Bringing Brazil back office innovations into the spotlight

BY Maria Helena Mizuno Moreira | December 6, 2017

At the beginning of 2016, Nesta predicted that back office innovations would take center stage.   In the case of the UN in Brazil, this prediction was spot on. If you work outside the United Nations system you might assume that we consistently pool our resources. But we don't. This is largely due to the fact that the UN organisations were created one by one by the UN Member States over the last 70 years, and the different UN organisations therefore had to set up their own internal management structures - not unlike different ministries in a government. In the past, cost savings have been pursued UN agency by UN agency within their sometimes very different business models. As part of the drive for better services and reduced costs, however, the UN has been reconsidering this model, and are trying out new methods for pooling back office functions to better serve the populations we work for.    The UN in Brazil is one of the four integrated business centers across the UN system that are piloting this new way of working. We named it the Joint Operations Facility, or the JOF (yes, we love acronyms in the UN!). The other integrated business pilots are in Cape Verde, Copenhagen and Viet Nam. In Brazil, we began 18 months ago with the idea of simplifying business processes and integrating services across UN entities. Out of 22 funds, programmes, and specialized agencies working in Brazil, six agencies endorsed this project: UNDP, UNFPA, UNESCO, UN Women, UNOPS and UN Environment, with UNAIDS as a partner agency. With the support of the UNDG Business Operations Working Group and the UN High-Level Committee on Management, we conducted a strategic review of business operations in the country. We assessed our procurement, IT and human resources needs and created a business case for pulling these back office functions together. This analysis was the official start of our Joint Operations Facility in Brazil. What does integrating business operations really mean? Setting up this facility meant creating a new team to fully address the new needs of these agencies in country. We created new positions for procurement, travel, ICT and a manager that oversees the work of the team. The JOF Manager reports to the UN Resident Coordinator, who shares the governance of the facility with the six agencies participating in the initiative. For decisions, we follow the General Assembly “one vote one voice” principle, so each agency has an equal say regardless of the size or volume of goods or funds they channel through the facility. Now 18 months later, we are proud to say that the members of this facility are working together on a single service platform centralizing procedures and business operations in the areas of procurement, travel, information and communications technology. Centralizing services allows for several benefits such a sharing the costs and risks, and allowing staff to specialise and therefore increase the quality of services. The bumpy parts As with any new endeavor, the UN in Brazil faced several obstacles including entrenched practices, cultural clashes, and different ways of thinking. Some entities felt that they took an unfair financial hit and perceived a disadvantage in their business services, while smaller entities already counted on the facility to sustain their activities. Other lessons that we learned during this 18 months of journey are: Never underestimate transition periods: What we realized during the process is that setting up solid administrative support services requires an investment, and the transition period shouldn’t be underestimated. Technology to the rescue: The ICT tools that the facility used were initially connected with specific UN entities’ requirement. We soon learned that this was too complex. A second generation of ICT applications and portal will be released soon allowing automated monitoring to improve control, transparency and operational efficiency. When duplication happens, breathe, and phase it out: Some of the participating agencies preferred to keep parallel internal operational structures. This was redundant to the purpose of the Joint Operations Facility, and agencies quickly realized that it was not sustainable and these structures are being phased out gradually. The lack of a global UN-wide common procurement manual has been a challenge, and we are trying to identify and adopt already existing operational good practices across the UN system to have a common framework. As a work-around, we are now working on our own common manual for procurement to consolidate practices including the adoption of a harmonized procurement manual. This has been a difficult and time consuming process. We believe that by expanding and providing additional procurement services, as well as launching the shared human resource services, we will ensure the sustainability and relevance of the facility. We are currently negotiating the provision of services to more agencies through service legal agreements, we will keep you posted in the number of agencies joining us! The silver lining It’s safe to say that our hard work ultimately paid off. Since launching the facility in March 2016, we are developing new procedures and tools to streamline our work. By simplifying and revamping our internal business flows, we we are reducing our common operation footprint while improving the collective efficiency and saving costs. What’s next? In terms of next steps, some already see the opportunity to expand this facility into a regional hub. As the only integrated service center in the Latin America and the Caribbean region, building in the current structure we would have the potential to provide business operations services to multiple countries to increase cost savings and improve quality of office services. So we feel that this is just the beginning of an exciting project. Despite the hurdles, we trust that we are on the right track and will continue to support the United Nations to think outside the box and construct innovative, efficient and effective mechanisms to achieve the 2030 Agenda.

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How we helped the UN use #dataviz for social change

BY Chloe Tseng | November 29, 2017

Working in the city of innovation, San Francisco, I’m surrounded by big tech giants and people who strive to make the world a better place. Early last year, Helena Price, a Silicon Valley photographer, started a project "Techies." She interviewed and took 100 portraits of underrepresented minorities who work in tech. Her project challenged the stereotypes and encouraged tech companies to hire a more diverse workforce.   Her message “everyone can leverage her/his own strength to make a difference” inspired me to initiate my personal project #VizforSocialGood. I created a series of data visualizations that illustrate challenges women face and shared them on Twitter to promote gender equality. After giving a talk about #VizforSocialGood at the Tableau Conference last November, I received a great amount of interest from the audience in contributing their skills. Therefore, I decided to transform my small project into a community that helps mission-driven organizations harness the power of data visualization for social change. In the past 10 months, Viz for Social Good has grown into a community with more than 500 volunteers globally. We have partnered with several organizations, including the United Nations Children's Fund to visualize and increase awareness of the child refugee crisis; the United Nations Development Programme to analyze people’s views on poverty, inequality, and climate change to influence global leaders; and Stanford University to identify factors holding women back in science, technology engineering and math. Getting the conversation started with the UN Development Group During my quest to build partnerships with nonprofits, I stumbled upon the United Nations Development Group’s Data Visualization Contest sponsored by Tableau. I saw this as a sign that the UN was craving for data visualization, and thus I reached out and proposed a collaboration. In the first conversation with the UNDG team, I was impressed by their enthusiasm for data. I also saw countless, untapped opportunities for data visualization that could empower staff to carry out their missions. This conversation ignited my desire to bridge the data literacy and technology gap for the UN. That’s how we started our journey!   The fun and not so fun bits For this particular project with UNDG, our goal was to scope the UN Country Teams’ external partnerships and topics that they were working on in 2017. We quickly discovered that the data had 445 columns, and thus reshaping data was needed. We also learned that some of the value in the data were entered manually by staff, so the data was not always consistent. Therefore, it took us some time to “clean up” the data and make sure that the value is consistent across the board (for more details you can check Michael Mixon blog Anatomy of a Viz). Having said that, we truly enjoyed working with the UNDG team! They were genuinely curious about learning everything on data and data visualization (as proof, you can check the recording of our webinar where we got more than 200 participants!). Their passion was contagious and encouraged all of us to keep moving forward with this project. It’s certainly fulfilling to see how our visualizations have been used to educate people internally and externally, and have helped the team understand their own data. Check out the selected data visualizations by clicking on the images! Author: Neil Richards Author: Chloe Tseng Author: Michael Mixon Author: Lilach Manheim Author: Ivett Kovács Getting involved with Viz for Social Good First the good news: anyone can become a volunteer. Viz for Social Good is a community, not a competition, that allows everyone to enjoy creating visualization while making a positive impact. Each project is just like a virtual hackathon -- we receive a data visualization project request from nonprofit, we share the project with the community online, and anyone who is passionate about the social cause can jump in. People can then share their data visualizations on Twitter using the hashtag #VizforSocialGood. It’s always fun to see how each volunteer analyzes and interprets the same data in a very different way. To join the community visit: https://www.vizforsocialgood.com/  Our future plans Next year, for nonprofits, we want to scale our impact by not only designing visualizations for them but also strengthening their skills through presentations and trainings. Also, we would like to get involved with many other more social causes that we haven’t worked on this year, such as LGBT issues, racism, and wildlife.   For volunteers, we hope to provide them more growth opportunities through in-person hackathons in their areas. Our community mostly connects virtually, so we would like to have local events for people to get together, talk about a social cause, and visualize it. Don’t be shy, come and join our community!

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Crowdfunding for smart cities in Albania

BY Jorina Kadare, Stefania Sechi | November 14, 2017

Let’s start with a little bit of recent history. Innovative financing for the UN goes back to the International Conference on Financing for Development in 2002. The hope was that innovative financing would help to bridge the gap between what was available and what was needed to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. As the name suggests, innovative finance means raising funds for development by using unconventional mechanisms. For example, micro-levies, public-private partnerships, and other mechanisms that go beyond financial contributions. It can also mean optimising the use of traditional funding sources to transfer assets to where they are needed the most. Fast forward to 2012, when the UN, governmental institutions, and donors started to mull over realistic ways to finance the achievement of the Global Goals by 2030, bearing in mind the estimated total costs which vary between $90 and $ 120 trillion, and with a funding gap of $2.5 trillion per year. The concept of innovative financing came up again. #Crowdfunding4Children We at the UN in Albania decided to test out alternative forms of financing, which are progressively being mainstreamed across the agency’s interventions. Ever since the internet made it possible to use crowdfunding to finance projects, individuals and the private sector have used this new tool to their advantage, so why not us? We saw the potential of using crowdfunding as an integral part of our mission to achieve the 2030 Agenda. Our first successful experiment was a crowdfunding campaign launched in July 2016 that allowed the construction of the first all-inclusive playground in Albania suitable for children with special needs and diverse abilities. This work builds on our previous  open data project with the Municipality of Tirana where we blended and opened up data sets on safety of our cities in the  Open Data Portal of Tirana Smart City. Out of 22 play grounds currently under management by the Municipality of Tirana, only one is suitable for children with special needs. Building better parks will help all children interact with their peers and develop their personalities in a safe and healthy environment.  And it went pretty well! By tapping into a large pool of individuals, mainly via social media and crowdfunding platforms, and through advocacy initiatives we raised our goal of $20,000 for the #Crowdfunding4Children campaign. Supporting youth employment through equity crowdfunding UNDP, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN Women are also testing out how to build financial connections between mature enterprises willing to invest in promising start-ups through equity crowdfunding. The goal is to set up a sustainable system that supports emerging businesses. United Nations Albania, in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Tirana, was able to engage with 100 VIP companies in an exploration survey, probing their potential participation in equity crowdfunding schemes. Another component of this joint initiative relates to the assessment of a reward-based crowdfunding model among small communities in Tirana. This tool allows individuals to contribute towards a specific project with the anticipation of receiving a tangible –non-financial– reward at a later date. We are building on this model by involving private services providers. For example, integrating the option to financially contribute to a social project at the time as making a routine payment, for example, for an electricity or telecommunications service bill.  We hope that these alternative mechanisms will play an important role in transforming Tirana into a smart city. We believe that crowdfunding deserves more trust in the development world. Crowdsourcing enables resource mobilisation, promotes innovative initiatives, and galvanises active citizenship!

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‘Glocalizing’ the Sustainable Development Goals in Moldova

BY Aurelia Spataru | October 20, 2017

Almost two years ago, 193 Member States of the United Nations, including Moldova, adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This bold and universal Agenda already has many countries around the world taking action to improve people’s lives and plan for a sustainable future.   In Moldova’s case, planting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in national soil and turning the 2030 Agenda into a reality has been quite the journey! The good news is that  Moldova’s national policy agenda is now aligned with more than 106 of the SDGs targets and it selected 226 global indicators to assess progress towards these global goals. 'Glocalizing' the SDGs targets The UN resolution says that the SDG targets are “aspirational and global, with each government setting its own national targets guided by the global level of ambition but taking into account national circumstances.” The beauty of the SDGs is that they’re inclusive of everyone, so our first step was to identify which of the 169 global targets are  most urgent for the Moldovan context. This is what we mean by ‘glocalizing’ - localising a global set of goals while benefitting from the drive of the whole world towards the same ambition. So here’s how we 'glocalize': The UN in Moldova worked through 180 of the government of Moldova’s main national strategic documents to find connections between the Moldovan local reality and the global targets. We found immediate points of contact with almost two thirds of the global targets. Once we gathered this information, we spoke with public servants, civic activists, community and business leaders, and researchers. We wanted to know their thoughts on the SDG targets. If a target was not immediately applicable, then, we wanted to know how it could be adjusted to make it more concrete and specific to the Moldovan context. During the consultations, we jointly defined who would be the responsible government institution to take action and ownership so that we reach the targets. With a fresh pair of eyes, we looked at the national strategic documents again to identify all policy-related gaps that needed to be addressed. We also provided proposals to amend policies and introduce new concepts of sustainable development to deepen the focus on the most vulnerable populations, for example, adding a specific target to understand how many people fall into poverty due to natural disasters such as floods, droughts and landslides. The 2030 Agenda is a complex one, and Moldova is in full swing towards reforming its central administration. The country doesn’t have enough financial resources to cover all the costs at once. So, taking this into consideration, we set priorities and came up with a list of “triggers” that would produce a domino effect and help us reach the other linked targets. Crowdsourcing how to measure SDG progress in Moldova The Moldovan government is currently only prepared to report on half of the nationalized indicators because of financial, capacity and methodological constraints. When we realized this, we knew that we would need to engage experts across many disciplines in order to develop methodologies and data collection.     Under the leadership of the State Chancellery and the direct involvement of the National Bureau of Statistics, we worked for nine months to tailor global targets and indicators to fit the situation on the ground. Talking to different stakeholders (public authorities, civil society, and the private sector) was decisive to our success. Their valuable inputs and insights for tailoring global targets and indicators to the national context represented the first step in assuming of the 2030 Agenda by the people of Moldova. Trying to figure all of this out was no easy feat, so we developed a toolkit which will also help us with the further integration of the SDGs’ into the work of both government and partners in the next stage. The Council for Sustainable Development, which was set up as an institutional anchor to the SDGs nationalization process endorsed and disseminated all of our collective efforts. The process to nationalize the SDGs in Moldova has even catalysed a broader reform aimed at streamlining the policy planning framework. Given the success, the Government has asked the UN to support in the evaluation of its current national strategy and the new Strategy Moldova 2030. Even after all this… the work has just begun! Do you have any advice for us?  Let us know!

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Sustainable Development Goals Are Country-Led And Country-Owned

BY Magdy Martínez-Solimán, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco | September 22, 2017

Over the past 20 years, the world has seen unprecedented progress of human development, as nearly 1.1 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty. But unfinished business remains. Today, roughly 800 million people still live in extreme poverty and inequalities are growing. It was with this in mind that world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) almost two years ago. This is the most ground-breaking development agenda the world has seen, for it contains a radical promise: to leave no one behind. It is a promise to every man and woman who goes to bed hungry, every boy and girl who is deprived of education, every person who is fleeing violent conflict. Put to practice everywhere, this promise transforms our world! You may ask what a set of goals and high-flown words on paper can do to address these enormous challenges in practice. It is a fair question. But the answer is- a lot! The City of Montería in Colombia has become one of Latin America’s greenest cities by linking green urbanism, transportation and renewable energy to the SDGs. In Mexico, a project on reduced inequalities focusing on children with disabilities has improved the lives of 12,000 boys and girls. 350 caregivers in 9 states have been trained in this UN-supported project to increase the quality of care, give better opportunities to children with disabilities to complete schooling, and ultimately increase their prospects of leading a life as fully empowered members of society. In Kyrgyzstan, supported by the UN Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund, local self-governing authorities and citizens have jointly identified and implemented more than 120 local infrastructure projects aimed at smoothing tensions over scarce natural resources. Multilingual education has reached more than 9,000 students, helping to increase inter-ethnic understanding and enhance the prospects of success for historically marginalized groups. These efforts contribute to achieving the SDGs and address root causes of conflict. The leadership demonstrated by citizens and governments in these countries show the SDGs to be country-led and country-owned, and relevant everywhere. Now, a particular challenge is to reach the 1.4 billion people that today live in fragile and conflict-affected situations. With the concept of “sustaining peace”, endorsed by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, the world is recognizing that there cannot be peace without development and no development without peace. The United Nations is moving away from a narrow focus on time-bound peacekeeping interventions to emphasize efforts for long-term sustainable peace. This encompasses the imperative of conflict prevention and addressing root causes and drivers of violence. It also includes the need to address all stages of the conflict cycle, the importance of breaking siloes and formulate comprehensive and coherent approaches, as well as the need to ensure national ownership and inclusivity. For countries on the move from violent conflict to peace and democratic rule, the 2030 Agenda can indeed be a powerful lever for change. The world has the largest generation of young people ever. 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 are preparing for their future. This is by itself an incredible opportunity for change. In many countries in transition, youth has played a key role in instigating change. In the Gambia, the youth population was crucial in choosing a peaceful path away from authoritarian rule nine months ago. In a country where a disproportionate number of young people risk their life to cross the Mediterranean in search for a better life, this new chapter is an opportunity to build a more open and inclusive society. Like the Gambian youth, people have engaged to make the SDGs come alive across the globe. Over 10 million people voiced their priorities during the run up to the Agenda’s launch in 2015. Now we need more people to do the same. We need new ways of working together, we need investment bankers to work with environmental activists, religious leaders with feminist organizations, sports leaders with disabled young people. To spur this development, the UN is strengthening its support to Member States for the implementation of the SDGs around the world. We know that the 2030 Agenda is a bold plan for humanity that requires equally bold changes to the UN development system to ensure that we support countries as effectively as possible. This also means better connecting our efforts across the peace and security, human rights and development pillars of the organization to achieve sustainable development on the ground. (Context: On 21 September 2017, the UN Development Group held a side-event to the UN General Assembly: “The SDGs in action – Country-led, Country-Owned”. The event focused on initiatives and lessons learned to accelerate progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in different countries and regions, including in vulnerable and conflict-affected settings.) Photography: ©FAO/Antonello Proto

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Using Machine Learning to Accelerate Sustainable Development Solutions in Uganda

September 14, 2017

A year and a half after it was prototyped, the radio content analysis tool developed by Pulse Lab Kampala and partners has become fully operational. The findings and lessons learned during the process were compiled in a report entitled: “Using Machine Learning to Analyse Radio Content in Uganda - Opportunities for Sustainable Development and Humanitarian Action.” The recent Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Good Global Summit has brought together partners to define a roadmap for governments, industry, academia, media, and civil society to develop AI in a safe, responsible and ethical manner benefiting all segments of society. At the summit, the radio content analysis tool was showcased as one of the applications of AI currently in use at the UN. The tool was designed to leverage public radio content as a source of information to inform on issues relevant to sustainable development. The most complex part in the development of the prototype is capturing the transcription of spoken words into written text. This technology, called speech recognition, is used in applications ranging from simple voice dialing (e.g. "Call home") to fully automatic speech-to-text processing where every word is being converted into text (e.g. dictation to a document or email). The world’s largest IT companies, including Apple, Google, Microsoft and IBM, invest significant resources in speech recognition for their products. There are also companies that specialise in speech recognition as Nuance Communications (Apple’s supplier) or HTK. This type of companies offer automatic speech-to-text dictation in about 50 languages, but languages and dialects from the African continent are not available among them. The radio content analysis tool was developed as part of a project conducted by Pulse Lab Kampala in collaboration with the Stellenbosch University in South Africa. The tool works by converting public discussions that take place on radio in various African languages into text. Once converted, the text can be searched for topics of interest. The tool is now fully functional in the Northern and Central regions of Uganda and available for three languages: Luganda, Acholi and English (as spoken in the country). The report outlines the methodology and processes of the radio content analysis tool, distills the technology behind its creation and presents the lessons learned along the way. It also details the results of several pilot studies that were conducted together with partners from the Government, UN agencies and academia to understand the validity and value of unfiltered public radio discussions for development. The hope is that the processes and lessons detailed in the report can serve as examples and inspiration for using radio talk and data analytics to inform decision-making processes in development and humanitarian scenarios, in contexts where other sources of data may be missing or insufficient. Using Machine Learning to Analyse Radio Content in Uganda from Global Pulse Uganda’s population is the youngest in the world, with 77% of its population being under 30 years of age. The country is now gaining international recognition for the development of Artificial Intelligence products by its youth.Listen to insights from the young Ugandans working at Pulse Lab Kampala on the development of the radio content analysis tool.   Cross-posted from the United Nations Global Pulse Blog.

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Why we’re turning to solar energy at the UN in Namibia

BY Caroline M Nkuziwalela, Saidu Kamara | August 2, 2017

On Saturday, 25 March 2017, UN Namibia took part in the global Earth Hour movement. We joined millions of people from every corner of the world to show support for climate action.  Our participation in this movement proves critical in that, saving electricity today, we establish better energy saving habits which lead to a brighter, better future. It’s easier said than done though. Did you know that in Namibia, between 40 to 80 percent of energy is imported from South Africa, which is facing shortages and has regular energy cuts? To tackle this, following the United Nations Partnership Framework agreement, we will assist the Government strategically to develop its own energy sources, prioritizing solar energy, for energy security and secure commitment towards a low carbon development pathway. Turn on the lights, sustainably What if we told you that the UN House in Windhoek is going to turn into a self-sustaining, energy efficient building? The UN House is comprised of 12 UN agencies, all of whom participate in the conversion to a solar photovoltaic PV system. A photovoltaic system, or solar power system, is designed to supply usable solar power by means of photovoltaics and is being widely scaled as a primary source of renewable energy in many facilities across Africa. Imagine how much energy we could save if the lights at the office automatically switch off after 10 minutes of inactivity. Simple habits can make a difference in the way we use electricity.   For this reason, we launched last week a grid-interactive solar photovoltaic (PV) system at UN House. The facility will make up for a portion of electrical energy consumption and it will also help us save money. As Namibia receives a high amount of sunlight, this move towards renewable energy promotes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically Goal 7 ‘Affordable and Clean Energy’ and is in line with the UN’s mission of Greening the Blue. The recommended system size of 90 kWp will offset 19 percent annual energy use, with a 20 percent reduction in electricity costs annually. That’s a lot! The expected internal rate of return when this project is cash financed is 21.5 percent. This means we expect to break-even after five years. The solar panel system is not a backup solution but rather an energy subsidy system. When the solar panels produce more energy than is consumed, the difference is fed back into the national electric grid, increasing the availability of power distribution across the city of Windhoek.  Investing in Namibia’s Renewable Energy Plans Due to poor insulation, inefficient lights, appliances, and heating and cooling equipment, we pay more for energy costs than we should. This is money we could save by investing in energy efficiency. In partnership with the Namibia Energy Institute, we plan to update the existing energy audit for the UN.  We will also carry out a cost-benefit analysis to improve increasing energy efficiency by switching to energy-saving devices. Moreover, by installing a solar energy system, we can focus on renewable energy, particularly solar, without having to increase the price of our electricity. With the help of renewable energy experts, we are supporting the government of the Republic of Namibia on a large-scale feasibility plan for Namibia’s first concentrated power plant. A concentrated power plant uses mirrors to focus the sun's light energy and convert it into heat to create steam to drive a turbine that generates electrical power. In addition, we are also researching how to transfer this technology to the country, i.e. exploring the potential for manufacturing solar panels locally, PV parts/equipment, and building capacities and skills for the renewable energies industry. Given the size of the sector in Namibia, we also supported a project tasked with experimenting different approaches to generating bio-energy through the use of agricultural waste. Our main goal is to learn from the previous work and engage the Namibia Energy Institute in technical advisory and support capacity. We’re excited about the possibilities that solar energy can bring to our work and Namibia. We will keep you posted on our journey there!

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Sustainable development and sustaining peace: Two sides of the same coin

BY Magdy Martínez-Solimán, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco | July 20, 2017

More than 1.4 billion people, and half of the world’s extremely poor people live in fragile and conflict-affected settings. The number is forecast to grow by a staggering 82 per cent by 2030. Around 244 million people are on the move, with 65 million people in our world being forcibly displaced. You might assume that for countries in the cross hairs of these dynamics, the last thing on anyone’s mind right now is getting on track to achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). If you did, think again. Sustainable development is key to sustaining peace and vice versa. Sustaining peace, a concept endorsed by the UN General Assembly and Security Council, focuses on the importance of having a long-term, comprehensive vision in all responses to violent conflict, to end vicious cycles of lapse and relapse. Many countries in complex situations have embraced the SDGs as part of the solution. Afghanistan, for example, is presenting its plans at this year’s UN High-Level Political Forum, the global platform for SDG follow-up and review. At the same forum, Togo, a self-declared ‘fragile’ state, is showcasing its SDG initiatives for the second year running. And Colombia, one of the masterminds of the SDGs, considers them an integral tool in its peacebuilding process. Traditionally peace has been approached in sequential and separate steps: first humanitarian rescue; then securing a ceasefire and sending in peacekeepers; next creating a new governing system; and finally investing in economic, social and environmental development. But peacebuilding and development are symbiotic, like getting fit: you would not stop smoking for a month, exercise the next month, then eat well the following month - you would work on all together. This is why the 2030 Agenda that contains the SDGs and the Resolutions on the UN’s peacebuilding architecture call for the dissolution of silos and the advancement of a strongly coherent and integrated approach, recognizing that development, peace and security, and human rights are interlinked and mutually reinforcing. The radical heart of the Sustainable Development Goals is their promise to leave no one behind and to reach the furthest behind first. This is a game-changing commitment to the poorest, most vulnerable people around the world who face violent conflict, disease, natural disaster, and unstable government. Old development agendas might focus on boosting a narrow idea of economic growth, industrialisation or social services. Alone, none of these achievements leads to welfare, sustainable economic transformation or sufficient support to a peace process. They could even worsen tensions in a country if growth is not inclusive, services are captured by an elite or industrialisation generates unbalances between regions. A rising tide only lifts all boats if everyone has a boat. The UN’s new sustainable development agenda builds on its past experience in reducing poverty, supporting growth and public services. But it goes further to provide the funds and tools to also address environmental risks, reduce vulnerabilities and pursue peace, justice and equality. Sustaining peace and sustainable development are two sides of the same coin, and this is the fundamental principle that the United Nations of the 21st century must now stand for. For any country to reach a lasting peace, the journey must always be led by its own people. The role of the UN is to support this journey, providing the experience, expertise and using the convening power at its disposal to give countries in crisis the best chance at stability and prosperity. Peace is not simply a benchmark to achieve. It requires ongoing, dynamic participation from the entire society in its governance and economy to ensure that conflicts don’t escalate into violence. That is why a country’s development must be inclusive and sustainable; it gives everyone a stake in a shared future. On 17 July 2017, the UN Development Group held a side-event for the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, co-hosted by UNDP and PBSO, on: “The SDGs in action – eradicating poverty and promoting inclusive prosperity in a changing world.”  The event focussed on how countries at various stages of development, including those faced with violent conflict, are accelerating efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and illustrated the support of the UN development system to Member States.   Photo credit: Mónica Suárez Galindo/UNDP Perú

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Open data for social good in the Kyrgyz Republic

BY Markel Toromyrza uulu | June 30, 2017

At the UN in Kyrgyzstan, we believe that open and reliable data is essential to data-driven decision making by key policy makers and other organizations that use data for social good. As Ashish Soni, a machine-learning and data-science expert, says, there are five characteristics which constitute building blocks for data analysis and decision making:       Accurate: data and information must be reliable and accurate       Complete: partial data depicts a partial picture; completeness of data and information is essential for sound decisions       Consistent: systematic collection using consistent methodology and updates are important for data users and decision makers       Unique: good decisions need high-quality data and information       Timely: new and current data is more valuable than outdated data With this and the current national situation in mind, we worked with the country’s National Statistical Committee developing an open data website and the StatKG mobile application to make specific national data available to everyone free of charge. The app and the website rely on the data provided by the National Statistical Committee, an institution with unique and reputable methodology and tools to collect, analyse and interpret raw data. 24,000+ data points in Russian, Kyrgyz and English The open data portal and mobile app is our attempt to  reflect reliable and open data in Kyrgyzstan related to the Sustainable Development Goals and it is a one-of-a-kind in the Commonwealth of Independent States region. The mobile app also supports data in English, Kyrgyz, and Russian languages. We think it’s pretty cool that  the application is not just an electronic handbook of statistical data, but also a powerful tool which allows comparison across different data points.  This thing is packed:  3,293 indicators across 312 categories with a total amount of 24,731 indicator values. We believe that this tool will be  useful for government decision makers, journalists, academia, NGOs and international agencies dealing with development issues. Both are convenient ways to get accurate, complete, consistent, unique, and timely data on various social, economic, and environmental aspects of life in Kyrgyzstan. Developing the website and its mobile app was a laborious process where a team of experts, IT specialists and statisticians from the National Statistical Committee spent long days trying to simplify vast dynamic tables to come up with a user-friendly way to visualize statistical data. Working on a beta version allowed us to identify bugs and errors that we could successfully fix. We are now proud to share the we have a user-friendly powerful tool on statistical data and analysis.  And this was just the beginning! Want to learn more? Now that we have these new tools, a team of national experts is working to increase their analytical capability. The Government of the Kyrgyz Republic is working on taking the globally agreed goals and targets and finding ways to measure them that work for the Kyrgyz Republic. This will help us establish a solid baseline to monitor the SDGs, support the government, and strengthen UN accountability through monitoring and evaluation. Pretty impressive, right? If you want to know more, go and check out our free of charge statistical data and analysis tool. Have a look at it and let us know what you think!   Photo:UNFPA/Y-PEER Kyrgyzstan

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Car sharing at the United Nations in Laos? There’s an app for that

BY Zumrad Sagdullaeva, Jakob Schemel | June 23, 2017

How many of you have taken Uber, Lyft or Didi Chuxing to get around town? With these apps, all you need to do is follow three easy steps: set up a pickup location, a final destination, and press “request.” What if we told you that the United Nations is getting into the car sharing business too? Our goal is not to make money, but instead to save costs, be more efficient, and reduce our carbon footprint. It all started with agencies making spontaneous phone calls and sending emails to request cars when they need to conduct project monitoring or meetings with government and civil society partners.  We noticed that in Lao PDR, smaller UN agencies cannot always afford to buy vehicles and often rent cars. On the other hand, the bigger agencies own cars but do not always use them. Inspired by mobile apps that are disrupting the transportation industry, our team at the United Nations proposed a solution: a GPS-based, fleet-sharing application that allows staff from different UN agencies to book a UN vehicle and provides back-office data. Pool managers assign drivers, monitor vehicle performance, and pick up passengers as needed. In September 2016, we launched the pilot UN car sharing system. FAO, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, the six largest UN agencies in Lao PDR, were the frontrunners in trying out this new system.   The system tracks fleet movement in real-time, while the back-office processes allow an in-depth analysis of fleet use and performance. It also pinpoints high-risk events such as extreme acceleration, harsh braking, and accidents. It also generates automatic monthly cost-recovery reports. Imagine the data possibilities! Join the ride As people began to use the car sharing service, we faced some uphill battles. For example,  most  drivers employed by the UN do not have smartphones. Then there’s the unit costs of the system which is US$30 per car, per month, in addition to initial investment costs. But these issues haven’t proven prohibitive, and the indications are that we are moving in a promising direction. Our data shows a 36 per cent drop in fuel costs when comparing the car sharing pilot (October 2016-April 2017) to the same period in the previous year. And there might even be a benefit when it comes to traffic and carbon emissions: we noticed a 26 per cent reduction in kilometers driven. This is surprising because we aren't all in one office - most UN agencies are located across the city of Vientiane. With all the hype and positive results that we received, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the International Organization of Migration, UNAIDS, and UNIDO have now also joined the fleet-sharing pilot.   The UN Country Team has included the fleet-sharing system as one of the key areas of cooperation under the Business Operations Strategy 2017-2021, which is how we pool logistics and other functions across the 17 UN agencies working in Lao PDR to save money and get better services.   We are planning a cost-benefit analysis after the pilot stage ends in June. The road ahead So, will the GPS enhanced car sharing app work for the UN? We are yet to find out. We do know that we can improve it by doing a few more things, such as: Systematic use of the online booking system: This will lead to using cars efficiently, which, on the long run, means more savings. Centralize the management of the pool of cars: This could be done by assigning one person a month to manage the pool of cars among UN agencies. Book cars for transfer time only: Some users still require the car to stand idle for the duration of their meeting. This makes sense for brief meetings only. Track the availability of a vehicle/driver: If drivers are unavailable, this should be noted in the system to avoid any impractical requests by users. Improve the user-friendliness of the system: Integrate a GPS-based booking function, add the possibility to book a return trip in one go, and “join the ride” auto-function. Develop a mobile application. Integrate instant user feedback feature: Upon completing a ride, the system should automatically prompt a request for feedback from users. Benefits should outweigh the costs: The monthly maintenance fee sums up to US$360 a year, per car for the post-pilot period. We should consider the functional requirements or explore using an alternate software provider.     By adding these features, we believe that car sharing could bring significant savings, improve efficiency, and it could potentially be scaled-up globally. We also hope that sharing our experience will be useful to other teams trying to do things differently within the UN!

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Joining up data in the humanitarian–development nexus: Why does it matter?

BY Beata Lisowska | June 14, 2017

Imagine living in a community that faces poverty and vulnerability and has limited resilience to shocks. Your livelihood is dependent on subsistence farming in a region that is vulnerable to climate change and crop disease outbreaks. Only 26.7 percent of households in your region have enough food to last until the next harvest. 50 percent of the population in your district are refugees and you find yourself competing for the little resources that you have at your disposal with people who have fled from prolonged conflict. It is estimated that 935,000 South Sudanese refugees will arrive in Uganda by the end of 2017, entering through West Nile – a region that already faces poverty, vulnerability and food insecurity and has limited resilience to shocks. With so many refugees arriving there is danger of conflict breaking out between communities in need of assistance from the humanitarian and development sectors as they compete for limited resources. How does data help to understand the needs of these communities and drive collective development and humanitarian responses that are beneficial to them both? A clear need for joined-up data As it stands, the socio-economic indicators for a given region and statistics on host populations in Uganda are collected using household surveys or censuses and are usually published by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. However, data on refugees – where they are and how they are doing in relation to socio-economic indicators – is gathered by the Office of the Prime Minister, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other actors operating within a region that perform refugee needs assessments. Data is published as a bi-weekly update on the Uganda Refugee Response Portal by the UNHCR and the Office of the Prime Minister. The needs assessments carried out by other actors are not usually publicly accessible. In practice, data on different communities within a region cannot easily be joined up. For those seeking to address development or humanitarian issues, to help improve outcomes for those living in complex communities, there is no single data story that gives a complete picture of the issues that people face. This means that decisions on how best to address an issue can only ever be a ‘best guess’, without full knowledge of the potential for knock-on effects – positive or negative – on other communities in the area. It’s not just a question of joining up data – often data for evidence-based decision-making is simply not available. For example, it’s not possible to track how many refugees provided with land choose to settle in a region, move around the country or go back to their country of origin. This is because refugee communities are often missed from household surveys, censuses are few and far between, and if a refugee becomes homeless they may fall off the data radar altogether. Signs of progress in bridging the divide There are, however, signs of progress in the humanitarian–development nexus. The Ugandan government recognises that humanitarian and development assistance are intertwined, and this is reflected in the Ugandan National Development Plan under the Settlement Transformative Agenda, which develops programmes for the benefit of both refugees and refugee-hosting areas. Recent efforts by the Government of Uganda, UN agencies and the World Bank to develop a ‘Refugee and Host Population Empowerment’ strategy is testament to an understanding that the development of both local and refugee communities is linked and that priorities for long-term sustainable outcomes must benefit both. However, such frameworks should be supported by principles of joined-up data, such as FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable) to inform new policies and recommendations. In the past, as observed by Oliver Walton in a research report on preventing conflict between refugees and host communities, the barrier to effective initiatives in the humanitarian–development nexus “has been a tendency for donors to keep humanitarian assistance for refugees separate from broader development assistance”. We now seem to be moving towards a common political will to overcome the barriers highlighted by Walton. The missing piece is the joined-up data to make it happen.   Photo: @UNHCR

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Why the UN in Burkina Faso is listening to what young people are saying

BY Metsi Makhetha, Daouda Djouma | June 7, 2017

There are 4.5 million people between 15-35 years old in Burkina Faso, according to the last general population and housing census of 2006. By 2025, this number will almost double to 8.6 million people, which means that roughly half of the population in Burkina Faso will be young. Some young people in Burkina Faso feel that the government does not take their aspirations seriously. To voice their disapproval, millions rose up against the system on 30-31 October 2014, and they caught the government’s attention. On 18-19 June 2015, young Burkinabés met with decision-makers at the National Youth Conference to talk about the importance of their participation in development programs and projects to promote peace. Mr. Michael Kafando, the former Head of State and President of the Transition was so impressed that he said: “With young people, everything is possible. Without the youth, watch out!”  Sustainable development planning with young people As the UN in Burkina Faso began to work on the new framework of cooperation and support to development for 2018-2020, we connected with young citizens to better understand their needs. Twenty-six young people (two per region) worked with us to collect data from all regions. They received support from the National Volunteer Program and the Centre for Democratic Governance and Africa Monitor trained them on data collection techniques. The 26 youth researchers conducted two surveys to 1,532 individuals between 15-35 years old. With a qualitative survey, they collected and registered young people’s perceptions on the implementation of UN programs in Burkina Faso. They carried out 65 focus groups. Six opinion leaders (religious, customary, associations, and politicians) also participated. In total, more than 598 people took part in the qualitative survey. We learned that education, health, and decent work are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) they care about the most. For example, youth want to receive technical training because they think that the educational system is outdated and the main pipeline to unemployment. With the quantitative survey, they obtained data on the baseline of the indicators of the SDGs and the National Plan for Economic and Social Development. While some of these findings might be expected, we found it important to undertake this listening exercise.  While we at the UN are gearing up achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we found out that we need to start with a dialogue so that young people in Burkina Faso know what their government has promised to do.  From the research, we learned that 72 percent of respondents had not even heard of the SDGs. Fifty percent had never heard of the National Plan for Economic and Social Development 2016-2020. This surprised us! Measuring progress to ensure transparency and accountability In the context of Burkina Faso, monitoring and reporting on socio-economic indicators is a major challenge. Approximately 25 percent of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework output indicators were not reported over the period of 2011-2015. Two problems were the infrequency and lack of accountability from the agencies in collecting the data. To address this problem, we are implementing Open UN-Burkina, modeled after UNOCHA’s  Online Reporting System (ORS). The platform will: Enhance the transparency of the activities of the UN in Burkina Faso; Strengthen the participation of state and non-state partners in the UNDAF indicators. This platform will provide information which will be accessible to everyone. It will also have a tool that will allow young people to give their opinions and collect the data continuously. With this platform, our aim is to ensure transparency, accountability, and improve our targeting efforts. We hope that this enables a continuous dialogue with the youth of Burkina Faso.  To the young people out there: monitor our work and hold us to account!

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How twelve UN entities in Viet Nam integrated their ICT systems and optimized their workflow

BY Clement Gba | May 25, 2017

At the UN in Viet Nam, we had a hunch that sharing costs associated with IT equipment, infrastructure, and skilled staff would improve our overall efficiency and save costs. With this hypothesis in mind, we started working on an integrated One United Nations Information Communications and Technology (One UN ICT) system as part of the reforms of the Delivering as One initiative. In April 2015, 12 UN agencies unified their information, communication and technology systems and started working under one roof at the Green One UN House. This move is part of the Deliver Green initiative which aims to make the UN a carbon neutral organization by 2020. The difficult bits Technical: Integrating 12 IT systems into one was not an easy task. We also had to ensure proper separation of our IT networks for security purposes. In the context of UN Country Office operations, this is a major achievement. Financial: The integration of IT infrastructures and systems required upfront costs, with a return on investment  beyond the first years. This means that we needed to spend some time developing a strong business case and understanding of the financial and non-monetary benefits in order to get investments from the managers across 12 UN agencies. Institutional: To accommodate the administration of staff, ICT policies, compliance, and requirements, we had to create a unique set of governance and institutional arrangements. Human resources: Prior to the move, our ICT staff only supported users from their respective UN agencies. Under the new initiative, all ICT staff provide support to users from the 12 UN entities operating at the Green One UN House. To scale up the One UN ICT project, we sought help from headquarters, with two interagency missions in 2008 and 2012. We also received support from the United Nations International Computing Centre in Geneva which with us for more than a year to make the integration of the systems a success. What we got out of this effort Extension of ICT services: All UN Viet Nam staff, whether based in Vietnam or providing advisory services to the government from elsewhere, project-based staff, as well as staff living outside the capital city of Hanoi have access to telephone services. This means the whole UN system in Vietnam can now call each other for free anytime, anywhere, so long as they have an internet connection. Provision of additional ICT services: The Green One UN House, now uses Cisco Jabber, an application that enables  computers and mobile devices to function as a telephone via Voice over IP technology and uses the wire/wireless network as the medium for transmitting telephone service. The application works beyond the physical compound of our office. Provision of file server storage services: UN agencies in Vietnam have a Business Continuity Plan. The new data system provides a file storage server that can also be used by other Country Offices as part of their Business Continuity Plans. Client-focused and quick turnaround for ICT requests: All ICT services and transactions are managed by Common Services. The system triggers a ticket number that assists the back-office assign a request to an IT expert. The system is benchmarked against specific key performance indicators, and helps managers track and trace users’ requests. A user feedback survey also helps measure the quality of the services.   This model provides real-time updates on the operations of the team and is going to be expanded to other UN Operations Centers as well as Country Offices. We hope that sharing our experience will be useful to other teams trying to save money and optimize workflows. At the UN in Viet Nam, we are proud to be working with a highly skilled and a top-notch IT team. Yes, this is not an easy road but based on our experience, the benefits (in terms of systems upgrade) far outweigh the challenges! Photo caption: The Green One UN House IT Team/ UNCT Viet Nam

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