Portfolio Dynamic Management | A love letter to systemic approach

20 de December de 2023

Our team is based in Angola, a coastal country with dynamic youth representing over 65% of its overall population. This is also a country with one of the fastest growing economies on the continent. However, regardless of this, employment opportunities remain a challenge, with up to 80% of active working people in the informal economy. This current landscape simply does not align with the government's intentions for its population.

With that on the table, we decided to dive differently into understanding the complexity of employment and decent work We´ve decided to support the Government of Angola and other partners to get a deeper and holistic perspective on how to address the challenge of the future of work with a pivotal vision of fostering a diversified economy, green transitions and creating decent job opportunities for citizens. How can we generate more jobs for young people and women in the country? How can the diversification of economy increase job opportunities and skills for youth? How can those opportunities take on inclusive models of work that ensure workers resilience, stability, and productivity? And lastly, how are we able to do all this while having a promoting sustainable environment and green transition? And though the world pace of change is now close to the speed of light, Angola wants to be able to follow and remain on course.

Figure 1: UNDP Angola’s Future of Work Portfolio Areas of Interest.

Sure, we also agree that we have many “hows” to answer and all of them are part of a very complex problem. It´s been 18 months years now that we have decided to take a leap of faith and immerse ourselves in a process. A process that we feel is nuclear to proceed in development grounds. How can we best achieve it while we are constantly learning from it?

Figure 2: Angola CO Accelerator Lab team.

This is not a fixed solution but rather a comprehensive approach that we have committed to better understand the issue. We´re still in the process of portfolio implementation on Future of Work. Have a quick look  here on the initial phase as we have fast-forward to 2023: The Portfolio implementation year.

We´ve been eagerly waiting for this moment: dynamic implementation of the portfolio. Like in past occasions, we´re surrounded by other countries on a collective learning circle. It´s Angola, Burundi, and Zimbabwe that came together for a full Learning week [6th –10th November 2023] at the Istanbul Global Innovation Center to share our unique experiences on Dynamic management and implementation of portfolios. 

Dynamic Portfolio Management leverages the Portfolio Sensemaking Protocol as a process of continuous and systematic governance, learning, and adaptation of a Portfolio Strategy and its pipeline of activities to ensure strategic flexibility and adaptation to the changing context over time. The Protocol supports the engagement of internal and external, local, regional, and national stakeholders in a robust and iterative learning and reflection process to surface and generate contextual and relevant expertise from their projects, investments, and experiences to form recommendations for new strategic pathways and impactful action. Intelligence is what can be generated from Sensemaking Outputs, and what gives direction to decisions related to the Portfolio and Strategy.

Regarding Angola and realistically, out of the six areas of interest shown on Fig. 1, our Country Office (CO) is testing two mutually reinforcing pilots: digital inclusion and future skills education and, in parallel, leading a Learning & Coordination Platform of Future of Work with other UN (United Nations) agencies and development partners including the European Union.  These were the experiences we brought to the workshop to share with our fellow portfolio pioneers.

So, any learnings so far? 

Figure 3: Dynamic Portfolio Management Knowledge Market.

Following the Sensemaking exercise that CHÔRA facilitated with us and the 2 other countries we went through an intelligence generation session that layered and clustered the key insights with supporting evidence from the Sensemaking, reflected on the implications for the Country Office and began to articulate portfolio adaptation propositions and action briefs. Through the sensemaking and collective intelligence exercise, three main ex-sights (generated based on collective insights) came out of the work we have been doing (Some of the ex-sights speak to the process and others to the actual Portfolio substance: 

1.   Community engagement: collecting information downstream to upstream. 

There is an opportunity for UNDP to generate actionable intelligence through community engagement and social dialogues, allowing to increase impact of the activities as well as build trust through stronger relationships with communities. 

2.   Flexibility/ slack within the organization: make it simple, flexible, slack: adaptability of context; letting go of rigid structure, becoming elastic.

We observed that being more flexible, and having capacity to adapt to the context, letting go of rigid structures, allows slack, and enables to move ahead with more efficiency and agility when implementing interventions with impact. This shift can be in hacking bureaucracy, seeing things through different lens, which can contribute to understand and enact the underlying simplicity of the dynamic management- 

3.   Portfolio as a tool to position UNDP with Government and partners- value proposition strengthening. 

There is an opportunity to leverage UNDPs convener role, trust, and integrity, together with new capabilities as knowledge brokers, new ways of working through systems lens and extracting learnings to build a new value proposition.

Figure 4: Balcony reflection Day 2.

Next steps after this insightful learning session with CHORA and the 2 countries:

Moving forward from the insights/exsights phase to a more actionable one, what new intelligence have we generated and how can it be translated into action? 

We observed that there is an urgent need to extract the stories and knowledge from the communities on ground to generate intelligence that can support policies and interventions upstream. We feel that this should be a regular, dynamic, participatory, agile, and structured process that needs to be seen as a legitimate and embedded in our ways of working. 

By doing so, some of the implications we see, policies and interventions will be best fit for communities, organization can become more efficient, relevant, and grounded for example. To materialize this, we´re setting ourselves to prepare a practical guide/pocket guide on how to collect Human Interesting Stories in different contexts, addressing political, economic, and social implications for each case. A way for colleagues to easily know what methodologies to use in their own projects. Also, we believe that there is a need to re-think and internally discuss what UNDP can play in the Country, taking the stage as a key knowledge broker. But how do we do it in practice? For this moment, we´re leading the Coordination Platform on the Future of Work with system partners. It is also important that everyone in the CO is familiar with their work and role of the organization and have the capacity to speak about our work with partners, presenting it in a way that best shows our systemic capabilities.

Figure 5: Angola Office Matrix for disposition, capabilities and culture.

Finally, we´re also leaving this workshop with a new equation: science + art = portfolio. Time for reflection is key. Uninterrupted and unstructured time to digest and make sense of the work and findings is holy. Thinking and learning Fridays are now blocked. This does not imply a lack of flexibility in time; rather, it emphasizes the intentional reservation of time and space, aligning with the ethos of both a structured schedule and the desire for organizational and individual flexibility- we´ll always find room for manoeuvre when needed. 

You may be wondering where the love for the systemic approach is exactly since we mentioned it in the title. This process has been far from an easy ride and so is love, but it´s one of the most real and rewarding tasks that we set ourselves too. Has it been a bumpy road? Definitely. Has it been real? Absolutely. Is it worth it? 100%! This approach has the potential to redefine our learning methods and enhance our organizational efficiency in dealing with development. Time is of essence, and we already see some low hanging fruits… Here we stay, here we´ll keep pushing! 

Figure 6: The ones whose heart belongs to the systemic approach: portfolio team.