2021’s Top 4 Lessons in growth & resilience – Lessons from Our People & Partners

December 30, 2021

UNDP Resident representative Denise E Antonio's End- Of-Year Op Ed in The Sunday Gleaner outlines four top moments and six key recommendations for advancing resilience and growth.

Year in Review 2021 – UNDP Multi Country Office in Jamaica


By Denise E Antonio, UNDP Resident Representative for Jamaica, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands

In 2021, I witnessed moments that are significant enough to alter the trajectory of a sector’s energy bill, or to mark a shift into a resilient development pathway through breakthrough policy mandates. The UNDP Multi Country Office in Jamaica has been able to celebrate such moments in our programme interventions in 2021, due in large measure to the hard work, investments and energy of our partners in government, donor agencies, civil society and communities. But then there are moments that must be ranked as really special, because they contain powerful potential to strengthen growth prospects and our strategic response to crisis.

Such a special moment arrived unexpectedly between the pages of a COVID-19 impact report. More precisely, that moment came courtesy of a few thousand Jamaicans who shared groundbreaking information that made it to the pages of that report. UNDP had commissioned the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies and the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) to conduct a Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of COVID-19 in Jamaica and Policy Options in Jamaica - one year after the pandemic. More than 3000 interviews combined with secondary data from studies previously conducted, is illuminating previously unseen layers of impact. Our Surge team utilized UNDP’s Multidimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI) – a first for any study in Jamaica – to measure and rank parishes and population groups according to 12 indicators called deprivations. This is reportedly the first systematic identification of the vulnerable segments of the society who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Deprivations measured were: Covid-19 test status; Access to health center; Disability; Mental health; Wellbeing; Food consumption; Food quality; School attendance; Employment status; Income; Social protection; and Assistance (from friends or family). Vulnerabilities were confirmed if groups and locations scored in four or more deprivations. (download report )

Most Vulnerable and least vulnerable parishes

St. Mary was assessed as the most vulnerable parish to the impacts of COVID-19 in four or more of the 12 indicators assessed – closely followed by Manchester then St Ann. The parishes of St. Thomas, Trelawny and Westmoreland were assessed as the least vulnerable. A deeper probe of the data revealed that the main differences between St Mary, and the least vulnerable parish, Trelawny, came down to four factors: Access to health centres; income, food quality and social protection. The factors separating the second most vulnerable parish, Manchester, and Trelawny came down to: Access to health services; wellbeing; food consumption; and school attendance. A comparative review revealed more surprises: Urban areas bear a disproportionate load of vulnerability in contrast with their population share. Our data showed 70% of individuals in urban areas are vulnerable compared to 63% in rural areas. Interestingly, respondents with the lowest household income did not necessarily have the highest level of vulnerability. In fact, individuals earning salaries of 200 000 to just under 300 000 JMD per month were assessed as more vulnerable than persons earning 50 000 JMD per month and less. This is perhaps one of the most surprising findings. Overall, respondents were most vulnerable with respect to mental health, social protection and assistance, with mental health topping the vulnerability spectrum at 57% of respondents.

This definitive record of impact and vulnerability in Jamaica provides significant evidence for targeted interventions with more precise resource allocation. Our people are speaking. They are saying that COVID-19 has not just impacted lower income groups, or education, income and economy. As such, our interventions must expand to mental health, nutrition and other variables that redefine people’s lives and impact their ability to contribute meaningfully to social and economic development. We must pay closer attention to urban lower income pockets and more so to rural parishes which may escape the spotlight because of lower COVID 19 infection rates. We are also learning to listen carefully to how people rank their needs. This can be far more telling than the numbers. The Socioeconomic Impact Assessment tells us that respondents indicated their needs as Money (76.1%); Food (49.9%); Masks and Sanitizers (41.8%); and Health Insurance (28.1%) in that order.

Economic and sectoral findings are not so surprising. The Jamaican economy contracted by one fifth and lost 150 000 jobs at its lowest point. Nearly 50 per cent of businesses reported reduction in sales and more than 50% indicated that their operation would not last more than 6 months. The hardest hit industry was the entertainment, cultural and creative sector which suffered losses amounting to $195 billion and 76,000 jobs; hotels and restaurants which contracted 88% with 75% of workers laid off; and transport, storage, communications which contracted by 20 percent at the lowest point. Findings related to social protection also indicated that about 55.7% of PATH beneficiaries stated that they did not know how to apply for support to reduce negative impact of COVID-19. The study was also able to confirm a high level of vaccine hesitancy in Jamaica; only 33.9% said they would take the vaccine. These cumulative findings represent significant development losses that must be urgently addressed. It also requires us to look beyond the numbers to the human faces at the centre and to step into the shoes of the people who are hurting the most. To a mid-income person earning comparatively comfortable wages, impact may not be measured by a reduction in income but a reduction in living standards, loss of physical and mental health and non-qualification for state support. A 57% reported impact on mental health holds destructive capacity to hemorrhage man hours, people potential and economic growth.

This tells us that any lags in digital readiness may also represent an opportunity cost in potential income streams and vital information to guide evidence-based interventions where they are most needed and effective.  In the era of COVID-19 and shocks and crises precipitated by Climate Change, efficient crisis response anchored on accessible and reliable data will be a requirement for future proofing.

Breaking new ground by measuring vulnerability

This study ranks first among my top four moments for 2021, not only because it breaks new ground in redefining impact based on useful vulnerability measures but provides the basis for more efficient and targeted interventions that can accelerate developmental gains pertinent to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and Vision 2030.  

There is mounting support for measuring and scoping vulnerabilities as part of the criteria for ranking countries and determining their access to resources. UNDP has consistently called for measuring growth and impacts beyond income and this was recently reiterated by CARICOM Secretary General, Carla Barnett at UNCTAD XV in October. I endorse her calls for continued advocacy for the further development and acceptance of the Multi-Dimensional Vulnerability Index (MVI), not only to define other pertinent layers of data for targeted response, but to open access to concessional resources for development financing and resilience building.   

Unleash the blue and green economies

As the pandemic persists, we must remain resolute in advancing more sustainable models of development as a part of our resilience infrastructure. UNDP continued to advance the case for a green and nature-based approach to development as a ‘win-win’ for economic growth and environmental sustainability through a robust climate and disaster resilience portfolio in 2021.  With grant funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology, UNDP finalized the retrofitting of six public hospitals with LED bulbs and installed grid-tied solar photovoltaic systems at three of the six. Internal analysis indicates the solar and LED investments can save $348,944 USD per annum and save the public health sector 22% of its current energy bill annually. It is my 2021 moment number two because a low carbon pathway is a cost effective and efficient alternative to fossil fuel energy models, releasing more operational budgets for critical areas of health sector development. It also boots the resilience of the sector by lessening its reliance on fossil fuel supplies which can become delayed due to supply chain disruptions, especially in global crises.  

Those at the epidentre of crime must be integrated into crime prevention

Finally, we remain convinced that strengthening growth prospects and our strategic response to crisis is best served by significantly reducing crime rates and improving the security and safety of our citizens. We know young people stand at the epicentre as the main perpetrators and victims of crime. Why are they not integrated into more leadership roles? To this end, UNDP invested grant funding, technical training and mentorship in 10 youth organizations to innovate and lead citizen safety and security interventions. Backed by our partnerships with the Ministry of National Security, Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, UNESCO Caribbean, Private Sector Organization of Jamaica and Rise Life Management Services, novel approaches birthed from fresh minds are starting to take root. Stand out projects include anti bullying campaigns to cut dysfunctional behaviors from the root; sign language training and services to support filing of police reports by the deaf community; and peace ambassador training and mentorship to build a culture of peace and non-violence in hot spot communities. My number three spot goes to the young people who are spearheading these micro projects, and who convened a Youth Summit on Crime and Violence on International Peace Day to further amplify their joint message that ending crime needs the participation and integration of youth.

Protect our women and children by strengthening laws  

Rounding out 2021’s top four make-or-break spots for advancing growth and resilience is the policy and legislative work carried out by civil society organizations under the umbrella of the Spotlight Initiative to address violence against women and girls. Our civil society partners work with the underserved and the hardest cases bringing empathetic interventions to women and girls in need. This joint European Union-United Nations programme has brought significant attention to the plight of females in crisis and challenged harmful gender norms that perpetuate cycles of violence. We need to urgently address legislative gaps to chip away at these sub cultural monoliths, and to this end, applaud the CSOs’ measured and analytical approach to identifying weaknesses and recommending changes. We thank them for advancing many recommendations that made it to the Sexual Harassment Act and for continuing to advocate for amendments to the Domestic Violence Act, Child Care and Protection Act and other pieces of legislation that protect our women and children from violent and predatory actions.

UNDP will focus on vulnerable groups in 2022

2022 will be the year that UNDP consolidates new projects and initiatives to help lift more persons out of poverty by supporting resilient, risk-informed recovery and growth, the human rights of marginalized groups and a more sustainable and nature-based approach to development. This is outlined in our new Country Programme covering the 2022 to 2026 period.  To this end we have also started the process of mobilizing partnerships to address vulnerabilities uncovered by the socio-economic impact assessment and MVI within the scope our corporate mission.

Lessons we can convert into reslience and growth opportunities

Based on the lessons learned from our people and partners, I would like to offer a few recommendations for consideration:

1.       Let’s map the status of Jamaica’s digital transformation with the aim of accelerating transition to a digital society. UNDP’s Digital Readiness Assessment (DRA) tool, most recently used in Grenada, can help.

2.       Let’s target vulnerabilities with greater precision. UNDP stands ready to deploy the MVI on request, but also recommend a Data Hub and Policy Lab platform to facilitate the monitoring and evaluation of a wide range of programmes designed to reduce vulnerability of identified groups.

3.       Let’s undertake mobile registration and engagement of hard-hit vulnerable groups identified in many studies including the UNDP/SALISES/CAPRI study to facilitate automatic identification and tailored support in a more targeted and seamless manner.

4.       Let’s focus COVID recovery on a more sustainable pathway by maximizing the blue and green economies with innovative nature-based and green solutions, while ensuring that everyone benefits and participates fully from development gains.

5.       Let’s consider implementing a Knowledge Sharing and Empowerment Network on peace, crime prevention and citizen safety and security for youth organizations. The network could serve to systematize best practices in youth-led community-based crime prevention methods and provide mentorship, resources, crime prevention micro grant funding and other opportunities.

6.       Let’s continue the pace of legislative overhaul so ably piloted by the Ministry of Gender, Culture, Entertainment and Sports to save our girls and women from the scourge of violence.

Resilient recovery from COVID-19 requires reliable data offering layers of insight, quickly accessible to policy makers to drive targeted responses. Further, our collective efforts for a sustainable future are best served by supporting the most vulnerable among us and ensuring they get the help they need to reduce those vulnerabilities. Finally, we must emancipate ourselves from unsustainable development models and fully embrace environmentally sustainable pathways to development. We commend this as a viable pathway to growth and resilience and assure you that UNDP remains your willing partner in this process.

Denise E Antonio is UNDP Resident Representative to Jamaica, Belize, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands. Follow her at @Antonio67Denise