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 Minister of Labor and Social Welfare and the head of the UN Country Team moved around a square in wheelchairs, to get a sense of how inaccessible the public sphere was for people with disabilities. The impact surpassed what any report or online platform could have done.
4. Get involved. Walk the streets, talk to people.
The experience will be richer and give you a better sense of context than a Wikipedia page. During a meeting to discuss a parliamentary development project, one of my colleagues remarked: “I’ve always wanted to have a discussion with youth in different municipalities to understand why they couldn’t care less about parliamentary issues. It can help in the design of several activities in this project.”
This example highlights a notion that is oftentimes overlooked: People know what they need. All they require is a forum in which they can speak their minds, and the resources with which to meet these needs.
To put a twist on Abraham Lincoln’s quote:
‘We should aim for development of the people, by the people, for the people.’