Silofighters: the UNSDG blog

A new role for UN leadership in the hardest places

BY Sarmad Khan, Jonathan Papoulidis | 10 April 2019

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

Silofighters: the UNSDG blog

Youth in China are connecting smallholder farmers to urban markets

BY Vincent Martin, Sixi Qu | 03 April 2019

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


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