Square pegs, round holes, and the importance of asking the right questions

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A third of Bangladesh’s population is below the age of 25, and yet we know little about their expectations from elected representatives. Photo: UNDP in Bangladesh

Of course, I know what the word innovation means but, as a relatively new recruit to UNDP, I am curious about what it means for the organization. For the past year, I’ve been leading a project seeking to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Bangladesh and  wondered: Which innovation could we possibly devise that would redefine how effective parliaments are in a country? Just a few hours into an innovation workshop in Bangladesh, I realized I had been coming at this all wrong. The innovation our work with the parliament needs isn’t about tweaking existing programmes or devising new ones -it is about how we are defining the problem! The way we have been designing solutions to problems we perceived the citizens of Bangladesh were experiencing was flawed because we weren’t really asking them what the problem was in the first place. Instead of doing what we’ve been doing last year and the year before that eg. counting the amount of people being trained, of male/female participants and of public hearings held, we need to go back to the drawing board. Sure, we’ll do all the counting needed,  but we will also organize ‘itch workshops’  to find out what matters to citizens including... Read more

Land and property governance – a matter of development and human rights

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Access to land for women is a key development issue. Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/ UNDP India

Although more than 115 nations recognize, in their legal frameworks, women’s equal rights to property and inheritance, in many countries women continue to face discrimination when it comes to land and property rights, Land plays a critical economic, environmental, social, cultural and political role in the development of states and people. Control of land and related natural resources is linked to power and identity, and can be a source of conflict and crisis. Land and natural resource management also lie at the core of ensuring environmental sustainability, including the maintenance of ecosystems and biodiversity. For indigenous and tribal communities, access to land and the protection of their traditional tenure practices are critical to their existence and identity. Failed land policies can also cause massive migration of workers from rural to urban areas. Having access to land and security of tenure provides a gateway to a range of economic, social, civil and political rights. Hence, when people, in particular indigenous communities, women, the rural poor or urban slum dwellers achieve secure access to land or property, they can start to enjoy a greater sense of economic security, improve their livelihoods, but importantly also, gain capacity, interest and influence in decision-making. We have... Read more

Measuring human progress in the 21st Century

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Workers at the at Santo Nino dumpsite in Tacloban, Philippines, six months after Haiyan. Photo: Lesley Wright/UNDP Philippines

Few, if any, statistical constructs have had a greater influence on the modern world than Gross Domestic Product (GDP). And 2014 marks the eightieth anniversary of its creation. As every economist knows, GDP summarizes total economic activity. It was developed by Simon Kuznets, a Russian-American economist and statistician, as a way to better understand the American economy during the great depression. Not only was Kuznets a brilliant economist (he went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1971), he was also an astute judge of humanity, or at least the potential for people to misuse numbers: when he introduced GDP to the US Congress he warned specifically against using it as a measure of wellbeing: “the welfare of a nation can”, he wrote, “scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income”. And this is because, as hopefully every economist also knows, it is easy to construct examples of undesirable social or environmental phenomena (crime sprees, oil slicks or hurricanes for instance) that can generate both an increase in GDP and a decrease in wellbeing. But despite Kuznets’s warnings, in both the US and many other countries, the pursuit of economic growth and a rising GDP quickly became a dominant mantra... 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

Development at the crossroads: reflections from the Arab Region

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Syrian refugees in Zaatari camp in the village of Zaatari, Jordan. photo: UNDP

Recent years have seen dramatic changes in the Arab region and two aspects in particular are important for the region’s relationship with issues of development finance.  First, the expanding role of the region itself as a provider of official development assistance (ODA), with the Arab Gulf countries providing more than $3 billion to countries around the world each year - Saudi Arabia alone provided over $100 billion to almost 90 countries since the 1970s. While the volume of Arab ODA has attracted attention, important issues for the future will be a growing focus by Arab partners on development effectiveness, alignment with post-2015 priorities like sustainable access to energy and water, and applying social and environmental quality standards to manage risks in recipient countries.  Furthermore, while most Arab ODA has operated through bilateral cooperation channels and Arab multilateral platforms in the past, there are benefits to connectivity with other Southern donors. The centre of gravity in the global economy is shifting East at speed, and this means shifting lines of development cooperation as well.  Strategic alliances between Asian and Arab donors could be a powerful force for the common goal of supporting new development solutions in Africa, with both Arab and Asian... 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

How can we ‘walk the talk’ towards sustainable energy for all

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UNDP and other sister UN agencies in Jamaica are using solar power for a green energy environment. Photo: UNDP Jamaica

Jamaica is an inefficient user of electricity, according to a recent Worldwatch Institute’s report. High energy costs, including electricity at $0.42 per kilowatt-hour, are increasingly becoming a burden for Jamaicans, directly affecting the country’s development. Jamaican citizens as well as the Government, are demanding and encouraging lower energy costs through new alliances with businesses and institutions to implement energy conservation measures while boosting the use of alternative energy sources. We’re in this together. UNDP has supported the Government’s Energy Policy roadmap 2009-2030 to transform the sector through energy efficiency and diversification. It commits to a minimum target of 30 percent renewable energy in its portfolio by 2030, in line with the UN Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative.  We have also supported the National Energy Action Plan to improve energy efficiency and conservation. Energy affects us all, including our own UNDP bills. In line with what we preach, our office decided to “walk the talk” and pursue a clean energy path. This included applying a ‘cool roof’ technology in our UNDP Kingston office. Nearly 464 square metres of metal sheet roof were treated to cool down office temperatures by 5-10 degrees—greatly reducing the use of air conditioning. Additionally, over 600... Read more

Increasing indigenous political representation: an urgent debt for our democracies

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Indigenous communities can be adversely affected by local and global development processes, since their distinct visions, concerns and ways of life can be ignored by policy makers. Photo: UNDP in Peru

In recent times, indigenous peoples have questioned current development models and democracies in Latin America and beyond. The main tool for measuring progress remains Gross Domestic Product, which distorts the true meaning of progress and wellbeing. The damage to ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, not to mention the erosion of cultural and linguistic diversity, have all been excluded from this general assessment. What’s more, the low representation of indigenous peoples in politics and as part of our human development -- below national averages -- is a clear indication that Latin American democracies and the development model have not fully served their purpose. However, many indigenous peoples have taken steps to become more involved in current political affairs and question our societies, accusing the latter of being exclusive, racist, and unaware of their history (for example, they often deny the existence of indigenous genocide) while stifling the diversity and existence of social issues based on a different culture and world view. Paying close attention to such issues and implementing initiatives to enact real change is the challenge faced by democracies. I would like to urge the adoption of a new and rejuvenating approach to issues related to indigenous peoples and their values.... Read more

It takes a community to end violence against women

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UNDP Serbia is working towards creating a social and institutional environment that will contribute to reducing violence against women in the country. Photo: UNDP Serbia

We are increasingly aware that preventing gender-based violence and protecting survivors requires the involvement of the entire society. Neighbors, friends and family, school systems and media professionals are all responsible for detecting, denouncing and publically condemning violence against women. An African proverb says: “It takes a village to raise a child.” To paraphrase: “It takes a community to end violence against women.” In Serbia, UN organizations supported the introduction of a multisectoral service delivery model in 21 towns and sponsored specialized training so that police, healthcare and social workers, judicial officials and civil society groups could understand their roles and better work together in assisting survivors of violence.  “A battered woman requested medical assistance for injuries several times in a local healthcare center,” explained a participant in the training. “We suspected she’d been abused by her partner, but she never admitted to it. Police intervened to stop violence on three occasions, but each time she would appeal to her right not to testify against her husband. Charges against him would be dropped and she would come back to the healthcare center soon enough.” This illustrates the institutional inability to respond to a perceived injustice and human rights violation. During the trainings,... Read more

UNDP and the Global Environment Facility: Partnership for Sustainable Development

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Women prepare fish using a solar-powered oven as part of a project funded by GEF's Small Grants Programme. Photo: UNDP Mauritania.

Delegates from 183 countries, intergovernmental organizations and civil society organizations are meeting this week in Mexico to participate in the Fifth Assembly of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).  The GEF Assembly, the governing body of the GEF partnership, is a landmark event for the GEF, occurring every four years.  UNDP is one of the founding implementing agencies of the GEF, a partnership of governments, implementing agencies and civil society that has provided over US $12.5 billion in grants for 3,690 projects in 165 countries to address global environmental challenges.  Through its Small Grants Programme (SGP) implemented by UNDP, the GEF has also made more than 16,000 small grants directly to civil society and community-based organizations, totaling US $653.2 million.  UNDP has helped over 120 countries in the last four years alone to access more than US $1.9 billion from GEF-managed funds and associated cost sharing to address environmental challenges for sustainable development.  UNDP believes that the GEF is a critical instrument for financing sustainable development in developing countries.  UNDP’s delegation to the GEF Assembly will be advocating our belief that environmental sustainability is critical to poverty eradication, enhanced resilience and inclusive and sustainable growth. This is reflected in the areas of... Read more

The nightmare of violence against women, seen up close

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There must be increased public awareness and political will and resources for preventing and ending all forms of violence against women and girls in all parts of the world. Photo: UNDP Peru

Nothing raises awareness of violence against women more than experiencing this nightmare first-hand. We always think these things happen to others, but the data indicate such situations are common, albeit in different forms and degrees of cruelty. According to data from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), one in four women in the region experiences some violence from her partner. This is also the leading cause of death worldwide for women ages 15 to 49 -- ahead of cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, “Convention of Belem do Pará.” How much progress has been made since then? Less than one third of countries in the region (28 percent) have a specific national plan to respond to this issue, and most (78 percent) approach it tangentially in other plans or security policies. This has been shown by the analysis we carried out in 32 countries in the region, which led to the study “States' Commitment: plans and policies to eradicate violence against women in Latin America and the Caribbean.” The result of the study shows there is no clear... Read more

Rule of Law and quality public services are key enablers of development

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A worker tallies the trucks at the Santo Nino dump site in Tacloban, Philippines. (Photo: Lesley Wright/UNDP Philippines)

It is no longer enough for individuals to just receive services. It is equally, if not more important, to pay attention to service quality, as well as the quality of communication between public service providers and the people they serve. To bridge the knowledge gap on how to situate, understand and act on Rule of Law challenges in public administration, we developed a self-assessment tool for governments, in cooperation with the Swedish Folke Bernadotte Academy  . This measurement tool uses six clearly defined Rule of Law principles: legality, accessibility, transparency, the right to be heard, the right to appeal, and accountability. The tool assesses ‘the governance of service delivery’, using a rights-based perspective to analyze gaps between the offer– which services people should be entitled to and under which conditions – and the delivery – what people receive in reality and how these services are delivered. Piloted in three countries – the Philippines, Ukraine and Sierra Leone – the tool focuses on selected administrative processes and services affecting the rights, liberties or interests of private persons, including the private sector. The ultimate aim of the assessment is to ensure that action is initiated at the appropriate level to address the weaknesses... Read more

Reintegrating the displaced is key to tackling inequality

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A woman rides a donkey with her children in Zam Zam camp for Internally Displaced People (IDP), North Darfur. Since the beginning of this year, 200,000 people were forced to flee their homes due to continued violence in Darfur. Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran/UN

Over 44 million people around the world today are displaced from their homes by conflicts and political instability. In places like Colombia, Somalia, or Sri Lanka, refugees often face the psychological trauma of having to run for their lives, losing their homes, families, social networks and jobs in exchange for an insecure future. Displacement also comes at a high cost to host communities, which face increased competition for jobs, water, education, health care and other resources and services. Unmanaged, this can result in heighted risk to the sustainable development of host communities and may even fuel local conflicts. I was recently in Copenhagen co-chairing a meeting with UNHCR and the governments of Colombia and Denmark, where we discussed the challenge of reintegrating the displaced. All participants agreed to work together under the banner of Solutions Alliance – Ending Displacement Together. Reintegration can present an important development opportunity. The influx of refugees into a host village can offer a special chance, for improving wells, fixing infrastructure and expanding schools. It is vital to ensure the rule of law and security, and foster national ownership, trust and accountability. In countries like Lebanon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Yemen, we are undertaking... Read more

From science-fiction to reality: A world without electrical power

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Universal access to modern energy services is achievable by 2030. There are no fundamental technical barriers, and proven and innovative solutions exist.

This week is the season 2 finale of “Revolution”, an American science fiction television series that takes place 15 years after the start of a worldwide, permanent electrical-power blackout.  Now you may wonder why this is the start of a UNDP blog. Let me elaborate: Far from the entertainment industry and the fictional world depicted in this drama series, a world without access to energy is a reality for 1.3 billion people worldwide who are without electricity and for 2.6 billion living without clean cooking facilities. Energy affects all aspects of our livelihood, from the way we prepare our food and keep our homes warm to our education, health, and environment.  In Sub-Saharan Africa, close to 80% of people still use wood, animal waste, charcoal and other pollution-causing fuels to cook their food and heat their homes. In 2012 alone, 4.3 million people died because of indoor air pollution due to these types of fuels… more than those killed by malaria and HIV/AIDs combined.  In India, for the 25% of the population who lives without electricity, access to energy means more children can go to school and study after dark, more women can invest in starting up a business or taking... Read more

Women’s Parliamentary Caucuses as agents of change

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Meeting of a female community organization in the district of Haripur, Pakistan. Photo: UNDP in Pakistan

Nation-building processes cannot work and development goals cannot be achieved if women are denied meaningful political participation. To ensure this, Pakistan’s Parliament introduced in 2002 a 17 percent gender quota in all legislative houses. But despite accounting for 22 percent of the federal parliament, from 2002 to 2007, women could not achieve much in terms of lawmaking except the Women’s Protection Act. In the subsequent mandate of 2008-2013, however, women made more progress, overseeing policy implementation and raising important issues in all Houses. Gender quotas alone, as global experience has shown, cannot transform the quality of women’s representation. They won’t work unless they are adapted into women’s direct representation, in which more women would win elections rather than taking up reserved seats. Compared to around 13 women in 2002, 16 women won general seats in 2008, while only 8 won National Assembly seats in 2013.  This downward trend reflects the shrinking space for women in the electoral process, despite a numerically larger parliamentary presence. Urgent measures are needed to create a level playing field for women in the electoral process. In 2002, women parliamentarians mostly worked in isolation, without enough sharing of inter- and intra-party experiences. But by 2008 they had... Read more

Can Small Island Developing States wait for global development goals to be set?

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The UNDP Dominican Republic office works towards reducing risk and vulnerability and increasing capacity to reduce the adverse effects of disasters and ensure sustainable development. Photo: R. D. Emiliano Larizza for UNDP

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have been, and still are, facing major challenges in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs):  low growth, high unemployment, aging population, brain drain, high debt levels, small carrying capacities and extreme exposure to the effects of climate change.   One example is Saint Maarten, a small island in the Dutch Antilles, which every week welcomes more tourists arriving on cruise ships than it has inhabitants.  As Saint Maarten is highly dependent on tourism, maintaining and protecting the natural environment is essential to its socio-economic wellbeing. The tourist industry accounts for 80 percent of the island’s GDP. Reef tourism and fishing are important attractions. But the development world’s attention is now being set on the post-2015 agenda and the proposal for a new set of global goals, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will emerge with their accompanying targets this September at the UN General Assembly. This new agenda is anchored on the understanding that you can’t have development without simultaneously caring for its social, economic and environmental dimensions.   For Saint Maarten, sustainable development is not just a matter of negotiations at UN Headquarters, it is a matter of immediate action.  The country, aware of this... Read more

In Africa, grassroots women tackle climate change

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Organic vegetables grown for sale by members of the Gatundu Mwirutiri Women Cooperative in Kenya. Photo: UNDP in Kenya

Small, portable stoves that require only one piece of wood to prepare a meal, bio-gas digesters that turn cow dung into gas for cooking, and drip irrigation techniques to save water were among innovations shared by grassroots women leaders from Africa during a recent policy dialogue and learning exchange in Nairobi on building resilience to combat climate change and disaster.   Organized by UNDP, Huairou Commission and GROOTS Kenya, the event brought together grassroots women leaders from 11 countries with policy makers from throughout Africa and representatives from the international community. Throughout the three-day workshop, it became evident that grassroots women in communities in Africa are not waiting to be told how to cope with climate challenges, but are initiating, adapting and sharing innovations themselves. “We have seen women mobilizing themselves before being mobilized,” said Isaac Kabongo, executive director of the Ecological Christian Organization in Uganda.  “Women are becoming the drivers of change in the communities in which they live, and are showing that they are very much willing to work together with all partners and institutions to move forward on the journey to resilience.” The need for reliable, sustainable energy was a cross-cutting, common need, and was voiced by women... 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

Haiyan six months on: A promising start on the long road to recovery

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Typhoon Haiyan affected more than 142,000 fishermen, with some areas losing 95 percent of their commercial boats and equipment. Photo: UNDP in the Philippines

Six months after one of the strongest tropical storms ever recorded on earth slammed into the Philippines last November, killing more than 6,200 people and displacing over 4 million, the physical signs of recovery are increasingly visible. Roads have been cleared, over 120,000 households have received help to rebuild, and nearly all the damaged schools and hospitals have re-opened. While the costs of the disaster are better understood after six months, the human suffering continues to take its toll. People who were already tackling extreme poverty, including many living in the Eastern Visayas region, now face a future without the security of their farms, employment opportunities, or long-term economic prospects. Rebuilding these communities could span a decade or more. While the response of the international community to the immediate emergency has been generous, post-disaster recovery requires long term engagement. Recovery is about more than the vital task of building homes and structures. It is also about building greater resilience to natural hazards. The Philippines, battered by an average of 20 large-scale storms a year, is no exception. Investments in preparedness for these events and adaptation to ongoing risks are vital. Improved infrastructure design, for example, can help save lives and protect... Read more

Friendly clinics for sexual diversity

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LBGT people aspire to receive the same health, education, or employment services as all of us. Photo: UNDP in Colombia

In recent years, Argentinian society has made significant progress as relates to the full exercise of citizens’ rights. However, sexually diverse groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LBGT) people still face discriminatory situations affecting dramatically their quality of life. Access to free public health services for LGBTs has always been problematic in Argentina. At UNDP, we consider that the system’s shortcomings must be countered by concrete initiatives - such as the Friendly Clinics for Sexual Diversity. Financed by our Regional Office, the project involves setting up dedicated areas for LGBTs as part of the public health service. These areas are supervised through joint action by social organizations, local HIV programs and Public Hospital Services. A joint task force involving civil society organizations and a health team working at the Public Hospital has been established to raise awareness of the Friendly Clinics, and to encourage and accompany regular visits by members of the diversity groups accessing health care. The health team provides services such as medical care, counseling   and diagnosis of HIV and other STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases), psychosocial support and schedules specific treatments required by the patients. To get this proposal off the ground,we surveyed 11 provinces across the... Read more