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

Biodiversity underpins sustainable development

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"Investing in and protecting biodiversity is an investment in the future of the one planet we all share". Photo: Aude rossignol/ UNDP Burundi

Biodiversity and ecosystems provide the basis for all life on earth. Yet rates of deforestation and the degradation of grasslands, wetlands and other ecosystems remain alarmingly high. Forests and other ecosystems keep air and drinking water safe. Fertile land provides food and medicine. Marshes and mangroves act as buffers against natural disasters. We depend on nature for survival and it provides a daily lifeline for millions of the world’s poor. A crucial meeting taking place in the Republic of Korea will look into the  future of the wealth of life on earth. Ministers and other representatives from over 190 countries are exploring how best to protect the environment at the 12th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The discussions examine global sustainable development and take stock of progress on conserving, sustaining, and equitably sharing the benefits that biodiversity has to offer. Countries must recommit to meeting the ‘Aichi Targets’ under the Convention on Biological Diversity. These targets were agreed in 2010, and run until 2020. They urge swift action to halt the loss of biodiversity by addressing the causes of this loss, reducing pressure on biodiversity, and promoting its sustainable use.  The Convention also aims to ensure that biodiversity... Read more

Preparing for disasters must include all citizens, especially the older persons

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On the international day for disaster risk reduction, let’s make sure that we include and empower older persons as well. Photo: UNDP Ukraine

Whenever a disaster occurs, be it Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or Hurricane Sandy here in New York, we stress the need to invest more in disaster preparedness. Early warning systems, contingency planning, evacuation routes and training for response teams – these are all things that can, and should, be set up well in advance of a disaster in order to save lives. However, we need to remember that there is no one-size-fits all approach. Everything we do, from early warning to shelter provision, has to be tailored to the needs and capacities of community members. Older persons in particular are disproportionately impacted by disasters, as they often have limited capacity and less access to available systems. Difficulties in hearing or seeing, for instance, may limit access to emergency announcements; chronic health issues or special needs may delay or prevent escape and evacuation; and an absence of transportation may limit the ability to stock up on food, water and supplies. For older persons unfamiliar or unaware of the gravity of the crisis, there may be reluctance to reach out or seek shelter. So what can we do? First, we can recognize the specific vulnerabilities of the older persons and take measures... Read more

Realizing the rights of indigenous peoples

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photo: Gaëlle Bruneau / UNDP

Indigenous peoples represent more than 5,000 distinct groups in some 90 countries, making up more than 5 per cent of the world’s population, some 370 million people. Yet, they are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. The first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples convened in New York, bringing together Member states and representatives of indigenous peoples in a high-level plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly to share perspectives and best practices on the realization of the rights of indigenous peoples, including pursuing the objectives of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Following the outcomes from the conference, the UN system has been challenged with a tremendous opportunity to ‘deliver as one’ through a proposed system-wide action plan (SWAP) aimed at realising the rights of indigenous peoples. Only through a coherent approach, in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples, and articulating a common vision, approach and plan of action, can we best harness our resources to establish clear objectives, timelines, indicators and accountability mechanisms. Fostering dialogue and promoting inclusive development planning processes between indigenous peoples, governments and the UN system will continue to be a priority for UNDP. We will build on positive examples of how we have... 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

Games and apps that build peace

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Photo: Tom Pietrasik / UNDP India

When I was in Liberia last year, my national colleagues were making fun of me because of my ancient Nokia, compared to their flash phones. I will admit that I could use an upgrade, but I was struck by how ubiquitous smart phones have become – even in developing countries. Of course there are big gaps and the spread of technology has not been completely equitable – but 6.8 billion people use mobile phones daily and mobile use in developing countries is growing at an annual rate of 7.5 percent. And in many developing and conflict affected places, phones, tablets and computers today offer a great opportunity for communities to interact and engage with one another – and especially to bridge gaps between young people. When I was growing up video games were all about killing aliens, shooting bad guys and jumping over barrels to save the girl from the angry gorilla. Today however, their scope has broadened. A new breed of games and smart phone apps are being designed to promote peace and development. As my friend Helena says in a recent blog “…is it a crazy proposition to suggest that digital games could also be venues for dialogue and... 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

Rule of law : The key to the ‘virtuous circle’

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Policemen at General Kaahiye Police Academy in Somalia undergo training in criminal investigation, to equip Mogadishu with a team of police officers that will effectively be able to deal with criminal investigations. Photo: UNSOM

Does rule of law matter for development?  What role should it play in the post-2015 agenda?  It’s an important issue.  We, at UNDP, advocate for strengthened rule of law and access to justice, but the issue is how to get them prioritized among many competing targets and goals for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and get governments to put budgets and political will behind them.  We need to prove that human development can’t be achieved without them. We still have a long way to go to make the case.  One popular argument is that without good rule of law and secure property rights, countries cannot attract the foreign investment they need for growth.  But the empirical foundation for that claim is rather weak.  It seems that the economies of the Asian tigers began to boom long before they established rule of law, with China and Vietnam being just the most recent examples.  More importantly for us, this argument doesn’t help to understand whether rule of law will deliver better outcomes for the poorest and most vulnerable, who are the focus of our work. Recently, I focused on the work of Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, and in particular their recent book... Read more

Sustainability is the only choice

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Guaranteeing the long-term success of people, companies, businesses and countries while contributing to the conservation of natural resources and the environment requires more than the usual rhetoric. Photo: UNREDD

The term “sustainability” is increasingly being used among NGOs, governments, public sector and civil society, but unfortunately there is a huge gap between what is being said and what is being done. Looking at the most basic meaning of sustainability - meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations - the list of individual, collective, private and public activities that could be considered completely sustainable in this day and age is rather short. Guaranteeing the long-term success of people, companies and countries while contributing to the conservation of natural resources and the environment requires more than the usual rhetoric; it involves a social change based on an active, forward-thinking approach, which in turn drives a significant increase in the empowerment of all stakeholders. Besides improving their reputation, which also results in better yields and prosperity, both public and private organizations that include sustainability as an inherent part of their operations establish stronger, trust-based links with their stakeholders and partners, thereby ensuring loyalty in the medium and long term. How can we bring these same principles to the field of human development? What impact would this have on our societies? The concept of “strategic planning” has not... Read more

Translation’s broader purpose

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In Kosovo, a law protects the rights of non-majority communities to get public services in any of the official languages. Photo: UNDP in Kosovo

On 30 September, the world honors translators by celebrating Saint Jerome, the 3rd century Christian priest and patron saint of translators who is credited with translating the Bible into Latin and ushering in a flowering in intellectual activity. This year Saint Jerome’s theme’s is Language Right – Essential to All human Right. The International day of Translation is the opportunity to reflect on the importance of multilingualism and the work of language professionals. Because theirs is a specialized profession which takes place behind the scenes, translators, interpreters, and terminologists are often taken for granted or not given enough credit. Yet they are essential to large international organizations as they make the circulation of ideas possible. As the cornerstone of transparency, multilingualism’s basic purpose is to provide the same information to all people so they can make informed decisions, and be understood in their native language. At UNDP, we offer expert knowledge on sustainable development,  poverty reduction, and crisis prevention that would not be accessible to the public without reliable translation into its official and working languages (English, French, Spanish) and a growing number of official UN languages (Arabic Chinese, Russian). Translation should therefore be treated and thought of as a basic... 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

Will global goals with national targets meet global needs?

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Children between the ages of 12-18 learning about the MY World Survey in Rwanda. Photo: Mark Darrough/Girl Hub Rwanda

Some of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lend themselves to a discussion within each country on how, and how quickly, they wish to pursue global goals. For example, if the people of country A want to achieve free secondary education for all children by 2028 through recruiting more teachers, while the people of country B want their government to reach that aspiration three years earlier through other means, both are legitimate and should result from democratically grounded national discussions.  Critically, the level of ambition adopted by country A has little or no impact on the expected progress in country B. But what about the other SDGs that relate to the global commons, where actions are required by all countries to keep our human progress within the means of the planet?  What if the political contexts in each country lead governments to make commitments that, in the aggregate, do not sum to the global action required? Our experience with climate change and ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (CBDR) points to some of the immediate problems we can face.  The distribution of responsibilities between countries is incredibly complex and inevitably political, and more often than not we end up with a stand-off that... 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

Reversing the “Silent Earthquake of the Century”

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The Carbon Sequestration Project's achievements prove that degraded lands can be economically and feasibly restored by, and for, local communities. Photo: Sadaf Nikzad/UNDP Iran

According to climate change predictions, the Middle East faces a hotter, drier future. Iran sits at the very centre of the Middle East.  About 80 per cent of its surface is already arid or semi-arid, and the challenge of desertification is literally creeping up on us.  Some have called it “The Silent Earthquake of the Century”. In many parts of Iran this has been caused by sheep herders letting their flocks overgraze the land.  Sometimes it is caused by villagers breaking off rangeland shrubs for firewood. Because much of this problem is man-made, it can be fixed. To re-green desert rangelands, what you need is to replant. Shrubs saplings are incubated and watered until they are ready to be transplanted into holes dug by the community.  When hundreds of thousands of these shrubs grow over hectares, this creates a small biosphere which allows other vegetation and wildlife to return.  Such newly-greened biospheres sustain people’s livelihoods in a number of ways. But, in order for these areas not to be overgrazed again or used for fuel-wood, you need the ‘buy-in’ of the community to preserve and protect them. I have seen this process at work successfully with the “Carbon Project”, a community-development-plus-environmental... 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

Latin America at a crossroads on climate and access to energy

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About 10 million people, mostly rural poor, have gained access to modern energy services through UNDP-supported projects over the past decade. Photo: UNDP IN nICARAGUA

World leaders gathered at the Climate Change Summit  during the United Nations General Assembly have a crucial opportunity. In addition to mobilizing political will and advancing solutions to climate change, they will also need to address its closely connected challenges of increasing access to sustainable energy as a key tool to secure and advance gains in the social, economic and environmental realms. This is more important than ever for Latin America and the Caribbean. Even though the region is responsible for a relatively low share of global greenhouse gas emissions - 12 percent according to UN figures - it will be one of the most severely affected by temperature spikes.  And the region faces new challenges. Demand for electricity is expected to double by 2030, and, although nearly 60 percent is generated from hydroelectric resources, the share of fossil fuel-based generation has increased substantially in the past 10 years, mainly from natural gas.  Now is the time for governments and private sector to invest in sustainable energy alternatives—not only to encourage growth while reducing carbon emissions, but also to ensure access to clean energy to around 24 million people who still live in the dark. Latin America and the Caribbean is... 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

The ocean is taking away my island

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I was born on the Carteret Islands, a group of six atolls just off the north east coast of Bougainville Island in Papua New Guinea. They are home to over 2,700 people. Women are the traditional custodians of the land here. My grandmother passed our small island to my mother and she passed it on to me. But I will never be able to pass it to my daughter. Her heritage will be gone by then. I don’t know much about science. What I know is that our shores are being eaten away. And nothing can stop the erosion. The hardest thing I have ever had to do was tell my family and friends that we needed to leave our homes. We are climate refugees. And we are fighting for our lives. Our best option is now 71 hectares of land on Bougainville Island that has been generously allocated to us. One hectare of land has been given to the seven families who have already relocated. The kids here play barefoot rugby. The adults work the land. The family buildings are made of local wood and bamboo walling and roofing iron. We’re working with the school to build an additional four... Read more

Pakistan’s investment in resilience is the ultimate win-win

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The provision of basic social services empowers people to live the lives they value. Photo: UNDP Pakistan

In the last 2 decades, most countries have registered significant improvements in human development. Now, vulnerability and the impact of crises and disasters are undermining the hard won progress or slowing down its growth.  The annual growth in Human Development Index (HDI) value has declined in Pakistan from 2 percent in 2000-2008 to almost zero during 2008-13.  The 2014 UNDP Human Development Report (HDR) 2014 launch in Pakistan demonstrates that progress cannot be sustained without building resilience. The report highlights two crucial types of vulnerabilities influencing human capabilities: life cycle and structural vulnerabilities. Life cycle vulnerabilities are the result of peoples’ life histories, with past outcomes influencing present exposure to and ways of coping with vulnerabilities. Unfortunately in Pakistan, vulnerabilities at the early stage of the life cycle are the highest. The structural vulnerabilities are generated from social, legal institutions, power structures, political traditions and socio-cultural norms. Structural vulnerabilities are manifested through deep inequalities and widespread poverty. In Pakistan, 44.2 percent of the households live in poverty, according to the multidimensional poverty index. There are at least five lessons from the report and global experience which are central for Pakistan’s future: The provision of basic social services empowers people to live... 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