Letting a thousand flowers bloom: An update from Kosovo on the Global Goals

BY Kotaro Takeda, Flutra Rexhaj | March 15, 2018

The UN Kosovo* team is on a mission: to bring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to Kosovo and to bring Kosovo to the SDGs. As we enter 2018, the Kosovo Assembly has just passed a Resolution endorsing the Sustainable Development Goals. Kosovo is a busy, complicated place, and its institutions are working simultaneously to achieve various development strategies (a Development Strategy, a Gender Strategy, the European Reform Agenda, etc., etc.), but they all contribute towards the creation of a more inclusive, sustainable future. We are pleased that Kosovo sees the value in adopting the SDGs and in using them to help power its own development agenda. The unanimous vote constitutes the natural conclusion of two years of “letting a thousand flowers bloom”. Given the unique political context in Kosovo, and other factors, the UN Kosovo Team has, from the beginning, taken a bottom-up approach to “seeding” the SDGs and preparing the ground for more formal activities to adapt and implement the SDGs. It all began five years ago with the participation of 9,000 Kosovars in the global survey “The World We Want” that helped to establish the goals. We are proud of the fact that there was Kosovar DNA in the Global Goals from the very start. Building on this initial level of public awareness, the UN Kosovo Team, with its partners, has been exploring multiple avenues for promoting and bring the SDGs to life in Kosovo. Here are just a few of the many stories behind our approach of “letting a thousand flowers bloom”. SDG1 No Poverty: The Journalism Poverty Prize Poverty rates in Kosovo remain amongst the highest in the region. According to the Statistical Agency of Kosovo and the World Bank (2015), the poverty rate (those living below 1.82 euro per adult equivalent per day) was more than 17 percent, while the extreme poverty rate (those living below 1.30 euro per adult equivalent per day) was 5 percent. While many activities of the UN agencies along with partners have contributed to reducing poverty, none have been as successful in terms of raising public awareness about the persistence of poverty and inclusion as the Annual Journalism Poverty Prize. For the twelfth year in a row, the UN Kosovo Team and the Association of Journalists of Kosovo (AJK) have provided professional journalists the opportunity to showcase their stories about the reality of poverty in Kosovo. The best examples (print and online news, video, radio, and photography), as selected by a professional jury, win the Poverty Prize. PovertyPrize-15 In 2017 we were joined by the remarkable artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa, who created a public installation of black and white photographs portraying prize-winning stories of poverty and social exclusion in Kosovo. The timing was powerful: Alketa was calling for Kosovars to vote to end poverty just as politicians were finishing a final week of campaigning prior to local elections. We had over 30,000 Facebook and 15,000 Twitter impressions that day. “Vote to end the poverty”- Alketa’s powerful art installation was mounted on the walls of the “Termokiss” building, (an Alternative Community Centre for Youth), sending a powerful message. “It is not so much about charity as it is about justice”, said Alketa. SDG 5 Gender Equality: 16 Days Against Violence Against Women Although Kosovo’s legal framework guarantees full equality for men and women, discrimination against women continues, resulting in inadequate protection for some basic human rights guaranteed by law. The 16 Days campaign began in Kosovo in 2013 and, since then, it has become the centerpiece of our efforts to combat violence against women. Every year, more people get involved and we must scramble to manage an ever-increasing number of events without diluting the impact of this unique campaign. In 2017, we were as always led by UN WOMEN, in partnership the Kosovo Women’s Network, Care International, the Women’s Centre for Human Rights, the Assembly of Kosovo, and international organizations and missions, including OSCE, UNMIK, KFOR and EULEX, on more than 65 separate advocacy activities taking place across Kosovo to raise awareness of the need to eliminate all forms of violence against women. The highlight by far of this year’s events was the ballet performance “One Day”, performed by the Kosovo Theatre Ballet. This was a deeply personal story and a message of hope based on the experiences of a Kosovar survivor of domestic violence. This was another example of art and advocacy can mix in Kosovo, to powerful effect. It comes in the wake of the global success of the Bafta-winning short film HOME– a fantasy on the struggles of migrants, which was recognized as one of the most successful achievements in the region for 2017 by Al Jazeera. SDG 4 Quality Education: Podium, the UNICEF Innovation Lab approach to teaching the SDGs Creating environments where young Kosovars can learn about the Global Goals is another of our priorities since only the engagement and commitment of future generations will ensure long-term societal commitment and bring about lasting change. The Advocacy for Social Change initiative “Podium for the SDGs”, organized by the UNICEF Innovation Lab, UNV and the UN Development Coordinator’s Office, reached hundreds of young girls and boys from across Kosovo during its outreach phase. Later, over forty of them attended workshops where they learned to identify and link community needs to specific Global Goals, how to collaborate with peers, and how to advocate for their communities’ priorities. SDG 17 Partnerships for the Goals: It’s Festival Time! The UN Kosovo Team continued to build on its long-standing partnership with the Dokufest, a world-class documentary film festival, in Prizren, Kosovo, to promote the SDGs. This year’s theme “Future My Love” was perfectly suited to Agenda 2030. We created a SDGs booth to allow participants at the festival to create a video recording of the future they want. And we helped to shed light on the boundless talent of young women filmmakers in Kosovo. UNV and the UN Development Coordinator’s Office also supported the 8th edition of Anibar, the annual animation Festival in Peja/Peć, where children were taught about the SDGs and were encouraged to produce their own animations around their favorite goals. In addition to working with these existing platforms for SDG advocacy and learning, we took the first steps in 2017 towards partnering with private sector around SDGs, with a focus on sustainability and partnership-building. More than 35 representatives from the private sector, UN Heads of Agencies, the American Chamber of Commerce, USAID EMPOWER programme and The Partnering Initiative contributed to discussions on leveraging partnerships for sustainable development. Setting SDG baselines 2017 also marked the first steps in setting up a robust data platform, to help inform the public and assist decision makers to monitor and report on the implementation of Agenda 2030. Gathering reliable data in Kosovo is always a challenge, but the SDGs represent a critical opportunity to promote synergies with existing efforts and to raise awareness of the need to further invest in improving capacities for data collection and analysis. What’s next? We’ve had a lot of fun so far, experimenting and piloting different ways to bring the SDG message to Kosovo. Now, with the Kosovo Assembly and leadership fully on board, it’s time to take stock and focus attention on nurturing those flowers that are blooming the most. In Kosovo, there is never a dull moment! * References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).

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The ripple effect of UN transparency: the case of procurement in Ukraine

BY Sandra Cavallo, Anastas Boiko | March 7, 2018

Times have never been easy for small businesses in Ukraine. Since the conflict broke out  in east Ukraine, the Ukrainian GDP plunged by over 10 percent in 2015 alone. Since then, welfare, livelihoods and social cohesion have been directly affected by the consequences of the conflict. Many entrepreneurs have moved away from the conflict zones due to the disruption of basic services and the risk of shelling. Thankfully, things are starting to get on better footing. As the country’s economy steadily began to recover in 2016 and 2017, with a GDP growth slightly above 2 percent, new opportunities for Ukrainian businesses began to emerge. This included the introduction of a free-trade zone with the European Union. This is good news, but success stories of local businesses making their way to EU markets are still scarce. Small local businesses, we hear you The UN’s operations in Ukraine have grown since the events of 2014 and the subsequent armed conflict. More UN projects mean more procurement needs, and it is no secret that some businesses stand to gain from an increased international presence in conflict-affected areas. At the UN, we deal with mostly medium and small-sized Ukrainian businesses on a daily basis.  When we issue procurement notices, we know from experience how difficult it can be for a local company to successfully fulfill the criteria of a transparent, international tender. In some cases, we have to reject up to 30 percent of tender proposals due to errors in their submissions. To become a provider for a UN agency, businesses need to meet high standards, including accountability and transparency. Is there something we can do to turn this situation into a stable positive effect for local businesses? A new way of doing business: Increased transparency The local companies that we work with get the message: to seize new opportunities, they need to step up their organizational standards and increase transparency, no matter how big or small the business. Transparency is on the rise in Ulkraine, and in some ways is even seen as a way to attract customers. For example, a searchable e-declarations database, launched among international fanfare in 2016, is now where all Ukrainian public servants declare their assets. Also, some anti-corruption organizations are developing tools to verify conflict of interests and cross-check public contract award decisions with a list of companies owned by city council representatives and their family members. And Ukraine’s ProZorro system won international awards for making all public tendering transparent and verifiable by any citizen online. A core principle for the UN, transparency, is essential for high-quality public procurement. An open and transparent procurement process improves competition, increases efficiency and reduces the threat of unfairness or corruption. With this core principle in mind, we asked ourselves: How can we be more transparent? Demystifying UN procurement Our solution to this big question was: let’s take the streets! And we (kind of) literally did… Instead of using the usual communication channels to disseminate our tenders, we adopted a more proactive approach and reached out to the wider private sector with a series of public meetings where we talked about the ins and outs of procurement as practiced in the UN. We talked about how all bidders are evaluated equally from the solicitation stage, throughout the evaluation process and until the contract is signed. Apart from making the organization more transparent, our second goal was to support local bidders to improve their working practices and be able to meet the high demands of our tenders. The hope is that this will increase competition helping to ensure that the we, the UN, receive best value for money in our procurement processes. In our effort to take procurement out on the road, we went beyond the capital city of Kiev and travelled to key cities across the country: Lviv, Kharkiv and Odessa in the west, east and south of Ukraine. We made special efforts to connect with those companies that were internally displaced by the ongoing conflict. In one year, we met face-to-face with over 400 representatives of local businesses from many different industries: food production, construction, pharmaceuticals and advertising. This gave us the opportunity to engage with local businesses, hear their concerns, and answer their questions. At these public meetings, companies that previously worked for the UN spoke about their experiences sharing why they had failed several times before succeeding. They talked about the importance of needing to rely on quality, transparency and demonstrated results, instead of personal contacts, unofficial payments, or other non-transparent practices, were some of the issues highlighted. This is still a mindset change from the still widespread practices of the old times! And we got ambitious… All these interactions with local vendors raised another  question: can our initiative have a ripple effect so local businesses will be prepare to compete beyond the UN market? It may still be too early to tell but we are eager to see the results. We can always hope that this will be only the first step on a thousand-mile journey: the journey towards conquering world markets, rephrasing the idea of the Chinese philosopher Laozi. Meanwhile, we are getting great signs of success: one of the agencies working in Ukraine, UNDP, is already seeing an ever-growing number of new bidders. Having more companies to choose from will always help us ensuring best value for money, a sacred principle in our procurement processes. The end result: helping the organization spending taxpayers’ money in the most effective way. Come back to learn how we are doing!

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Dominican Republic: 5 Steps to Develop a SDG Data Innovation Lab

BY Mildred Samboy | February 8, 2018

Have you ever wondered how much hazardous waste is generated in your community, city, or country? What is the proportion of women who make their own informed decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health? Or how many people have declared themselves victims of discrimination or harassment in the last 12 months? Imagine if you could have access to this data in a country of more than 10 million inhabitants in the center of the Caribbean. In the Dominican Republic, only 37 percent of the indicators that make up the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have data available for monitoring and 44 percent do not have information or sources for their measurement. This constitutes a challenge for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda). SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production is one of the biggest statistical challenges for the country. As established in the 2016 Rapid Integrated Assessment “there are significant biases in the integration of (SDG 12) indicators into the national development planning and their availability for an adequate monitoring and fulfillment of the fourth axis (sustainable development) of National Development” in the Dominican Republic [1]. All of this considered, how can we measure the SDG 12 indicator related to the generation and proportion of hazardous waste in the country? To figure this out, we joined forces with the National Statistics Office, the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to come up with a strategy. The result was a data innovation lab built in five steps: Step 1: Select key stakeholders Which institutions are fundamental in the development of an SDG data innovation lab? Multisectoriality is essential to guarantee the richness of this exercise. Two things were paramount for this step: To bring the institutions in charge of statistics and planning (the National Statistics Office and the Ministry of Economy) on board. These institutions are part of other coordination structures, such as the National Commission for Sustainable Development (SDGs Commission), which is the 2030 Agenda coordination and advisory structure (See Decrees 23-16 and 26-17). In this exercise, the UN System in the Dominican Republic worked with the Technical Secretariat of the SDGs Commission to identify a proposal of indicators and criteria for this initiative. To include as many stakeholders as possible in the discussion; from representatives of the public sector (hospitals, General Customs Directorate), to the private sector, to Academia, to environmental organizations, everyone related to the disposal of hazardous waste was invited to participate. This exercise demonstrates the importance of challenging these structures to enforce the fluidity and comprehensiveness of the statistical systems, and their responsibility in the process, guaranteeing an effective relationship that helps bridge existing gaps. Step 2: Select the indicators Which indicators should be selected and prioritized for the development of a Data Innovation Lab? Prioritizing indicators at a national level means choosing them according to the country’s statistical needs. The parameters for this lab were: (A) Lack of source or measurement methodology (B) Indicators within the SDGs identified for the Voluntary National Review (VNR) for the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF 2018), in which the Dominican Republic will participate this year. Following these parameters, the Statistics Office presented a proposal with the following indicators: "Proportion of wastewater safely treated"; "Hazardous waste generated per capita and proportion of hazardous waste treated, disaggregated by type of treatment"; and "Number of companies that publish sustainability reports". Of these proposals, hazardous waste was prioritized, taking the Environmental Compliance Reports [2] as a starting point. Step 3: Build participatory and formative spaces How can sectors express and validate the challenges and opportunities for improvement related to the selected indicator? Following this initiative, two main consultation workshops were held with institutions related to the field. The results of the first consultation highlighted the challenges and bottlenecks that make it difficult for the indicator to be measured.  The second workshop aimed to find innovative solutions and improvement opportunities to the problems identified in the first workshop. In both workshops, over 20 young people from academia and civil society institutions volunteered, moderating and summarizing key findings and conclusions at each table discussion. Step 4: Check the possible sources of the indicator How to guarantee results and sustainability in the statistical development of the indicator? In addition to the consultations, a group of specialists were tasked with reviewing the Environmental Compliance Report. This source was important because it is an environmental Administrative Record (forms, reports, files, among others). This review led to a joint exercise by the Statistics Office and the Ministry of Environment to collect and analyze data regarding hazardous waste, together with the private sector, academia and hospitals. It also made it possible to generate technical, statistical and environmental capabilities linked to the indicator, and has created tools to formalize this practice within the institutional framework. Step 5: Systematize, develop and implement What can we do next? The final step is to follow up on the findings and conclusions of these exercises, by developing initiatives that could have a direct impact on the improvement, organization and visualization of the data related to the hazardous waste indicator. One of these initiatives would be a Hackathon to foster the creation of applications and software development for data collection and visualization. Another, which is already underway, is the elaboration of a technical data note (explaining the indicator metadata) by the Statistics Office. This note will be validated by several sectors that will have the opportunity to rethink together the statistical development structures of the indicator. At last, this team is also working with the culmination of the construction of the database of the Environmental Compliance Reports and its respective baseline. What we learned This experience shows that there is a link between the statistical development capacity of our countries and their needs, challenges, accomplishments and opportunities, which must consider the political and social dimensions. Implementing the 2030 Agenda in the field brought institutions from different sectors together to break existing barriers. While working together was as a challenge, it was also an opportunity to improve practices and actions. Strengthening the national statistical system will only be possible if the key sectors involved have the tools, the capacities and the will.     [1] The Rapid Integrated Assessment (RIA) Tool aims to support countries in mainstreaming the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) into national and subnational planning, by helping assess their readiness for SDG implementation. Click here to access the Dominican Republic’s 2016 RIA elaborated by UNDP and MEPyD [2] The Environmental Compliance Report (ICA, its Spanish acronym) “is a technical report that explains the degree and quality of compliance of a facility, project, program or other activity by its operator or entity (company, NGO, government) with regards to environmental laws and regulations governing a certain place, resulting in a process of auto management.” (Dominican Republic Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Environment)

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Crowdsourcing for Development Insights in Madagascar

BY Hasina Rakotondrazafy | January 31, 2018

Madagascar is considered a biodiversity hotspot. Besides its majestic landscapes, this island country houses 5 percent of the world’s most unique species and plants. Known for its rich biological and ethnic diversity, the country hasn’t escaped the consequences of climate change. Since 2016, the southern part of the country has been facing the impacts of a serious drought due to the climate phenomenon of El Nino. The critical situation of this region has led the UN to focus several of its interventions in this area, specially to work with young people. Partnering with youth Representing over 50 percent of the population in Madagascar, the UN recognizes that young people are a key pillar to drive the country’s development. Several UN agencies have been partnering and working with them for many years. To monitor our work and enhance our accountability to the people we serve, we invited participants of our projects in the southern regions of the country to answer an important question: How are we doing? With this basic question in mind, the UN in Madagascar engaged in a exciting exercise to collect their perceptions on our work in their respective localities and, even more important, collect ideas to improve the impact of UN future actions. We specifically looked into the following projects supported by UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, FAO, IFAD, ILO, WFP and WHO. : AINA: A project that aims to mitigate the effects of extreme poverty by reducing the number of vulnerable families experiencing acute malnutrition. MIARO: Which focuses mainly on the prevention of chronic malnutrition during the first 1,000 days of the child. Maison des Junes: Works with young people so that they can better express themselves and be agents of social change. Ex-Juvi: Seeks to reintegrate young people that have been in conflict with the law. MRPA: Helps protecting the environment while creating and capitalizing on human and natural resources to maintain sustainable development. For this exercise, we partnered up with the Madagascar Innovation Lab, a young and dynamic group that designed, developed, and created a just-in-time analysis and collection tool called Integrated Data Processing (IDP). The Madagascar Innovation Lab, which is creating job opportunities for young minds alike, has a staff made up of 50 percent women and people with backgrounds ranging from machine learning experts to business analysts that work together on many innovative projects, including ours! Gather, upload, sync and repeat To provide reliable, consistent and accurate data in a timely manner, the Lab developed a  mobile application which allows the data collection agents to upload the information. We also developed a website to make available all the collected data http://snu.idp.mg. Data collection practices have been a vital part of the life cycle of development projects for decades, however, traditional paper based data collection can be a daunting task as it tends to take several months to combine the process of data collection until conclusions in reporting can be reached. This can ultimately alter the decision-making process and could potentially affect getting a project off the ground. With this new project that we are testing, using tablets or mobile phones allows the agents to expedite the data collection process. The application can hold an unlimited amount of surveys and questionnaires written in any language, categorized by indicators, demographics, and other specifications. How cool is that!   Initial results During the last months of 2017, we conducted our data collection in the south part of Madagascar with the help of 80 volunteers from two youth centers supported by the UN. The exercise involved four major regions, four cities, and eight districts, reaching more than 17,500 people. During the data collection, our volunteers informed participants about the initiative and how the results will be used. Much of this southern region is located in remote areas, only accessible by jeeps with a 4-wheel drive, motorcycle, or on foot, therefore getting there can be an adventure. So, to prepare for our data collection process, the agents are equipped with solar panels and power banks, which ensure they always have access to power supply. For the most part, Madagascar has managed to provide phone and data coverage to large areas of the island, so even from the remotest locations, our agents are able to sync the data on a daily basis. This has allowed our information and communication technologies to be fully functional from almost everywhere. Month’s worth of data can be mined and analyzed in an instant which allows us to gain access to information on various social, economical and environmental aspects of life in Madagascar. Making use of the data Our next immediate step will be to analyze the data to adjust our future actions based on the needs expressed by the participants during the survey. While we embarque on full data analysis exercise, we have already made available to the general public the data regarding the participant’s opinions on each the projects and their ideas on how they could expand to support communities in new ways. We are excited to know how to better serve these regions, often left behind by key development interventions. From a coordination point of view, we are interested in looking at the data with an integrated approach to identify new joint initiatives where UN agencies can partner - an essential ask from the 2030 Agenda. We are also planning to use the data to review or UN Development Assistance Framework, but a quick win will be its use by the two youth centers supported by us that helped with this exercise: more activities related to young people’s concerns like drugs, alcohol, employment, professional training, early pregnancy, corruption, could be added to their interventions...  And this is just the beginning! We know from reflections on collective intelligence work that most often the missed step is going back to the people who are consulted to show them how their opinions and ideas will be put to use. We are already planning some activities to close the feedback loop. You will hear more about that adventure in our next installment! Photo: MIL team photos taken by BLU Life One X2 phones.

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Fusing datasets to track the impact of disasters in Indonesia and beyond… VAMPIRE is on it!

BY Anthea Webb, Derval Usher | January 25, 2018

When El Niño-induced drought placed huge pressure on communities across Southeast Asia, the UN in Indonesia quickly established an inter-agency focus group to monitor the impact. The World Food Programme, UN Global Pulse Lab Jakarta and the Food and Agriculture Organisation responded to the need for faster analysis with an integrated data tool called VAMPIRE! (The Vulnerability Analysis Monitoring Platform for Impact of Regional Events).  How’s that for an acronym! What VAMPIRE does: blend and visualize in near real time As climate affects food production and prices, it is a decisive factor in the health and welfare of millions of communities. The 2015 El Niño drought caused food prices to spike in Indonesia, stretching the budgets of poor families who already spend more than half their incomes on food. The situation was even more serious given 37 percent of Indonesian children are chronically malnourished. The project team had to move quickly to develop a data tool for the Government of Indonesia and partner agencies to decide where and how to allocate resources. The first iteration of VAMPIRE applied data science skills to automate the analysis of the extent of the drought and populations at risk. The tool is a multi-tier system that fuses several datasets. First, it visualizes the national socio-economic survey and WFP’s household food security surveys. This data provides information on the percentage and distribution of poor, agriculture-dependant populations, as well as food insecure communities. Second, it analyzes data on rainfall anomalies and the Indonesian Vegetation Health Index. Rainfall anomaly is a measure of the amount of rainfall in a period compared to the long-term average for that time of year, while the vegetation index is a proxy for drought. Based on the measure of economic vulnerability and exposure to drought, the tool identifies priority areas where people may require assistance. Government Uptake Collecting data on rainfall anomalies and food security is not a new or unique activity for governments. However, the platform adds value by dramatically reducing the time required to bring this information together and visualize it in high-resolution and in near real-time. VAMPIRE has been installed into the situation room of the Office of the President (Kantor Staf Presiden) of the Republic of Indonesia, its sustainable home. The Government of Indonesia has used the tool to measure drought impact and identify fire risks. It has developed it further to estimate the impact of past government programmes as part of their regular monitoring and oversight. These are encouraging user-innovations by the Government of Indonesia that we are trying to incorporate as the tool scales to other countries (more on this below). Under the Hood Building upon these initial successes, the tool has been upgraded to include new, more detailed analysis on drought. More granular estimation of affected areas has improved the tool’s ability to identify and prioritize risk. Additional indicators on meteorological drought, agricultural drought, population density and dependence on agriculture are improving the methodology. In addition to drought, we have developed flood impact analysis capabilities into the most recent iteration of the tool. We can now estimate floods six days in advance, including the risk to crops and populations. For both flood and drought, we now include extensive disaster history information and improved UX, enabling users to explore the insights at different administrative levels and generate reports on this basis. Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and Beyond Based on demand for the data tool from the Government of Sri Lanka, we contextualised the system to the country and embedded it within the Ministry of Disaster Management. The improvements made to the tool while shaping it to the context of Sri Lanka have informed its development elsewhere. This year we are in talks with the Government and UN Country Team in Papua New Guinea with a view to establishing a version of the system there, and we are in the process of open sourcing the tool to enable uptake elsewhere. We are also working to improve the notification and alert system for different users, as well as conducting further tests of the accuracy of alert thresholds, fine tuning them to sub-national needs and realities. We owe huge thanks to DOCO for its support of this project! And we hope that the development of the tool will take another leap forward now that VAMPIRE has been recognized as the winner of the 2017 WFP Innovation Challenge. We are delighted to have had the opportunity to develop a data tool in true partnership leveraging the expertise of each of our teams to produce an information system which is being used for policy making. We are always on the lookout for opportunities to scale the tool, so let us know if your UN Country Team could benefit from such a system and we will work out how we can best meet your needs. Photo: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

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How art is helping us promote the SDGs in Mongolia

BY Mariyam Nawaz | January 17, 2018

Curious onlookers stopped to watch graffiti artists including Heesco, Dasher, Risky, Ulaambayar and Degi paint the old wall of the United Nations House in bright colours. Each art piece, a unique and positive representation of the 17 Global Goals. The urban art installation was the kickstart of our public awareness campaign on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Mongolia. Nine Mongolian artists helped us reaching the crowds: Sydney-based Mongolian artist Heesco, Ulaanbaatar’s female artist Boldbaatar Odonchimeg, Dashkhuu, Bilguunnaran, Ulambayar, Sodbayar, Tuguldur, Boldbayar and Enkhbat Michid. It was set up on the Mongolian Youth Day (August) and the wall quickly became a landmark; everyone stopped to take a photo or two. The masterminds behind the campaign was the United Nations Communications Group, a team comprised of all the communications specialists, from all UN agencies, working in Mongolia. Our idea was simple but challenging: tell people what the SDGs could represent to Mongolia and its young people, namely, because one in every three inhabitants in Ulaanbaatar is young. Going for a spin around Ulaanbaatar to learn about the SDGs As communicators, we know that a successful campaign is made up of different elements, and we started with the basics: we developed and distributed an action guide (in Mongolian) listing how citizens could contribute to the global agenda of Mongolia. This action guide, which is also available online, was printed and handed out at every event we held. The great twist of using this guide was that we got celebrities to joined our efforts. Famous artists, journalists, models and athletes posted their photos on social media with SDG logos promoting the guide. Most of these celebrities were initially approached through a third-party media company who helped with the promotion of our campaign. With 1.1 million mongolians on networks like Facebook, social media was a key channel to spread the word. Thinking back, collaborating with celebrities in the country was essential to the success of the campaign. In addition to the art wall, booklets, and famous people advocating for the SDGs, another highlight of our campaign was a big tour bus that stopped in three different parts of the capital city. We were inspired by the Belarus train. If you haven’t seen this amazing initiative, you can check the blog here. We set up a registration link for people to sign up online and, with the support of our UN Young Advisory Panel, selected 35 people to come along, as well as media representatives and performers. And the journey begins… On October 1 2017, our seven months months of hard work, came to fruition: 35 people at the UN House hopped on the SDGs-branded bus that looks like a bandwagon. The first stop was the Ger district. Staff from UNICEF, UN-Habitat and ILO greeted everyone. Young singers from the Music and Dance Conservatory Mongolia, Enhlen Altandul, and Tengis Tserenbat won people’s hearts with their outstanding  performances. Our SDG photo frame got popular and people lined up to take photos to share in social media. Meanwhile, face painters placed streaks of red, blue and yellow paint on children’s faces as they skillfully drew SDG logos on their cheeks. After the one hour show, we drove to the most central location in Ulaanbaatar; the State Department Store, where we displayed calls for action on big standees and an SDGs photo booth. Colleagues from UNFPA, WHO and UNESCO led the way at this hub. Youth organizations including AIESEC and the Centre for Citizenship Education joined and helped make drawings on the SDGs. A young baker sold cupcakes with SDGs logos on them. The famous actor, Orgil Makhaan addressed the audience and invited everyone to take part in the country’s development. The last stop was the Light Street, which was organized by UNDP, FAO and IOM teams. The UN Resident Coordinator in Mongolia, Ms. Beate Trankmann,  joined the public too. Small children from Kung-Fu school performed and the bus tour ended, successfully. To sustain the buzz, we placed sixty small billboards with “Your Participation is Important” as a call of action across the city for 15 days. The QR code on the board directed people to the action booklet. Our campaign ended on a high note on October 24, which is UN Day. For this occasion, we developed a SDGs Cartoon brochure that tells the story of Mongolia and the SDGs. People loved it. Through the combination of social media engagement and activities like the bus tour, flashmob, and the SDGs wall, we reached more than 160,000 people of all ages. Thousands of people were reached and engaged through outdoor events, display of SDGs message on billboards, online initiatives (33,769 people engaged through blogs and stories, 78,000 on Facebook and 52,900 impressions on Twitter) and distribution of material across the country through the National Statistics Office. Traditional and new media also played an important part in getting our messages across. Leading bloggers published their stories in Yolo and UNREAD. The leading magazine Mongolian Observer did a cover story on SDGs and UN in Mongolia dedicating 17 pages. The road to success   For us at the UN in Mongolia, this campaign was a combination of success and a starting point to continue the conversation around the SDGs. Everyone at the UN in Mongolia poured their hearts to make this campaign happen, our colleagues’ energy was unstoppable! One of the things that really inspired us and fueled our energy was the amount of people (more than 40!) that showed up and volunteered, one way or the other, during the different activities of the campaign. One of the key achievements of the campaign, besides the tremendous outreach and engagement of public online and in events, was the establishment of a “SDGs supporter network” of media, bloggers, young volunteers and celebrities in the country. A big challenge that we faced through this journey was finding common grounds for each UN agency to contribute to the campaign. Each agency has its own mandates and core mission, so we invested time in coordinating our efforts to agree on a campaign strategy that helped us create clear guidelines on key messages, branding, hashtags, visibility and roles/responsibilities. Having said that, by far the best thing of all was to see the way artists used their talents to advocate for our campaign. I believe that somehow, we tend to underestimate people’s capacity to understand sustainable development. Thanks to this campaign, I got to see firsthand how passionate people are about making their country a better place for everyone. Watch this space for more, we’ve got more initiatives in the works! http://www.un-mongolia.mn/new/

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From radio to theatre, bringing the voices of youth to centre stage in Lebanon

BY Alex Shoebridge, Kristine Najjar | December 13, 2017

When we last blogged in this space in May 2016, we wrote about our plans to support the roll out of the 2030 Agenda in Lebanon. We knew that engaging the public – especially youth – would be critical. As part of our approach, we didn’t want to come in with any pre-developed solutions, but rather let young people provide the answers, even pose the questions. We wanted to enable youth-generated evidence that could be shared with policy makers and linked to national efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda. In 2016, the government wasn’t ready yet to engage on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Supporting a conversation with the public was our best and, at the time, the only option. It held the promise of generating better and less-filtered information, and creating new public spaces for citizen-to-citizen interaction to achieve the SDGs. Radio and theatre as a way to learn from young people in Lebanon Together with UNESCO and the radio station, Voix du Liban, we launched “Chabab Wa Tanmia,” a radio show produced and hosted by six young journalists that focused on bringing a youth focus to bear on the SDGs. Each week the show would cover a different SDG-related area . Young people called in from across the country to share their priorities and concerns. Subjects ranged from how to address smoking among youth (a widespread issue in Lebanon), to how to strengthen community services and support mechanisms for the elderly, and how everyday actions can help protect children’s rights.   On top of the radio show, to better understand the development perspectives of those furthest behind – such as unemployed youth or women-headed households – we collaborated with the American University in Beirut (AUB) to produce two case studies reflecting a broad set of consultations with Lebanese and Syrian refugees and other vulnerable groups. Employing playback theater – a type of improvisational and interactive theater in which people tell stories about their lives and watch them being enacted on the spot – helped people narrate the issues, such as corruption in hiring, and gender discrimination in all aspects of daily life. Theatre methods created an opportunity for youth to share their experiences and find common ground. It also meant that we, as the UN and partners, could learn from young people. One major takeaway for the theater programming centred on the need to focus on lifelong learning opportunities for families to support the development of youth. And now… a platform for government engagement These initiatives have been important for enhancing citizen-to-citizen interaction, and providing public spaces for people to express themselves. They have also been key to understanding some of the issues we should focus in the future. Having listened to more than 500 people in our engagement efforts, which includes those who participated in the radio shows, on social media, and via the national consultations spearheaded by AUB, we will be putting an increased focus on corruption, gender discrimination and child rights. Nonetheless, without government leadership we won’t have a platform to amplify what we have been hearing. Recently, the Government committed itself to working on the SDGs by establishing an inter-ministerial committee, which will be a key entry point for UN engagement in supporting the roll-out of the SDG agenda. The committee provides a forum to bring all ongoing SDG initiatives under one umbrella, which is a real opportunity to connect what we heard from people to political decision-makers. Together with the government, civil society and the private sector, we aim for our work to feed into a national multi-stakeholder consultation process that reflects the priorities and perspectives of those left farthest behind. People informing priorities As a result of our consultation process with youth, corruption, gender discrimination and child rights will be highlighted in our deliberations with the government and will inform our work planning for 2018. Things may shift in Lebanon’s current political environment. But the country has weathered many a political storm – and it is not easily shipwrecked. We are hopeful that the work that has been done will lead to tangible results for the people of the country, and leave no one behind.   Do you have experience utilizing key findings from youth engagement activities and elevating them to the national level? What have you learned?

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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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