georgia

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People living with speech or hearing impairments now have more options to contact the emergency hotline. Photo: David Khizanishvili, UNDP Georgia.

On the heels of SHIFT, UNDP's Week of Innovation Action, we tried to answer some basic questions: Why do we need it all? Why should we do innovation work in development? We got our answers after a design thinking session with the national emergency hotline in Georgia.  112 is one of the most dialled phone numbers in Georgia. In 2013 alone, they received over 8 million calls. Their website lists emergency services available for children, with a video tour, and frequently asked questions for those who may need immediate help. They provide everything for everyone – except for those who cannot hear or speak.  This is because 112 is only reachable through a voice call. Those living with speech or hearing impairments simply don’t have options. To change this, 112 teamed up with our office in Georgia and the Swedish Government  to prepare a new service design – one that would be truly universal. Earlier this year, the 112 team travelled to Ireland to examine how new technology can make emergency services more accessible for the hearing and speech impaired. This was followed by a three-day design thinking workshop that brought together people with disabilities, tech specialists and civil society organizations.... Read more

Volunteering the future: A call to arms

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Photo: Zaven Khachikyan/UNDP in Armenia

How does volunteering make a difference? These days, we are trying to do development differently: to partner with less usual suspects for outside insights, and tap into local energy and initiatives. The ethos of volunteerism is exactly the same – it is not a supplement to the work we do; it is a natural component within it. And with whom do we partner up to do this? The answer, of course, is young people. They are the natural choice. To be truly inclusive though, we have to work harder to reach women, minorities, and other vulnerable groups. Volunteerism can be an essential part of that reach. Today, we have the largest cohort of youth in human history. Fifty percent of the population is below the age of 30. We cannot shape an effective response to youth matters if we do not include the voices of young people themselves.  We see ample evidence of this already happening in our region. In Belarus, young people volunteer to give free city tours to blind children; others provide orphans with clothes for harsh winters. They don’t see themselves as volunteers per se, but as citizens passionate to create infrastructures for resilience in their communities. So... Read more

The open way

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open.undp.org presents detailed information on the UNDP’s 6,000+ development projects in 177 countries and territories worldwide

Governments and public institutions such as the United Nations are trusted with huge amounts of public funds.  We have an obligation to work in a transparent way to show that what we are doing is what we should be doing. The benefits of being transparent, or “working in the open”, go beyond curbing corruption.  Transparency sets the foundation for responsive, engaged organizations. And real transparency allows for the public to have a say in the way work is being done and to take advantage of the “wisdom of the crowd.”  Transparency improves efficiency, builds trust and sparks innovation. The International Aid Transparency Initiative is creating openness in the $200 billion area of international development by giving poor countries the information they need to better manage foreign assistance, and donor governments – and their taxpayers – a better understanding of where their money goes.  It is an “open data” effort with global standards for billions in public funds that UNDP has helped launch. At UNDP, we’ve worked to champion this effort with partner countries and other UN agencies, but we’ve also worked to deliver what we ask of others.  We’ve tried hard to make our internal systems more understandable and ensure the... Read more

How well is the rich world supporting development?

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Miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mining sector is characterized by conditions of extreme danger, without any security and health framework with negative consequences for the environment. Photo: Benoit Almeras-Martino/UNDP DRC

We all know that many factors influence a country’s progress on poverty reduction and development. Policies and institutions at the domestic level are probably the most important driver. But it’s also true that the policies and actions of other countries – and especially rich and powerful nations – also influence the developing world’s development prospects. In this spirit, MDG 8 was elaborated. This MDG differs from all the others; it measures the developed world’s efforts to do things like increase development aid, cancel the debt of the poorest countries, make international trade fairer and provide access to affordable medicines. These measures, many argue, are just as important as the steps developing country governments can take at home to ‘improve their lot’. Every year, the UN monitors progress on how well the rich world is doing and launched its latest ‘update’ report recently. UNDP partners in this annual monitoring effort. So what’s the verdict? Is the rich world living up to its MDG commitments? On development aid (ODA), the report notes that, despite an increase last year, ODA still was US$180 billion short of the commitment. It’s also heavily concentrated in a few countries; in 2013, just 10 countries absorbed over 34%... Read more

Want to measure peace, governance and the rule of law? Africa may have the answer

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Peace, governance and the rule of law can be and are already being measured in Africa. Photo: UNDP in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As leaders gather in New York to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will succeed the Millennium Development Goals after 2015, Africa’s priorities must be reflected in the outcome. As is the case everywhere, sustainable development in Africa requires peace, governance and the rule of law. Earlier this year, the African Union’s 54 Member States adopted the Common African Position on the post-2015 development agenda, which emphasises the importance of promoting good and inclusive governance, fighting corruption, increasing transparency and accountability, reinforcing rule of law frameworks, strengthening institutional capacity and addressing the root causes of conflict. Encouragingly, most of these priorities were reflected in the recently agreed Outcome Document of the UN Open Working Group on SDGs. However, if this call to action is to yield meaningful results in Africa we will need better and more reliable data to guide policies, track progress, and underpin transparency and accountability. Much of Africa still has a long way to go in developing such capacity, and gaping data gaps need to be filled in the areas of peace, governance and the rule of law. We will need considerable investment to improve the quality and quantity of statistical data. Such investment should build upon... Read more

Do-it-yourself Sustainable Development: The SDGs go DIY

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Women participate in management training, part of a UNDP programme that aims to enhance the government’s effectiveness in fulfilling their mandate. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh

With the proposal for Sustainable Development Goals now available for all members of the General Assembly to consider further, the question on many of our minds is:  where to next?  Once global sustainable development goals are adopted next year, how can we best help governments, citizens, and the private sector take them from aspiration to reality? So far almost 5 million people in almost 100 countries have either voted on their priorities for a new development agenda through the MY World survey or engaged in face-to-face discussions on what is needed to improve their future. As part of our broader work supporting innovation for development (I4D), we are looking for new ways of inspiring action on these priorities. So far, some interesting approaches have emerged: Micro-narratives and qualitative research to learn more about complex issues    The World we Want consultations asked what people need for their future, engaging people who are not usually part of policy debates. For example, people living with disabilities in Belarus and youth at risk in Kyrgyzstan shared their experience through micro-narratives. This data was then used to advocate for policies better suited to meet their needs. In El Salvador the consultations provided data used to advocate... Read more

Cambodia turns climate change crisis into opportunity

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Ms. Khel Khem, a member of the Older People Association Bak Amrek village of Battambang, shows how she adapted her home garden to floods. Photo: UNDP Cambodia

Cambodia is ranked among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change. This is not only due to climate risks, but also to lack of capacity to adapt and respond.  Eighty percent of the population lives in rural areas with limited knowledge, infrastructure and opportunities; and more than 70 percent rely on agriculture that is heavily sensitive to climate change, putting the country’s economic and social development at risk. Cambodia’s efforts to fight climate change began in 1995 when the country ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and later acceded to the Kyoto Protocol in 2002. In 2006, the Cambodia national adaptation programme of action to climate change (NAPA) was developed. In late 2013, the country launched its first-ever comprehensive Climate Change Strategic Plan, recognizing climate change as a challenge to development requiring urgent and joint attention. This is the highest political commitment in combating climate change in Cambodia. Now the crucial question is “What’s next?” – How will the strategic plan be effectively implemented in order to achieve its vision and strategic goals? We, at UNDP, have been providing technical and financial support to the Government to develop climate change policies and plans. One of... Read more

The intertwining nature of national and international agendas

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Paraguay is working towards inclusive development and improving the living conditions of people in extreme poverty. Photo: UNDP Paraguay

Following more than a year of intense consultations and discussion, the Open Work Group (OWG) finalized a draft Post-2015 development agenda - an agenda to be examined by the UN General Assembly in New York. The OWG agenda sets out 17 objectives and 169 goals as key elements defining development on the international arena in the near future. The OWG proposal is quite ambitious in nature and constitutes a marked departure from the existing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): for instance, definition of the issue of inequality is very explicit, and there is an objective dealing with the promotion of peace and good governance for all countries. In August, I attended a retreat on the Post-2015 agenda organized by the Government of Paraguay. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs together with the Technical Planning Secretariat invited all government entities operating in the country to come and discuss the drafting of the proposals, as well as similarities between the OWG (the international agenda) and the draft National Plan currently under debate in the country. More than fifty institutions attended the meeting. The workshop enabled participants to confirm the similarity of both proposals, as well as to further reinforce action taken by the Paraguayan government... Read more

Crowdfunding for development: fad or future?

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Children picking olives at Ostrog Primary School which was made energy independent, through a crowfunding campaign supported by UNDP and the Kaštela Energy Cooperative. Photo: Marina Kelava/UNDP Croatia

Steady growth and, for now, no end of the trend in sight: the crowdfunding market keeps expanding across the globe. Crowdfunding describes the practice of securing funding for a specific project or business venture by a dispersed group of people with some shared interests, “the crowd”. Most crowdfunding initiatives are dependent on whether they raise the targeted amount from the crowd. If the funding goal is not met, the project will not take off. It thus differs to charitable donations which usually support the respective organization’s general mission without knowing exactly how the money will be spent. UNDP has been experimenting with philanthropic crowdfunding and has had some early successes. For example, colleagues in Croatia successfully raised $10,000 for an energy-independent school in Croatia. The sum might be fairly small but the experience showed: crowdfunding can create a buzz for development work and social causes as the unwritten rules of crowdfunding require development organizations to communicate constantly and in a non-technical jargon what concretely was achieved. UNDP has also had some experience ‘failing’ with crowdfunding initiatives. As the saying goes: “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently”. Based on lessons thus far, we developed guidance document for UNDP... Read more

Creating and sustaining ethical organizational culture

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When we speak of organizational culture, we are referring to the way people behave in the workplace, how they go about doing their work and the values that they demonstrate through their actions and decision-making. Organizational culture passes down from long serving staff to new hires and becomes embedded in how the organization operates. Thus, organizational culture is influenced and impacted not just by written regulations, rules and policies, but also by the unwritten code of ‘how we really do things around here.’ So, the organizational culture can be aligned with its stated values and policies (ethical), or it can be contradictory of those written statements (unethical). Very often, employees will do what they know is rewarded and will avoid doing what they know will be punished. To create and sustain an ethical organizational culture needs constant communication about the ethical values of the organization and ensuring that the behaviors of all leaders and staff members are aligned with those values. This requires going beyond just the written rules to reaching for the highest aspirational behavior. It means living the principles underpinning the values, even when there is no rule or where the written rule is unclear. An ethical organizational culture... Read more

Building the house of development: We can get there

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Learning to adapt to climate change in Odisha, India where women are hit hardest by the extreme weather conditions. Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/ UNDP India

As I think about the current challenges facing international development policy I find myself increasingly concerned about how we define development. We talk about “people-centered” development, but our goals still refer to society, economy and the environment as though these can be separated. To quote Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, African Development Bank Special Envoy on Gender : “Progress on key gender indicators – such as school enrollment and completion rates, maternal mortality, labour force participation, and asset ownership – also depends on investments in water, sanitation, transport, productive assets, and access to financial services.” My recent work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) taught me that, when we separate the social, the economic and the environmental, we hamper opportunity and creativity – and we may even be doing harm.  The IPCC process was committed to finding ways to express complexity and nuance by bringing together social, environmental and economic analysis. Yet currently we seem conservative rather than progressive. We need to take unprecedented action to tackle inequality at the international level, acknowledging that it is a global challenge and not just an issue for some countries or some people. Our approach must reflect countries’ unequal capacities to cope with climate change,... Read more

Development of, by, and for the people

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The UN joint programme on Youth Empowerment in Montenegro is trying to apply user-led design so that young people come up with solutions to problems they are facing. Photo: Christian Schwier/UN in Montenegro

Recently, I got a pretty awesome offer: Visit our country offices in Montenegro and Kosovo and see how they’d been doing development differently. Four weeks later I was in Pristina, then in Podgorica, and here is what I took away from my colleagues: 1. Keep momentum even in the face of disappointments and failures. New ideas require adjustments and refining. You probably heard how failure is just another stepping stone to success and how Walt Disney, Sidney Poitier, Albert Einstein all failed miserably at the start of their careers. Yet at the first sign of failure, most of us run and erase all tracks. Never be afraid to fail. 2. Don’t innovate for the sake of innovation. We have an edge over private sector companies that need to invest large sums in innovation: We have access. Access to a pool of technical expertise, good relationships with the governments hosting us, and the ability to convene people from all over the world, by virtue of our neutrality and impartiality. Innovation should only serve to complement this edge. 3. Dare to push the limits and do things differently: Innovation is not just about creating a Facebook page for our projects. In a recent campaign for social inclusion in Montenegro, the... Read more

At UNDP, innovation for development

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The Council of Cattle Holders in Kazakhstan is using new technologies to revive traditional nomadic pasture management. Photo: UNDP in Kazakhstan

On June 19, in a building of the US Senate, our UNDP Washington Representation Office participated in an Innovation Fair organized by the UN Foundation. The event was a timely success as development organizations must seek to innovate to meet stakeholders’ expectations in a fast-changing environment. Among our partners, for example, USAID runs a Global Development Lab, UNICEF works with Silicon Valley’s technology start-ups and the US Global Development Council recently proposed new social impact funds and cash-on-delivery models. UNDP has inherited a solid tradition of game-changing ideas such as the Human Development Index and continues to leverage technical, social and managerial innovation throughout its programs and operations. In Sierra Leone, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo, UNDP employs pioneering biometric voter registration techniques like fingerprint and eye scan, unique and unchangeable traits of a person, to prevent fraud and build trust in fair elections. Using mobile phone messaging, Tanzanian voters check their electoral registration status and polling station location whilst in Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, text messages provide tsunami and earthquake warning. On a global level, taking advantage of internet and mobile phone technologies, UNDP is polling people’s opinions (more than 2 million so far) to vote... Read more

Why troublemakers should work together: Ten thoughts on innovation and gender equality

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UNDP is fostering innovation to address complex problems in a new way. Photo: UNDP in Europe and CIS.

Pushing innovation and working for gender equality are a natural fit. Both necessitate the combination of causing trouble, looking at internal mechanisms, and working with non-traditional partners. Moreover, both have transformational potential. Inspired by UNDP’s current innovation agenda, we formulated some principles on innovation and gender equality. Our aim is not just to marry gender equality and innovation but to further bolster UNDP’s Guiding Principles for the Innovation Community. These 10 thoughts can hopefully provide meaningful food for thought when designing innovation initiatives around the world. 1. Start with your partners It’s been our experience that those most affected by society’s problems are often the ones who have the innovative solutions at hand. It is our job to unearth, enable and scale them. However, innovations, like everything else, are not gender-neutral. Who designs the latest gadget, website, or citizen feedback mechanism also plays a role in who will use it. Ensuring equal numbers of men and women are with us at the design table will help ensure everyone’s voice is heard. 2. What’s the bottleneck? A key component of finding innovative solutions is figuring out the problem, and then trying to find out the root causes. To do this, we must get out of... Read more

Public service isn't simple, but it matters

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Armenia established its first National Disaster Observatory for the systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of disaster data. Photo: UNDP Armenia

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark really did the organization proud during her visit to Singapore recently. She clearly and crisply outlined to the World Cities Summit why the work of the Global Centre for Public Service Excellence (GCPSE) matters. So what’s our message? It is this: If there is still anyone who is searching for simple blueprints, handy toolkits, easy answers or quick fixes to the challenges public service faces everywhere, forget it. It’s just too complex. But don’t give up just yet! We might know a few other things, too. First, we know that if your top politicians and top officials don’t collaborate, nothing is going to happen. So sort that out.  Second, before you start on about how the public service has to do this or that, ask yourself, why are they going to bother? What’s in it for them? Are they strongly motivated? Recall, too, that public service is much more than just “delivery.” The legitimacy on which government depends is in no small measure the outcome of trust in public service. So public administration has a profound importance. Citizens' perceptions of ethics in public service shape satisfaction with services, trust in governmental institutions, and citizens' attitudes to politics... Read more

How can mega-cities innovate to reduce traffic congestion?

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Infrastructure can't keep up as the number of cars on the streets of Dhaka increase at breakneck speed, slowing traffic to a crawl. Photo: Mohammad Asad/UNDP

How do the 15 million residents of the Bangladeshi capital get to work? ‘Slowly’ is the answer. It’s common for a short commute across Dhaka (let’s say 7km) to take longer than an hour through perpetually gridlocked traffic. Transport is a big problem for anyone who needs to move about in this mega-city and it affects all residents, rich and poor alike, stealing their time and exposing them to unnecessary pollution and stress every day. Dhaka’s now infamous traffic jams have been equated to a loss of US $3.86 billion in productivity each year. That’s 3.3 percent of the 2012 GDP!  So we thought we at UNDP should look into doing something about it. Now we’re avid (sometimes fanatical) supporters of public transport and cycling here at UNDP. In fact in the last few years, cycling’s caught on massively among young people! So the solution to us was clear: let’s install bus and bike lanes. Easy, job’s done, we can all go home! Right? WRONG! If that’s all it took to fix Dhaka’s choked transport system it would have been done long ago. Literally billions of dollars are being poured into transport infrastructure, but we had a feeling something might have... Read more

Development aid: where to next?

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The first High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation launched 38 new initiatives by government, business, private foundations and civil society in Mexico last month. Photo: AGCED Mexico

Last month some 1500 people from over 130 countries gathered in Mexico City for the latest international jamboree on development aid. The ‘Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation’, an OECD/UNDP-led effort  to improve aid effectiveness by encouraging better partnerships between aid donors and aid recipients, had to confront some really tough questions. Do some countries still need development aid? Does aid really work that well? And what is ‘aid’ anyway? Over the last decade, the developing world has dominated global economic growth. There are now 103 middle-income countries and the number (happily) continues to rise. Although much of the attention has been focused on the rapid economic advances made by the ‘big beasts’ of the developing world —Brazil, China and India— others are also doing well; Sub-Saharan Africa has grown at, on average, 5-6% annually over the last decade. Some developing countries have become major donors themselves, such as Mexico, Turkey, Kazakhstan and South Africa. Arab donors have also become more prominent and last month the UAE posted the highest aid levels of all donor countries as a percentage of gross national income (at 1.25%). All well and good, then?  Perhaps, but it’s left many ‘old’ donors confused – will taxpayers... Read more

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