Changing from within to change the future of work

13 de September de 2022

The world is complex; reality presents several interlinked development challenges that need to be considered from various points of view. Because of this complexity, it is becoming clear to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that just as we are trying to solve single, but difficult, problems, we can aim to act together with key partners to change reality as a whole. Through constant joint learning, agility, and flexibility, UNDP in Angola aims, together with partners, to change the configuration of the system, into an improved configuration, by adopting a “portfolio approach”, a term used in UNDP based on systems thinking, to try to capture this effort of take into account many complex challenges, ongoing initiatives and working together closely with partners.

The UNDP Country Office in Angola is starting to look at the world as it is, in all its complexity, going beyond focusing on a singular development challenge, with an isolated project. Instead, the team is devoting its skills, resources, knowledge, and expertise to dealing with complex systems, understanding the many layers of factors that influence and affect them, to understand what coordinated actions might have the greatest impact on the desired effects. "It is a different way of working to address complex development challenges," says Lorenzo Mancini, Senior Economist at UNDP Angola.

UNDP in Angola is learning to adopt a new way of thinking, planning, and acting upon the complexity of development, with a major objective in mind: to contribute to create more and inclusive jobs in Angola which then in turn would also help accelerate the achievement of the National Development Plan and Sustainable Development Goals in Angola .

While this is happening, the organizational learning process is very central, as a way to grow together with the various actors, companies, institutions, and organizations acting in the system. Partnerships are essential in this “portfolio approach”, as working actively together and creating new mechanisms of collective learning will maximize efforts and results.

The theme chosen to bring the portfolio methodology to life was the "Future of Work", with a focus on youth and women, in alignment with the country’s priorities. Angola is a southern African country, classified as a Least Developed Country (LDC), with over 30 million people, where about 65% of the population is under 24 years old.

"The gender theme is relevant to all priority areas of UNDP," explains Lorenzo Mancini. The office has been increasing efforts to integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment clearly and effectively across all initiatives, while preparing the application to obtain the UNDP Gender Equality Seal, a certification that attests that the office has adopted good practices for gender equality both internally in the office as well as in our development programming.

Now, all units of the Country Office will work together "like the human body" around the topic of employment creation, explains Judite Silva, Head of Exploration of the UNDP Angola Accelerator Lab. The various systems are interconnected and working simultaneously to ensure that the body thrives, she continues.

However, to pursue the goal of generating jobs and creating the desired and necessary change in the system, UNDP working it alone is not enough. The government’s leadership role is crucial, and the private sector and national and international organizations and development partners, including sister UN agencies, will have a role to play in the process, as no single entity can make the difference by itself.

But why now?

The traditional way of approaching development challenges has its benefits. The separation of problems that are interrelated allowed us to perceive some cause and effect on a small scale and, in a simpler way, to deal with reality. But the world itself is more complex and a traditional view focused on single and isolated projects made it hard to tell whether solutions on the small scale can have a sustained impact at the larger level.

"For decades, UNDP implemented projects in a form that served a purpose at the time and now the organization sees the need to adapt to the new times, which includes bringing innovation into the institutional DNA," adds Judite Silva. This "change is worth it because it can make a big difference”. The country office can now use more sophisticated technologies, new models, and data to work with the complex reality and monitor the impact of the actions as they proceed. 

The timing could not be better. With the Government of Angola preparing soon the National Development Plan 2023-2027, and UNDP developing its Country Programme Document (CPD) for the same period, aligned with national priorities, it’s the ideal time to try to work differently.

The cooperation with the Government of Angola and public institutions has been a pillar in this process of defining new approaches to development. UNDP has been working closely with the Ministry of Economy and Planning, the Ministry of Finance, the National Institute of Statistics, and the Millennium Institute to develop the Integrated SDG Model (iSDG) for Angola.

“The iSDG model is a quantitative model that enables simulations of policy scenarios to investigate how the interventions planned in the National Development Plan may contribute to achieving the SDGs targets for 2030”, explains Lorenzo Mancini. “The model is based on system dynamics, which is an approach to understanding the behavior of complex systems over time by considering internal feedback loops and delays. For example, the complex dynamics between climate change and economic growth", he continues.

UNDP Angola is also looking to adopt an approach with leeway to make agile changes in the design and implementation of initiatives as and if they prove to be necessary. The common sequential approach to development projects does not offer much room for continuous adjustment.

In the “portfolio approach”, flexibility, agility, and continuous monitoring are key elements. "If the world changes, the system changes and our portfolio will need to adapt," explains Judite Silva.

Where to start?

"There is no manual available and the methodological guidance is limited," comments Lorenzo Mancini, pointing out that the whole new portfolio approach is an a new approach also included into UNDP’s new Global Strategic Plan 2022-2025, that is being fine-tuned interactively as it is implemented. In this region of Africa, UNDP offices in Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Botswana have also opted for the novelty, as well as other Country Offices is other parts of the world, and are actively exchanging learnings and experiences as they go along.


To analyze and understand what UNDP can do for the country and keep updating our approach, the core team "started backward". Instead of studying just the problem, "we study the whole system and everything around it and we start taking off layers," explained Judite Silva.

This implied thinking about all the components of the system, holistically, and the external factors that can influence the system. In the case of the "Future of Work", these could be either climate change, gender equality, informality, the volatility of the economy, or the COVID-19 pandemic.

The areas of interest the team chose to analyze for this portfolio were green transition, decentralized economies, transition from informal to formal economy, digitalization, future skills education, and agricultural value chain.

How's the path to design a portfolio approach?

Given the need to change mindsets and ways of working, a core team was created a to start adopting this new perspective and guide the office. UNDP then reached out to the Strategic Innovation Unit (SIU) from Headquarters and external consultants, Chôra Foundation, to guide the process and help this team find its direction.

There was a need to push colleagues to think differently so the core team entered a process of immersion in the change.  The first step was a sense-making workshop, led by the Chôra Foundation, which consisted of a self-analysis of the office's strengths and weaknesses. It allowed the team to analyze the current list of projects, and identify patterns, synergies, elements that could be leveraged, and levers of change that could be used strategically. "It was looking inward and evaluating what we are doing as an office, including internal and external factors," explained Judite Silva.

In this phase, the core team outlined its main objective: to support the structural transformation of the future work system in Angola, while promoting:

- A diversified economy with greater employment opportunities and skills for youth and women taking into account the large size of the informal economy in the country;

- Inclusive work models that ensure the resilience, stability, and productivity of workers, particularly women;

- A sustainable and resilient environment and green transition.

"Being able to implement this portfolio depends on collaboration between UNDP units, strategic and knowledge partners, including sister agencies of the UN System," says Judite Silva. The importance of working and learning together with partners was always present in the team.

There was also a horizon scanning, in which the team assessed the current scenario and the changes that could affect the portfolio. This exercise helped the core team to get new perspectives on current trends - technological, social, and economic trends - and changes in the future landscape of work.  "It's not a prediction of the future, but it serves to help us understand what the future could look like and be better prepared" and understand what strategic elements we should pay attention to in this portfolio, explains Judite Silva.

In the coming months, the UNDP team will continue to work on this internal change so that it can involve, at the next stage, all the partners who are willing to invest and innovate in transforming the future of work. There will be pitch presentations to key development and private sector partners, where it will be shown all that can be achieved together.

"The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are interconnected and complex, so UNDP's action has to take this into account," concludes Lorenzo Mancini.