A new role for UN leadership in the hardest places

BY Sarmad Khan, Jonathan Papoulidis | April 10, 2019

The world’s fragile countries are at the center of the global development crisis. By 2030, the endpoint of the Sustainable Development Goals, an estimated 85 percent of the world’s extreme poor will live in these volatile places. At a prior UN. High-level Political Forum, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted that despite global progress, fragility was on the rise and that better development was critical to prevent conflict and crises and help build resilient societies. Guterres has taken steps to overhaul the United Nations’ development system to accelerate progress toward the SDGs. This has involved, under the leadership of Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, the establishment of the new UN Development Coordination Office, or DCO, and a revamping of the UN Resident Coordinator System. The success of these reforms will require new “software” for UN leadership in the field, especially in fragile contexts where the operating contexts are more complex, fluid, and difficult. To help write this new “software,” DCO is using the UN ’s first leadership framework. The framework, in part, demands new ways of working, operationalized in three main capability areas, or “ACT:” Adapt:To rethink complex, multidimensional problems and construct tailored solutions based on local contexts. Collaborate:To connect networks and solve collective action problems through new ways of coordination. Transform: To change behaviors that focus on long-range positive impact and scalable solutions. Applying this capabilities model will require a shift in the functions that UN leaders and staff perform, and in the underlying mindsets, behaviors, operational culture that fuel these functions. Per the framework, UN leaders must not serve simply as program implementers, but as dynamic “conveners and connectors” within the broader development community to increase cooperation and impact. Nowhere is applying these leadership capabilities more urgent than in fragile contexts. We outline three ways in which we are leveraging the UN leadership framework within broader UN development system reforms to deliver on Guterres’ vision of better development in the hardest places. Functional leadership Translating the ACT leadership principles into practice in fragile countries will require a new set of functional tasks for UN field leadership to perform. In fragile contexts, there is an increasingly recognized need for the following ways of working: Establishing country-led coordination platforms to solve collective action problems between governments, stakeholders, and partners for development, and to improve dialogue, mutual accountability, and resource mobilization. Creating country-level instead of sector-siloed resilience plans to mobilize state and societal capacities to deal with disasters, conflict, and poverty, and tackle their root causes. Using adaptive methods for tailoring policy and programs to specific problems, contexts, and crisis instead of relying on foreign “best practices” and rigid modes of implementation that are inflexible in the face of crisis or contextual variation. Adopting multipurpose scaling approaches that use the development process of meeting widespread need to also build resilience at scale and help tackle root causes by changing patterns of inclusion and cooperation. These new ways of working constitute functional tasks that UN leadership can undertake to deliver on these principles and improve impact in fragile contexts. Importantly, these functions must be undertaken together in a mutually reinforcing fashion. Coordination platforms or “collaborative spaces” can help solve collective action problems among stakeholders, but if they are not adaptive and agile, they can become straightjackets of top-down planning and aid conditionality, which undercut the agency of governments and societies to find their own solutions to complex problems. Adaptive methods that do not operate at scale will fail to address the magnitude of complex development challenges. Development plans that only pursue poverty reduction and growth but do not build resilience to risks and crises will keep these countries in a fragility trap. The UN resident coordinator system is uniquely positioned through its mandate to support governments and convene international partners to exercise these functions for greater development cooperation. Lead with first movers To leverage its mandate, the UN is continuing to move beyond internal facing reforms and rallying like-minded partners to facilitate new forms of dialogue and collective action between governments, societies, and international partners in fragile countries. Many development partners have taken steps to promote more effective ways of working in fragile contexts. These include g7+, AfDB, EU, World Bank, OECD, and NGOs alongside the UN’s efforts. Similarly, many partners and experts are advancing the field of “adaptive development” through approaches such as “problem driven iterative adaptation,” strategy testing, the science of delivery, and adaptive learning, as well as new scaling frameworks in fragile countries. The UN resident coordinator system is helping to bring various “first mover” partners together with governments, civil society, and the private sector to shape new patterns of cooperation and impact in fragile contexts. To ensure success, the UN recognizes that it must retool its own capabilities and operating cultures. Lean into experiential leadership New UN  leadership capabilities cannot be fostered simply through training, simulations, and workshops. They must take root through experiential leadership, otherwise known as “learning by doing,” with UN teams reimagining “collaborative spaces,” cultivating adaptive partnerships, and testing new leadership approaches. To advance this approach, the UN ’s new SDG leadership lab has been designed to help UN country teams in two important ways. First, the lab provides a permissive environment for UN field leadership and national partners to actively experiment with new ideas and systems approaches without risk of deviating from course. Second, the lab stimulates new thinking outside conventional practices, worldviews, and operational “comfort zones” to address complex development challenges, and support reformers as they iterate, stumble, and adapt to find new solutions and “learn by doing.” Adopting new methods to achieve the SDGs in fragile contexts requires space for experimentation and learning. There are no fixed pathways out of fragility. The journey is often long, contested, violent, and uncertain. For the UN to help countries overcome their fragile predicaments, DCO is helping to chart a new leadership role for UN field leaders. This will ultimately require a deeper level of organizational transformation that is driven by new leadership principles, functional priorities, and capabilities. A widening number of governments and development partners are working toward more resilient, adaptive, and coordinated responses, but progress remains slow, tenuous, and uneven UN leadership transformations can facilitate new ways working and accelerate collective action on the ground to “leave no one behind.” The time to “ACT” is now. The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of any organization or entity. Update, April 5, 2019: This article has been updated to reflect the new name of the UN Development Coordination Office, or DCO. This article was originally published on Devex.

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Youth in China are connecting smallholder farmers to urban markets

BY Vincent Martin, Sixi Qu | April 3, 2019

In China, city dwellers are finding more opportunities to buy fresh wholesome food directly from rural producers. For example, Xu Xinquan, a farmer in Sanggang Village, Hebei Province drives to Beijing once a month with vehicles loaded with supplies of fresh vegetables, meat and seasonal agricultural products. After the four-hour drive to the capital city, Xu Xinquan and other fellow farmers deliver the produce to customers in several communities within Beijing who have pre-ordered and pre-paid for the food online. Rapid social and economic development in China has spurred citizens to pay more attention to the type of agricultural products that they are consuming. In this regard, the Nested Market model that links smallholder farmers from Sanggang Village directly to urban customers in Beijing has emerged as a suitable alternative to address this concern.  Customers feel a sense of trust regarding the quality of the food that they are purchasing from Sanggang Village farmers. This model, as well as many other similar ones in the country, is helping to bridge the gap between smallholder farmers and markets. But one success story does not say it all. The reality is that there are many farmers in remote areas struggling to link up to more sustainable markets that would, in turn, help them improve their livelihoods. Bringing different parts of the house together To address this and other gaps in connecting smallholder farmers to urban markets, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme partnered with Tsinghua University to mobilize talented young students through the FAO-Tsinghua established Innovation Lab, AgLabCx. We addressed these connectivity gaps through design thinking and co-creation workshops. With funding from the “Delivering Together for Sustainable Development Fund”, and additional source of funding from FAO and partners, we implemented the project in three parts. In the first phase, we brought smallholder farmers together with researchers, tech-companies and e-commerce practitioners to brainstorm on problems that need to be addressed, including:  a) trust-building between producers and customers; b) capacity development of smallholder farmers; and c) sharing market information. Using design thinking to build local solutions Students conducted a preliminary analysis to identify the gaps hindering smallholders farmers from thriving in the local markets, such as the lack of convenient platforms or toolkits to connect farmers with agronomist experts to help them improve their production, identify pests and how to control them, or to connect them to urban markets. Based on these findings, we organized an eight-week postgraduate service design course under the umbrella of the Innovation Lab. The aim was for Tsinghua students to develop practical solutions that could address connectivity gaps. At the end of the course, we organized a a co-creation workshop to discuss, analyse and validate four potential solutions that the students came up with. This workshop allowed students to quickly improve and design version 2.0 of their solutions that better reflects the needs of both the farmers and consumers and to emphasize how Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can provide better service for both end users. Here are the four projects that we selected: Dingguagua, an online application that sells unmarketable/ugly fruits that would otherwise go to waste just because of their appearance (similar to Misfits Market and Hungry Harvest). The students also added a gaming component to attract young consumers. Nonghu, a farmer-consumer exchange platform based on participatory guarantee system. The students focused on the Yao Ethnicity Mom’s Guesthouse at Hebian Village, an eco-tourism place in Yunnan Province, and highlighted the importance of evaluating the services provided at the location. Yunduan, a farmer-technical expert instant communication app for Farmers Field School (FFS). This app will allow the teachers to manage it and incentives will include crowd fundraising and paying to gain access to the experts’ knowledge. Agriculture heritage, a comprehensive promotion packaging for local agricultural products. The group of students selected a local camellia oil from the Hunan Province (southern China), and proposed to establish a free platform and toolkit to allow farmers to select their packaging materials for their products. What the future holds for smallholder farmers’ connectivity We believe that there is an open door full of possibilities for smallholder farmers in China. Private sector companies are interested in these innovative approaches and have expressed a willingness to help reduce poverty in rural areas. Another example is a follow-up FAO “SDG village” project that focuses on improving farmers’ connectivity and livelihood by harnessing the power of e-commerce and digital finance. This project received $1 million in support from Guangfa Securities, an investment bank in China, and will be piloted in 16 villages in four poverty-stricken areas of China: Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan and Hainan provinces. This project will be implemented in close collaboration with IFAD and WFP to maximize the poverty reduction impact of the project by creating synergies at the local level. It will also explore collaboration opportunities with other  UN agencies such as United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. This year, AgLabCx will continue working with Tsinghua postgraduate service design students together with the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation to harness the talent of young people to solve key agricultural challenges in China. The idea is to see more engagement of young farmer entrepreneurs to spark ideas and more innovative solutions. For Xu Xinquan, the Sanggang farmer, he’s becoming too old to drive to Beijing monthly and would be willing to explore new solutions that would solve his mobility problem. Such solutions might soon be within reach especially with the support from young farmer entrepreneurs who can expect to continue selling their products in the city while spending less time on the road and increasing incomes.

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Flowers for Fatima

BY Fiona McCluney | March 27, 2019

Fatima* is a 15 years old Roma girl from just outside Podgorica, Montenegro, who was forced into an early marriage. She is not alone. Although the rate of child marriage in the country is low – around 1% of the total population – the percentage is significant within the Roma and Egyptian communities of Montenegro. According to 2013 data almost one of three girls aged 15-19 from these communities is married. The profound impact of child marriage When a girl is forced to childhood marriage, she faces immediate and lifelong consequences. The chances of her finishing school drop considerably and the likelihood she will experience domestic violence rises. She is more likely to become pregnant in her teens and to risk death through complications in early pregnancy and childbirth. Complications not experienced by women in their 20s or 30s. The devastating practice of child marriage has no single cause, rather results from the complex and dynamic interaction of linked factors. Factors such as the cycle of poverty, lack of opportunities or alternative options, poor education, social and cultural norms and expectations of girls, and deep-seated discrimination. Education as a key to empowerment Education is the most powerful tool to help girls step out of poverty. According to global statistics, girls with secondary or higher education are three times less likely to marry by 18 than those with no or little education. But succeeding and staying at school is far harder for Fatima than for her non-Roma peers. Coming from a socially isolated community, she faces number of obstacles which hinder her success.  These include the language barrier, poor socio-economic conditions in her family, and often social exclusion, stigma and discrimination from peers and teachers. Her employment opportunities beyond school are also limited. As the harmful impact of child marriages is more widely known, many countries have set a legal minimum age for marriage. But even where laws exist, the practice persists. It is often casual attitudes that fuels the practice. The attitude that child marriage is a traditional practice – not a violation of children’s rights – contributes to its perpetuation. These views need to end. There are solutions There is no one or direct solution to that will change early marriage practices. Instead, a comprehensive, interlinked approach is required. An approach requiring political will and a long-term vision. What does it mean? For example, an approach making marriage registration compulsory for all and raising the minimum age for marriage to 18 might work. But it would be critical to work closely with the Roma and Egyptian communities in Montenegro in developing new laws. Parallel interventions that offer economic support and incentives for girls and their families are needed. Interventions that improve access to quality formal education for girls and boys; pay special attention to academic (under)achievers and put special measures in place to effectively prevent dropout from schools. In addition, we are bound to diligently investigate and sanction the cases of child marriage, as none of 50 reported cases of forced marriage led to an indictment. Overall, it is critical to offer opportunities that fulfil Roma and Egyptian girls’ and boys’ aspirations and create real alternatives to child marriage. Leaving no one behind There is some good news, though. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – a vision of a better world in which no one is left behind, offers a direction. This bold development plan adopted in 2015 by 193 UN member countries – including Montenegro – defines 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Ending child, early, and forced marriage is at the heart of Goal 5 – To achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. This makes early marriage an issue an international and national priority, including for Montenegro. According to a UNICEF report, the practice of child marriage has continued to decline around the world. During the past decade, the proportion of young women who were married as children decreased by 15 per cent, from 1 in 4 (25%) to approximately 1 in 5 (21%). Still, approximately 650 million girls and women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. While the global reduction in child marriage is to be celebrated, no region is on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goal target of eliminating this harmful practice by 2030. Fatima – and other girls like her – does not need flowers today. She needs a society that will ban child marriage, invest in education and empower young people. As said by the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres: “A girl who is married as a child is one whose potential will not be fulfilled. This is an issue that we must address everywhere in the world.” *The real name is changed for the purpose of protecting privacy. The UN team in Montenegro works on protecting and empowering girls through number of interventions, including UNICEF’s programmes on inclusion in education starting from the pre-school level, quality education, prevention of drop-out, building socio-emotional skills and protection of girls and boys from violence including child marriages; UNHCR’s interventions on supporting refugee and asylum seeking families, including girls from those families; IOM’s support to combat human trafficking, including young girls-victims of forced marriages, UNDP’s programme on gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as continuous joint UN work on ending violence against girls and women. For more on ending violence against women and girls – including child marriage – please visit the Spotlight Initiatives’ interactive tool aimed at educating children about these issues: https://herstoryourstory.net/en/

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Using Blockchain to Disrupt Government Corruption in Uzbekistan

BY Matluba Umurzakova, Saidbek Djurabekov | March 7, 2019

The Uzbek government is concerned about how the public perceives corruption in the country, and with good reason. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which scores countries based on how corrupt their governments are believed to be, Uzbekistan ranked 157 out of 180. In 2018, the Uzbek General Prosecutor’s Office stated that 1,561 officials in the public sector were prosecuted on charges of corruption. For the last two years, the government of Uzbekistan has been working non-stop to put an end to long-term corruption which pervades various sectors. An effort championed by President Mirziyoyev, corruption is a persistent national concern in Uzbekistan. In the words of Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan is “far from such concepts as justice, honesty, responsibility, meeting the needs and serving the people.” The challenge that Uzbekistan faces in tackling well-ingrained corruption cannot be overstated, but the silver lining here is the case that we are building for using blockchain to combat corruption. Addressing Old Problems with New Tech According to a Presidential Decree signed July 2018, from 2021 blockchain will be incorporated into Uzbekistan’s government transactions to improve public services and ensure transparency and accountability. In response to this statement, we at the UN in Uzbekistan (namely, UNDP, UNICEF and UNODC) joined forces, with support from the UN Development Coordination Office, to explore how blockchain can limit corruption in national public and private sectors. We took the cue from other regional efforts to combat corruption with blockchain. For example, Georgia recently used blockchain to counter land title fraud. In our case, we chose to pilot blockchain solutions in areas long impacted by corruption, with leaders committed to change, and with the technical readiness available to implement new technology. We chose two areas of focus: School certificates: The current paper-based system makes it easy for workers in public school institutions to issue invalid school certificates. Since school certificates are kept in each school and there is no central digital database to check the validity of each certificate, it’s difficult to monitor and keep tabs on who’s issuing and who’s receiving invalid school certificates. To help counter this problem, the UN team created a web service for the Ministry of Public Education (MPE) to create digital records of the issued certificates and a private blockchain to make sure that the records in the data based are not manipulated through the publicly accessible service for online certification. At the moment, the web service is integrated with the private blockchain deployed on the MPE servers and running preliminary tests within the agency itself. After testing this approach, we are going to make it available at public education departments and schools throughout the country. Land cadastre: The way that Uzbekistan’s State Cadastre works makes it easy for committee inspectors to manipulate records in central digital databases by altering the stated real-estate size, lowering tax bills, and changing the legal status of properties before buying or selling takes place. To test possible ways of detecting these fraudulent schemes, our team, along with the state cadaster committee, developed a demo blockchain application that prevents the unauthorized manipulation of the real estate data in the central government database. Citizens are also able to verify their property records online through a public portal making the agency’s activity more transparent. The blockchain app is being deployed in the committee’s servers and is undergoing internal tests. The next is to pilot the implementation of the blockchain system with real data. To advance these applications beyond the pilot stage, our team is working with national partners to establish an enabling institutional and regulatory framework. We know that to effectively introduce blockchain systems in the public education space and land cadastre, we will need to see change happen at the agency-level administration as well in legislation to define the legal status of blockchain-stored data. Are you working on a similar innovation? Talk to us!

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Changing Data Collection Methods in Mauritania

BY Paula López-Abente Vicente, Fatma Soueid Ahmed, Khadijetou Cheikh Lo | February 27, 2019

Let’s meet Malika, an innovative tool developed jointly by UNICEF and UNFPA to monitor the change of social norms about Female Genital Mutilation (FMG) in Mauritania through surveys and data collection. Malika seeks to confirm whether the decrease in prevalence observed through the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and rapid assessment is correct and real; confirm whether the change in the social norm is significant and see to what extent the population deems involving adolescents and young people in the conversations as a decisive point in changing this practice. According to the WHO, FGM “comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights of women, especially girls, since it is almost always carried out on minors. MALIKA, which means “queen” in Arabic, stands for Measuring and Analyzing Linkage between Information Technology Knowledge and Advocacy with adolescents to end FGM. A prevalent practice in Mauritania, it affected 53.2 percent of girls under 14 and 66.6 percent of women between the age of 15 and 49 in 2015. Since 2011, UNFPA and UNICEF, with other civil society organizations, have been supporting the Mauritanian government to build a joint program to galvanize people to promote the collective abandonment of this practice. Step one: mainstreaming Malika In November 2018, we conducted a training and a pilot in Nouakchott prior to mainstreaming Malika into our programming. We selected two regions of convergence for the UN Country Team in Mauritania as part of our new UN Development Assistance Framework. The areas which have a high prevalence of FGM are Hodh El Chargui, located in east Mauritania and Assaba, located in the southern part of the country. Through the District Census, defined at the General Census of the Population and Habitat of 2013, we created a random representative sample of 600 households (300 households in each region). We polled a total of 2,863 people, of which 60 percent were women. For this exercise, we partnered up with the Ministry of Economy and Finance and National Office of Statistics, the Ministry of Social Affairs, Family and Childhood and the Ministry of Youth and Sports, as well as several NGOs and youth networks. To do so, we trained 15 young women and four team managers (males) to provide them with the necessary knowledge and attitudes that would enable them to efficiently carry out data collection activities in the field. To collect the data, we used two methodologies. The first methodology involved gathering quantitative data through a survey from the representative sample of households. We had two types of questionnaires, one addressed to the pre-defined households and another individual survey for eligible women between the age of 15 and 49 living in those households. To collect qualitative data that would help us to better determine the persistence of FGM in the communities, we held 19 focus groups with young girls and boys, as well as adult women and men. At the same time, we also had conversations with Imams from these communities. We also invested heavily in building a youth network through these conversations to make sure that old habits don't linger on below the surface and reemerge in a future generation. We also used smartphones or tablets to collect quantitative and qualitative data, which allows us to obtain relevant data in real-time for operational planning. Because we conduct Malika once a year, we are able to minimize the time and costs of conducting surveys and evaluations that are expensive and not done regularly. In this way, Malika complements the MICS, which are conducted every four years, allowing us to react faster and adjust our programming. Step two: unveiling and analyzing the results Out of the 2,863 people that we polled, 72 percent live in rural areas. Forty five percent are under 15 years old and 68 percent of women have not received any form of education. Ninety-seven percent of the respondents confirmed that they are aware of FGM but only 11 percent learned about it in school, while 68 percent heard about it in community events. Education levels also influence the attitudes towards FGM. For instance, 61.3 percent  of women who had at least one daughter had already undergone FGM. This is a very important number for us because 29 percent of the women who were surveyed had undergone FGM because it was their mother’s decision. And of this group, 64 percent had never had access to education. We also found a correlation between the place of residence as an influencing factor to continue this practice. Fifty two percent of the respondents in rural areas are in favor in comparison to 48 percent that live in urban areas. In fact, 52 percent of women would prefer to keep this practice, stating three main reasons: better feminine hygiene, social recognition and religious needs. Other reasons relate to social norms, namely the perception that FGM is a prerequisite to be part of society. According to the conversations from the focus groups, 46 percent of the women said that the members of their communities are ready to abandon FGM in part as a result of awareness activities conducted by several NGOs. Step 3: How to move forward with these conversations From this exercise, we gathered a few key takeaways that will help move away from the norms that currently support FGM in several communities: We must consider socio cultural values to be able to strengthen the current strategies to eradicate FGM with the help of the citizens. We have to consider cultural reasoning when conducting awareness activities, training and communication actions among the different actors in order to stop this trend. It’s important to deconstruct arguments in connection with Islam and develop a pitch against FGM. Increase our advocacy efforts and receive more commitments from partners that would encourage abandoning the practice of  FGM.  Through Malika, we were able to fully understand that there is still a high prevalence of FGM in these two areas of Mauritania, so we need to continue working. We plan to use the data that we gathered to advocate for the abandonment of this practice through new messages in local languages. We will also adjust our national plan roadmap of interventions on this issue. Our aim is to take this initiative at the national level through a campaign against FGM. This project has given us an opportunity to share key information with our partners and to to explore avenues to refine our work and to align our new FGM strategy and action plan with recommendations addressed by Malika. We  will continue fighting and protecting our girls!  

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Unlocking Solutions Through Positive Deviance in Palestine

BY Hadeel Abdo | February 6, 2019

To accelerate joint learning through experimenting innovative methods into our work, several UN agencies, funds and programmes working in Palestine opened the Palestine Innovation Lab spearheaded by UN Women in the spring of 2018. Change leaders and facilitators from the Welfare Improvement Network supported us with the initial setting and operation of the lab. Five UN agencies quickly adopted the Positive Deviance approach to discover successful behaviours that individuals (‘positive deviants’) practice in their own community, often against the grain of harmful norms. Adopting the positive deviance approach requires a paradigm shift: define the problem and therein lies the solution. Picture a half-filled glass: if the problem is the empty half, the solution is the full half. This approach is challenging us to reimagine how change can come from within the community itself. Positive deviants: a solution from within The first step before identifying positive deviants is to recognize that there is an existing problem. Defining the problem may seem simple but it is not. With the positive deviance approach, you have to push deeper to understand the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ of a problem. Without defining a concrete problem, it is very difficult to unlock solutions. Experimenting with the positive deviance approach The Innovation Lab is currently applying positive deviance to existing projects from UN Women, UNDP, UNICEF, UN-Habitat and UNODC. This experiment is helping the organizations to unveil and implement sustainable solutions to complex problems in Palestine. Men championing gender equality In Palestine, UN Women is working with local community-based organizations to identify men who, contrary to common practice, support the right of women to inherit property, share household work and childcare with their wives. These men are both the solution to the problem and the solution provider, actively encouraging their peers to change their behaviour to advance gender equality. Their strategies are direct and personal: knocking on people’s doors, giving lectures, and drawing attention to  the importance of gender equality on social media. For example, Yousef Nassar, a radio-show host, is using his platform to talk about how men can promote gender equality at home and workplace. In the southern part of Gaza, an Imam from the local community uses the Friday prayers to encourage young people and their families to refrain from early marriage. As a result, a number of couples have decided to postpone marriage until the age of 18. UN Women is also raising awareness on women’s equal access to economic opportunities and decent work using the positive deviance approach – putting forward women entrepreneurs and business leaders. Fostering inclusive leaders As part of the ‘Al Fakhoora Dynamic Futures Programme’, UNDP identified 30 young post-secondary female and male students from underserved backgrounds as positive deviants. Through the initiative, the students will have a better chance to realize their full potential and overcome their socioeconomic, political and cultural limitations, while encouraging peers from their own community to adopt positive behaviours.     Together with PalVision, a local NGO with a focus on youth, UNICEF is working to reduce violence and harassment by male students at a local school in Bethany in East Jerusalem. In the town of Barta’a in Area C, West Bank, UN-Habitat is supporting the Palestinian local authorities to deliver planning functions to communities at risk of displacement in the Israeli Controlled Area C. UNODC is promoting youth crime prevention through sports, in partnership with the Higher Council for Youth and Sport, to identify sports coaches and teachers who demonstrated a strong sensitivity towards gender issues. The 'positive deviants', with the support of the community-based organizations, have begun to design strategies to amplify positive behaviours within their own community to promote gender equality. Our role in positive deviance approach To ensure that communities have a total ownership over the process, we should take on the role of observers, not as experts or implementers. That is the beauty, or challenge, of the positive deviance approach. We have to patiently wait for the positive deviants to bring the changes from within and themselves. What we learned through applying positive deviance in Palestine is that ‘positive deviants’ should be from the community itself. Listening to what neighbours have to say about changing certain behaviours resonates more than having outsiders say the same thing. This is the power of positive deviance. The “experts” or “outsiders” from international agencies and civil society organizations should simply be positioned observers of the process, and the community should take centre stage, becoming both the implementers and recipients of change. Have you used positive deviance approach to implement a project? If so, please share your experience with us!

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What we Learned About Testing a Platform-Based Business Model at the UN in Moldova

BY Dumitru Vasilescu | January 30, 2019

Earlier last year, we were on a quest to test whether a platform-based organizational model would fit the new generation of UN Country Teams. A platform-based business model creates value by facilitating exchanges between two or more interdependent groups. To make these exchanges happen, platforms create large scalable networks of users and resources that can be accessed on demand. If you think about it, we at the UN in Moldova have all the ingredients to apply this approach in our work. We have 11 agencies with permanent presence in Moldova. We also have seven agencies without an office in the country which contribute to national development— remotely or on an ad-hoc basis. While these programmes, funds, and specialized agencies have their own mandate, leadership, and funding, they do have one thing in common: they are seeking to drive progress in multiple development areas. So we thought, why not combine the UN’s diverse presence in the country to address multiple barriers to sustainable and accelerated achievement of the country’s development goals such as poverty reduction, reproductive health, gender equality and food security at the same time to help ensure a multi-faceted approach to development? This is our story so far. Lesson 1: Our current system is too fragmented and requires re-thinking One thing is clear. The UN aspires to support every country’s effort to achieve the 2030 Agenda. In Moldova, we believe that it’s important to redesign and rethink the way that people, ideas and resources intersect and interact to maximize the effectiveness of development assistance. At the core of our work is our own effort to adopt the Delivering As One approach, where we focus on our internal human resources and their ability and skill to innovate, measure impact of the programmatic work and identify new areas for collaborative intervention. What we did notice is that we’re very fragmented on several levels, including non-coordinated interventions, competition for scarce funding, difficulties to coordinate work of non-residential agencies, unclear boundaries of the agencies’ mandates, and the list could go on. There are areas where we’ve successfully managed to work together as a UN Country Team. One example of this is the Gender Thematic Group. Through this group, agencies that work on women’s empowerment and gender equality meet regularly, learn about each other’s plans and programmes, and try to achieve more consistency and alignment through their interventions. The Youth Thematic Group is another good example because it’s meant for designing interventions that support youth and involve coordinated inter-agency work. Lesson 2: It’s imperative to do a detailed analysis of the current situation using a systematic approach With the guidance of the Resident Coordinator Office, UN agencies did a complex analysis of the current situation to scope out areas of cooperation between agencies. We also did a complex foresight exercise and an organizational network analysis to understand the current and future areas where our functions can intertwine and where a platform-based model would make sense. After we did the foresight exercise, we discovered that there are several areas where it makes more sense for UN agencies and the UN Country Team to act together. These areas include migration and children, coordination of non-residential and residential agencies, collaborative interventions (joint work programmes and projects), leveraging existing partnerships and harmonizing business practices. Through this exercise, we were also able to see that as the UN, we could take three possible and plausible scenarios of development into consideration to achieve the 2030 Agenda in the country and beyond. These scenarios are: The Future is Near (business-as-usual), Virtuous and Vicious and a scenario titled 'Transformers, as the third one. Source: UN, Foresight exercise Lesson 3: Not everything can work on a platform-based model Taking a collaborative approach around specific interventions, functions or internal business processes requires adopting a new modus operandi. To ensure that these collaborative efforts are sustainable from both an operational and financial standpoint, it’s important to build strong relationships with the teams that you are going to collaborate with, have a solid value proposition for local partners and have the ability to meet a need of a specific target group. It’s not all about the technology, but the people. We are new to the concept of the ‘UN-as-a-platform’ and there are no previous or current business cases using this approach throughout the organization to guide us. What exactly can we put in platforms in the future? Can we build a platform-like collaborative ecosystem based on trust, mutual benefits for the UN agencies and partners on the ground? How do we build a strong value proposition to last for much longer that a usual programmatic cycle? These are some of the questions that we are currently trying to find answers to. Are you working on applying a platform-based model in the UN? If so, talk to us.

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Egypt: How Does Foresight Make a Difference on the Ground?

BY Simone Karlstetter | January 23, 2019

When I last blogged in this space in November 2018, I wrote about our plans to use foresight dialogues as a vehicle to create images and narratives of alternative futures for Egypt in the year 2050. One of the purposes of these “Alexandria Dialogues” is to use foresight to help us build integrated and innovative policy responses that are in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We believe that foresight, which takes uncertainty, unpredictability, and interdependency as a given to explore alternative futures, is the best approach to identify emerging development opportunities and risks in the different scenarios that Egypt is facing. Let’s take the rapid population growth in Egypt, for example. Population growth is still perceived as the most pressing development priority. It will determine the effectiveness of other priorities, e.g. poverty reduction. From what we perceived, many Egyptians have a certain "doom perspective" when it comes to population growth. If we flip the coin, we could turn this issue into an unexpected advantage in the new emerging development realities in Egypt. How? Through foresight. Foresight enables decision-makers and the population as a whole to take better informed decisions which help them navigate the future from tomorrow onwards and respond to the aspirations set forth by Member States in the 2030 Agenda. The Alexandria Dialogues on foresight We kicked off the Alexandria Dialogues, a series of foresight dialogues that aim to identify the outlines of new sustainable development opportunities to realize Egypt’s significant potential, with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the major center of learning and understanding in Egypt.  For each dialogue, we invite between 20 to 30 distinguished thematic experts. Over the course of the dialogues, Egyptian thought leaders from the economic; scientific; technological; environmental; agricultural; academic and government sector come together. Each dialogue consists of two full working days, with an introduction to foresight, plenary discussions, and the core: foresight exercises in groups to imagine and build possible future scenarios and narratives. So far, we’ve carried out three out of six foresight dialogues. The topics include:   An inclusive society in Egypt in 2050. This dialogue included access to the 21st century social and economic order; new concepts of social justice, welfare, equality, inclusiveness; job and the labour market; technological innovation; spatial development, in urban as well as rural areas; old cities, new cities; gaps/divisions between regions/governorates/Upper & Lower Egypt; mental dispositions and health; the nature of resilience; the changed relationship between local, national, regional and global; intergenerational justice and dialogue. In the scenarios we built, governance played a key role in the direction of change. Laws, regulations and policies would determine, to a high degree, whether demographic, technological, economic and environmental change will have a positive or negative impact in Egypt's society in 2050 and whether that society will be inclusive or not. An educated person in Egypt in 2050. This dialogue covered the nature, nuts and bolts of education; future educational infrastructure; social, economic and political participation; the citizen of the 21st century; technological innovation; state-citizen relationship; type of social contract; international labour market; and economic growth sectors. The transformative change for these scenarios would take place in the pedagogy, emphasizing learner-based and collective learning, bringing it more in line with the creative, innovative and problem-solving needs of the 21st century. Sustainable life in Egypt in 2050. This dialogue covered the direct and indirect impact of climate change; the importance of water in all its dimensions; energy sources; resilience; consumption patterns; technological innovation; spatial development and urbanization; rural development; emerging population and health risks and opportunities; food production and security; etc. Halftime lessons Having applied foresight to three dialogues, and with three more to go, it is time to draw some “halftime” lessons from our observations thus far: Youth participation is crucial – but how? As we move forward with the dialogues, we realize that it’s imperative to include an equal share of youth voices. They are the owners of our future after all. Some of the questions that came up during the dialogues are: what is the best way to ensure that youth voices are heard? Could culture traditions hinder young participants from expressing their opinions when senior figures are in the same room? We explored including voices of youth through video statements but these did not actively feed into the scenario building and narratives. To ensure that we hear what youth have to say, we have decided to hold one of the remaining three dialogues exclusively with young students, entrepreneurs, and professionals to capture what they consider sustainable development in 2050 will look like. National capacity building Foresight is an important tool to build future scenarios. To make sure that we continue to inject foresight into the work that we do, we’ve built a new cadre of foresight experts. We trained co-facilitators from the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in-person on how to conduct each foresight exercise, and how to watch out for the usual trial and errors of each exercise. They then applied their new skills during two of the dialogues so far. Continuing the Dialogues... Since this is the first foresight exercise in Egypt in about 20 years, we’ve received very positive feedback as different Government entities expressed an interest in our work and in foresight beyond our dialogues. We will continue to organize the remaining three dialogues in addition to a one-day conference that brings together all participants from the six events in June 2019. Have you had any experiences with foresight and how it makes a difference on the ground? We would love to hear from you in the comments section.   Photo: Evan Kirby/Unsplash

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What’s preventing Bandar Lampung from going ‘green’?

BY Maurice Shawndefar, Priska Marianne | December 13, 2018

Waste generation is directly linked to urbanization. With a population of nearly 1 million, Bandar Lampung, which is located in the southern tip of the Sumatra island, the city generated 800 tons of solid waste daily in 2017. The city employs open dumping systems so waste management here is heavily dependent on the landfill’s capacity. With only one landfill in the city, the Bakung Landfill, employees there say that they are only able to collect 68 percent of the city’s waste. Without changes in the current waste management system, the landfill will continue to grow, posing environmental and health risks in the surrounding areas and beyond. A different approach to tackling waste management To address the complex nature of these challenges, we knew we needed an integrated approach to to help solve the waste management conditions from various angles. So we brought together a group of 30 participants from government agencies, non-government organizations, academia, and community volunteers to talk about the waste management challenges that were preventing a cleaner Bandar Lampung. We learned that in Indonesia, waste management is regulated by two laws regarding environmental protection and management. The first regulation encompasses raising public awareness as one of the government’s tasks, the obligation of households to reduce and handle waste management, and producers’ responsibility to label products and end-of-life product management. The laws also provide the incentives to implement the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). The city government of Bandar Lampung tasked us, namely UNDP, UNICEF, and UN Volunteers, to focus on tackling waste management in the city. We conducted an eight-week field research study to select local partners, identified a project location for piloting of the prototypes, and determined the target groups. We focused in the Rajabasa District (Kecamatan Rajabasa in Indonesian), where we found that there are urban farmers—whose lifestyle is similar to those based in rural areas—that live in the same areas as city dwellers, including students, lecturers, factory workers, restaurant owners, etc. We saw this as an opportunity to help induce small changes and impact a wide range of urban dwellers. Getting our hands dirty To identify innovative solutions that could potentially increase public awareness, reduce waste generation per capita, and support the city’s recycling effort, we organized a three-day human-centered design workshop. We divided the participants that were already involved in waste-related initiatives into five groups and gave each team a specific project scope to tackle. Mirum Agency, a leading experience design agency who specializes in innovation and human-centered design facilitated the workshop, which was designed to develop prototypes that could become the drivers for change in Bandar Lampung. To improve the sustainability of waste banks, for example, one of the teams worked on a prototype to develop a point system to incentivize citizens to deposit their recyclable goods at waste banks by offering benefits. This was a creative alternative to government subsidies. The group conducted an initial testing on the integration of SMASH in reducing the cost of information, transactions, and introduced a point system. The group received feedback from users including: 1) design a better user interface that's accessible and considers elderly as users, 2) add features in the application to ensure relevance with the context on the ground (i.e. types of products/items displayed). Another team developed a prototype which focused on the promotion of responsible consumption and waste management at schools. The objective here was to educate and increase awareness around the benefits of 3R’s (reduce, reuse, and recycle) in changing minds and behaviours. The team simulated the prototype in two schools to assess student engagement and interest. The prototype, Annual Waste Hunt Day, consisted of school-wide daily activities and competitions on recycling with a focus on plastic bottles and food packaging. Students liked the the simulation and we could see them actively participating in promoting responsible waste practices through fun and engaging activities. A behavioral approach to waste management practices In collaboration with the University of Lampung, we teamed up with thirteen junior and senior students to be in the know of what’s happening in the Rajabasa District. With the help of local partners, we reached out to small and large businesses, households, university and elementary students to collect perception surveys and conduct in-depth interviews in Rajabasa. We collected nearly 700 perception surveys, conducted in-depth interviews, and mapped out the existing business model for waste banks in Bandar Lampung. From our research, we discovered that 59 percent of the people we spoke to know how to recycle but only 35 percent of the respondents actually recycle waste. We also learned that a large proportion of the population believes that they should be doing more to practice responsible consumption in order to increase the recycling rate across the city. We also collected quantitative and qualitative data from founders, managers, and users in different waste banks in the city to gain more insights on the existing waste bank initiatives in Bandar Lampung. We partnered with SMASH, a nation-wide web-based and mobile application for waste bank management to obtain real-time data on the number of registered waste banks, transactions, and collected recyclable materials. This database allowed us to see how waste banks in Bandar Lampung compare to waste banks across Indonesia. The waste bank transaction rate in the city is currently below one percent.  Even though waste sorting is not a common practice in the country, the government is increasing efforts to reduce waste based on targets set under the National Mid-Term Development Plan for 2015-2019, by focusing on extended producer responsibility, the 3Rs, as well as increasing the number of recycling centers including waste banks to intensify waste separation at source. These in-depth interviews also helped us to identify and specify gaps and patterns in terms of social behaviour and habits that otherwise would have been overlooked. For example, the cleaning staff at University of Lampung told us that despite having separate recycling bins on campus, students and faculty do not use the proper bins to separate their waste. A waste bank operator that works in the city told us that people tend to stay away from bringing their recyclable goods to waste banks due to the social stigma attached to waste collection. People don’t want to be seen carrying around garbage bags for fear that others might think they are ‘trash pickers’. In Indonesia, most trash pickers are undocumented and from a low socioeconomic status. Early signals of scale-up Our approach is showing early signs of success. The University of Lampung allocated a budget specifically for the modification and scaling up of the awareness-raising campaign on waste separation for next year. With the university’s plan to establish a full-fledged green campus initiative and recycling center in the near future, the prototype has great potential to impact the waste reduction habits of staff and students. Our long-term plan is to mobilize resources to replicate and scale up the prototype in Bandar Lampung in different parts of the city to build community-based waste management systems from the ground. We also want to support other city governments in aligning their waste management practices with national priorities through the establishment of community-based waste management systems and sites. Are you an expert in human-centered design or behavioral insights? If so, we want to hear from you!

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Pre-positioning Disaster Data in Vietnam

BY Jenty Kirsch-Wood | December 6, 2018

Typhoons and droughts have one thing in common: they are both the result of hot temperatures. Hot air over land sucks the moisture out of the ground (drought). Hot air above the sea, in combination with warm surface water, causes evaporation. And above the Pacific Ocean, this situation turns into a typhoon. In Vietnam, an average of 6-10 typhoons hit the country between June and November each year. They cause significant damages and losses. In the dry season, from mid November to April, drought and saltwater intrusion regularly causes serious damages to agriculture-based livelihoods for Central and Highland regions. Between 2015- 2016, El Nino caused severe drought and saltwater intrusion in the Central Highlands and Mekong River Delta, which affected more than 2 million people and damaged more than 660,000 hectares of crops. In 2017, typhoon Damrey made landfall in the south central provinces, which caused 300 deaths and left approximately 400,000 people in immediate need of humanitarian assistance. Pre-positioning humanitarian supplies is common practice. Why not pre-position some of the data needed to make assessments? This is the question we asked as part of our efforts with national partners to get better data to respond faster to disasters in the country. The trouble with disaster data The Government of Vietnam and its development partners understand that a speedy and effective response can save lives and help communities bounce back after disasters. We have been proactive in collecting data and information to prepare better for relief and response activities. The problem is ensuring that disaster data is used to support timely relief and response planning. If you wait until a typhoon hits, data problems usually follow. First, you need data to understand the damages from the typhoon. Second, you also need to understand what are the early recovery needs, and this normally take 2-3 weeks to collect. Third, the government and partners have to verify the data sources from the commune and district level to ensure their accuracy before using it to inform relief and response activities. After a disaster, the pressure to move quickly often means that data collection is uneven. This makes it much more difficult to focus on data cleaning and analysis with disaster response data. Last but not least, quantitative data on the number of people affected by typhoons is not always available. Or it can be either under and over estimated, which makes for inaccurate estimations of the humanitarian assistance that is needed. Data on vulnerable groups, such as people living with disabilities is even harder to come by. From 3 weeks to 36 hours: prepositioning disaster assessment data before the typhoon We are developing tools and maps that can link baseline data on vulnerability and potential risks to improve preparedness, response and recovery activities. We are working with a local IT firm to make use of different layers of data in order to visualize disaster effects caused by typhoons/floods. The tool will be a web-based application, which will then be accompanied by a relief and recovery tracking tool - an app for mobile phones so it can be used on the go. As part of design, we talked to sectoral experts and partners including the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority and the Disaster Management Working Group about what baseline data is needed. Together with a UN team, we collected the key baseline data for eight sectors: health, food security, water and sanitation, nutrition, shelter, protection, education and early recovery. This helped us develop a working prototype of how baseline and disaster data can help speed up disaster response. We are now developing an approach to be able to show where storm tracks will go, and how this will impact the total population. The tools and maps that we are working on will also help predict the most likely scenario of disaster impacts on the communities. With this information, we would be able to calculate the costs of likely humanitarian and recovery needs. These advanced tools will generate an assessment report within 36 hours of disaster. We did this by pre-positioning the baseline data to automatically generate an estimated calculation for impacts and recovery needs for specific areas affected by a disaster. Having the data on hand will provide a contextualized picture of the disaster that the government, UN agencies and development partners can use to plan for relief, response and recovery activities. These tools and maps are part of a comprehensive solution to prepare quicker and better for disasters. Improving quality and delivery of social and projection services post disasters UNDP is the leading agency and is working with UN partners including UN Women, WHO, FAO, UNICEF, IOM on the project, and to identify available baseline data for relevant sectors such as health, education, shelter, etc., and associated key immediate needs. Each agency is responsible for its sectoral baseline data collection and contributes to the development of tools within consultation meetings. We also talked with relevant governmental agencies and members of Disaster Management Working Groups to ensure than the solutions promote gender equity and highlight the needs of the most vulnerable groups such as children, people with disability, elderly, and people with HIV/AIDS. It also improves quality and delivery of social and projection services after disasters through partnership building. Our team is the final stages of developing a simple tool that turns the baseline data into a rapidly usable reporting format for humanitarian assistance. The tool will undergo the final testing phase this month. We hope to test the tools within this disaster season, and keep learning from our work to date to support more speedy and effective disaster response and recovery in the near future. Photo: Markus Spiske via Unsplash

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The United Nations’ best kept secret

BY Olga Zubritskaya-Devyatkina | November 28, 2018

When the 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal on 25 April 2015, a group of 14 people responded to the crisis within a few hours. With the support of the United Nations, they started to collect tweets and images that described the immediate situation in Nepal. They diligently classified the tweets and geolocated images to assess the damages and needs in the affected regions. They gave the information to the organizations that were providing relief services depending on a geographic area. You might wonder why these 14 people are so meaningful to our response work in Nepal. As it turns out, they are part of a network of over 17,000 individuals worldwide who dedicate their time and expertise through the Online Volunteering service of the United Nations Volunteers programme. A service you can also benefit from, as will be explained at the end of this article. Take Nepali UN Online Volunteer Vibek Raj Maurya, for example. He works for ActionAid International in Somaliland. He is a passionate supporter of open source software and open knowledge and had volunteered for Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap. “After the devastating earthquake in Nepal, I ran across the call on the UNV website. Instantly, I signed up for the cause. I was not in the country but I wanted to be part of the humanitarian response in whatever way and capacity I could,” he says. Vibek worked in the Urgent Needs and Geographic Information System Group. He guided new volunteers on gathering data from social media and news sites as well as other public data sources.He taught other volunteers how to enter the data into the database to produce a good information repository for responders on the ground, including OCHA, UNDP, ACAPS and WFP. The hard work and impact of these online volunteers that stepped it up and contributed to the emergency response in Nepal is priceless. Sending life-saving messages out In September last year, three hurricanes struck the Caribbean, causing a wide number of casualties and devastation across the region. To provide up-to-date information to those affected, UNICEF launched the Disaster Risk Reduction campaign, its boldest social media exercise to date. UNICEF partnered with Facebook, Viber and teams of UN Online Volunteers to get life-saving messages out to the communities living in Hurricane Irma’s path. UNICEF used U-Report, a global platform where people are able to speak out on issues that matter to them, to upload pre-approved emergency preparedness advice, offering important information on how to prepare for the hurricane. With over 25,000 people accessing information via U-Report, it was difficult to address all the incoming questions quickly. This is when UNICEF partnered with UN Online Volunteers. Within 30 hours, the volunteers were responding to the multiple inquiries from those affected. “The great thing about onlinevolunteering.org was the speed with which we could engage the volunteers and the high quality of their work,” says James Powell, Global U-Report Lead from the UNICEF Global Innovation Centre, who coordinated the online volunteer teams. Over the course of 21 days, working in shifts to ensure 24-hour coverage, and frequently forced to juggle their own commitments, the online volunteers responded to over 8,000 messages, using up-to-minute information provided by UNICEF. The online volunteering service platform recognized the team of 7 UN volunteers for their outstanding work. “It was gratifying to see that giving some hours of my time helped UNICEF to provide important, sometimes life saving information. We can all be agents of change, each and every one of us. Our decisions can put us either on the right side of change, or on the wrong side. Working on this assignment made me feel I was on the right side of change,” says Nouriatou Ntieche, one of the UN online volunteers involved with UNICEF during Hurricane Irma. A new form of partnerships Across the globe, volunteers are helping over 40 UN entities reach their programmatic goals and delivery worldwide, with a simple laptop and an internet connection. Many of these online volunteer opportunities are related to research, communications, translation and graphic design. The sky’s the limit when it comes to finding a talented pool of individuals, however, what makes these UN Online Volunteers different is their passion and commitment to give their talents to help make this world a more inclusive place for everyone. So, how can you engage UN online volunteer? It’s as easy as 1-2-3: Register your office or team at onlinevolunteering.org Receive expert advice on how to best involve UN Online Volunteers and draft your assignment Select the best-suited candidate(s) who have applied to get them onboard!

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What will sustainable life in Egypt look like in 2050?

BY Simone Karlstetter | November 21, 2018

Let’s take a look back at Egypt in the 1960s. With a population of 27 million people, 90 percent lived in rural areas and approximately 70 percent were considered poor. Could anyone, at that time, have imagined that Egypt would have an estimated 100 million inhabitants and an economy nearing $400 billion? Could anyone have anticipated that Egypt’s middle class would grow from 10 million people to 70 million in 2015? Could anyone have foreseen this in 1960, based on Egypt’s growth trajectory in the 30 years before that? We at the UN in Egypt are aware that using historical data is not a panacea to predict the future. The future does not unfold in a static environment; there are ‘signals’ of emerging trends and issues that create new development realities. Uncertainty is the new normal Epidemics travel faster than ever, the growing resistance to antibiotics severely disrupting existing public health models and revolutionary medical innovation is cutting costs dramatically. National food security, with all of its social and political implications, hinges more on a country’s ability to tap in the world food markets than on local production. The  traditional assumptions about what is possible is changing rapidly. Demographics and economics are becoming less predictable. Based on 2017 census data, a new population scenario is unfolding in Egypt. With a growth rate of 2.56 percent against a population of 96 million, there could be on average 800,000 job seekers a year between 2018 to 2022. To absorb the amount of people entering the workforce, the idea was for manufacturing to be an employment solution for Egypt’s growing population. However, exponential technological changes may mean Egypt cannot follow the manufacturing models of the Asian tigers of the 1970s and China in the 1990s. The patterns of the past are very unlikely to offer assurances of future success. The manufacturing industry as we know it may not provide sufficient long-range opportunities for employment in the entire 21st century given automation and service trends, which are  replacing human labor. Another force creating new development realities in Egypt is climate change. The rise in temperatures is leading to water loss due to evaporation. At the same time, the foreseen rise in sea levels will inundate much of Egypt’s low lying land in the Nile Delta, which is densely populated. This situation is also a threat to food security as it’s reducing crop yields.   The combination of adverse factors could push the country over the water scarcity threshold soon and undermine the ability of the country’s natural resource base to sustain a growing population. Egypt is also located in a volatile region. For example, the instability in neighboring Libya has forced over one million Egyptian migrant workers to return home. The country also hosts a substantial number of refugees and economic migrants fleeing insecurity and lack of economic opportunities in their countries of origin. The tyranny of data Traditional planning practices as we know them are less relevant than before. For example, quantitative modelling, which is based on projecting ‘old’ data (that is, data from the past, including their past ‘behavior’) into the future, makes it less possible to deal with volatility and uncertainty, key dimensions of any future. We can easily get caught up in a “tyranny of data” and ignore that human evolution has not been linear or data driven. Contrary to public belief, history rarely repeats itself and fabled economic mutatis-mutandis conditions are never maintained. An exclusively data driven approach may not necessarily inspire the actions needed to adapt to long range, emerging development trends. The Alexandria Dialogues Earlier this year, we at the UN in Egypt partnered up with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a center of excellence and major cultural institution in the country, to carry out a series of strategic foresight dialogues, known as Alexandria Dialogues. We used third-generation foresight techniques to create images and narratives of alternative futures for Egypt in the year 2050. To get this off the ground, we co-organized a series of conversations with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. During these interactions, we explored the new emerging development realities of Egypt with high level officials, civil society, and academics to identify promising new strategic opportunities to realize the country’s potential. Since foresight allows policymakers to stress test their thinking against biases, different assumptions and scenarios of the future, we spoke with influential people and decision-makers to help us identify key topics related to the economy, society, science and technology, environment and agriculture. We wanted to make sure these ideas resonate, so we asked thought leaders to validate them. The six topics that we selected are: Egyptian society: How will an inclusive society look like in Egypt in 2050? The anthropocene: What will a sustainable life in Egypt in 2050 look like? Citizenship of the future: What will it mean to be an educated person in Egypt in 2050? People on the move: How will internal, external and virtual mobility affect Egypt in 2050? The social contract: What will the (formal) relationship between citizens and State be in Egypt in 2050? New geopolitical forces and cross border challenges: How will Egypt’s relationship with the broader region look like in 2050? Between September and December 2018, we are organizing six foresight events around the topics mentioned above. One of the many advantages of foresight is that when people come together to talk about the future, there’s no room to play the blame game; it’s taken out of the equation. These dialogues are a safe space to discuss scenarios, examine future socio-economic opportunities, and uncover sustainable pathways toward a vibrant and prosperous Egypt in 2050. As a next step, we are planning to present and discuss the Scenarios and Narratives from the Future, which emerged during Alexandria Dialogues at a one-day Conference at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in April 2019. We are going to invite experts and stakeholders to explore the different dimensions of the Narratives, discuss the emerging strategic opportunities and suggest follow-up actions. These foresight series have been an eye-opener for us. They’re helping us break new ground by providing a participatory platform to talk about the probable futures of Egypt. Stay tuned for more, we are just getting started!

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Crowdsourcing the campfire: how our data visualization contest opened doors

BY Abigail Taylor-Jones | November 14, 2018

“Visualizations act as a campfire around which we gather to tell stories.” - Al Shalloway, founder and CEO of Net Objectives. Telling our story well is key to ensuring we can influence policy and other key decision-making processes. In order to do so, it is important to get new insights from the evidence we generate from the data we collect. To give a sense of the scale, we collect data from 130 UN Country Teams, serving 165 countries. The types of data we collect ranges from operational data, socio-economic data, financial data, data on coordination and results. Sitting behind the walls of the UN can sometimes be lonely ploughing through all this data (other times it is quite daunting). So, we have to think of creative ways to gather new insights to tell a good and compelling story. The UN is known as an organization that brings people together globally to participate in various ways, for example working towards realizing the goals set for 2030 Agenda. For us, being open and inclusive about the UN’s work is always at the forefront of our minds, even when it comes to data. We started thinking about ways to include others from outside the UN in our analysis and data visualization process. As the Secretariat to the UN Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG) we have access to a wide range of data, so we thought, why not launch our first ever UNSDG data visualization contest and find out what others can see in our data? So, my colleague Kana Kudo and I did just that. In collaboration with Tableau, we launched the contest and invited data scientists and anyone interested in data visualization to use our data from the UNSDG portal, which pulls UN specific data, published by several agencies, using the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standards to report how the UN is contributing to the global development agenda. Data is powerful but we don’t always know how to tell a story with it After launching the contest, we realized there were blind spots that we failed to see. For example, some of the submissions did make use of the IATI data sets, while others did not. The guidelines we provided were clear, however the research questions were a little unclear. We ended up receiving several stunning visualizations, but they were not exactly what we were looking for. We learned that when it comes to data, it’s best to be specific. Another learning was that data scientists wanted the option to work with other data visualization tools and not be limited to Tableau; so we had to broaden the scope of tools for the contest. We brought a selection panel together to assess the submissions, and we selected two winners. The first winner crafted “Visualizing Malaria: The Killer Disease Killing Africa,” an impactful visualization that analyses malaria deaths in the world, how they have changed, and how funding has evolved over the years, particularly in Africa. The contestant explained that she had been inspired by the experience of a dear friend who had been infected with malaria. We also liked this visualization on malaria because it focused on both the positive and negative aspects of the fight against this diseases. Whilst lives are been saved through the use of mosquito nets, there’s also a downward trend in other aspects, which means more still needs to be done. [caption id="attachment_10399" align="alignnone" width="542"] Visualization by Rosebud Anwuri[/caption] The second data visualization titled “Leave no one Behind”, included the UN’s spending on each Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) per country, looking at the financial distribution among the SDGs. The underlying calculations were just as impressive as the visualization itself! We liked this visual and we were interested in how the participant highlighted the leaving no one behind aspect, which is the central promise of the 2030 Agenda; and an overarching programming principle. Looking at how we are doing from a financial expenditure perspective is key to assessing the UN’s contribution to the SDGs. Behind the scenes, our team in Headquarters was tinkering with developing UN Info, a tool that integrates the UN contributions to the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. This is an important aspect because it keeps us accountable and helps UN Country Teams with programme management. From this contest, it was clear to us that data is obviously powerful but we don’t always know how to tell a story out of it. We were very impressed with the contestants’ interpretations and the visualizations. As a bonus, we also gained unexpected and useful insights that helped us refine our UN IATI data set.   [caption id="attachment_10400" align="alignnone" width="570"] Visualization by Pedro Fontoura[/caption] One of the things that we also discovered, is that data scientists like to get involved. Chloe Tseng, founder of Viz for Social Good contacted us to find out how she could collaborate with us. Although she didn’t participate in the contest, we were keen to work with Chloe and her team of volunteers just as she was to work with us. Goal 17 of the SDGs relates to partnerships and we know how important it is work with others to realize our goals. We gave Viz for Social Good a particular set of data related to the partnerships that the Country Teams have beyond the UN. If you haven’t read Viz for Social Good’s journey working with us, and the beautiful visualizations that came out of our partnership, check it out here. Our data was too fat! The contest was a great learning opportunity for us. From our collaboration with Chloe and the Viz For Social Good network of over 2000 data visualization experts, we learned that our data is good but we need to look at ways of improving the way data is parsed through our systems and ensure that it is formatted in a manageable and easy way for data scientists to work with it. Chloe also gave us feedback on moving from larger chunks of data to smaller chunks. We took these recommendations very seriously and have made significant changes in our data systems for optimum use by data scientists. We trimmed down our data in smaller chunks that requires little time for data cleaning which allows for quicker analysis. This experience was definitely an eye opener in terms of telling a more powerful and compelling story than we will ever be able to do if we stick to large sets of data in an excel format. The campfire is still with us Collaborating with Viz For Social Good and with the contest participants inspired our team to adapt our digital strategy work.  Seeing the way these artists take data and communicate with it opened our eyes. Our taste has changed and boy have our standards gotten higher. We are designing dashboards for future projects and seeing the artistry has upped our game for the long run.   Photo: Wenni Zhou

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