Silo Fighters Blog

Innovation scaling: It’s not replication. It’s seeing in 3D

BY Gina Lucarelli | September 12, 2018

My brother is a mathematician and on family vacations, he talks about data in multi-dimensions. (Commence eyes-glazing over). But as the family genius, he’s probably on to something. Lately, in my own world where I try to scale innovation in the UN to advance sustainable development, I am also thinking in 3D, or, if properly caffeinated,  multi-dimensionally. As new methods, instruments, actors, mutants and data are starting to transform how the UN advances sustainable development, the engaged manager asks: when and how will this scale?  To scale, we need to know what we are aiming for.  This blog explores the idea that innovation scaling is more about connecting experiments than the pursuit of homogeneous replications. Moving on from industrial models of scaling innovation In the social sector, the scaling question makes us nervous because the image of scaling is often a one dimensional, industrial one: let’s replicate the use of this technology, tool or method in a different place and that means we’ve scaled. This gives us social development people pause not only because we can’t ever fully replicate [anything] across multiple moving  elements across economic, social and culture. Even if we could replicate, it would dooms us to measuring scaling by counting the repeated application of one innovation in many places.   Thankfully, people like Gord Tulloch have given us a thoughtful scaling series that questions the idea that scaling social innovation is about replicating single big ideas many times over. [Hint: he says scaling innovation in the public sector is less about copy-pasting big ideas and more about legitimizing and cultivating many “small” solutions and focusing on transforming cultures.]  Apolitical’s spotlight series on scaling social impact includes a related insightful conclusion: when looking at Bangladesh’s Graduation Approach as one of the few proven ways out of poverty, they suggest that while the personalized solutions work best, they might be replicable, but too bespoke to scale. So if scaling ≠ only replication, how do we strategize for scale? I’ve got a proposal:  what if we frame the innovation scaling question more about doing deep than broad? The scaling question becomes: How will we move from distinct prototypes managed by different teams at the frontier of our work to a coherent, connected use of emergent  experiments in programme operations? Scaling also means moving from fringe to core Scaling innovation in a large organization like the UN has a glorious serendipity to it. Did you hear that we are looking into impact bonds in Armenia? What about the food security predictor in Indonesia? Nice collective intelligence approach in Lesotho. Blockchain is being used for cash transfers in Pakistan and Jordan. Check out the foresight in Mauritius. UNICEF is using Machine learning to track rights enshrined in constitutions. UNHCR is using it to predict migration in Somalia. UNDP is testing out social impact bonds for road safety in Montenegro. These organic innovations are beautiful and varied and keep us learning, but we as a UN system are not yet scaling in 3D. These days, I’ve been talking to people (my brother’s eyes glaze over at this point) about how to see various methods of innovations not as distinct categories of experiments, but rather as connected elements of an emergent way of doing development. Towards a connected kind of 3D.  Yes innovation is more of an evolving set of disruptions than a fixed taxonomy of new methods, but if we narrow our scope for a moment to the subset of innovations which have passed the proof of concept stage, can we start thinking seriously about how they connect? [As an important side note, thinking in terms of taxonomies of innovations is not a panacea. Check out @gquagiotto’s slides for a more thorough story on how classification is trouble for public sector innovation because it means we limit our vision and don’t see unexpected futures where they are already among us.] Projectizing innovation without keeping an eye on the links among the new stuff won’t get us far, and might even be counter-productive.  Instead, what would it be like if innovations were deployed in an integrated way? A bit like Armenia’s SDG innovation lab where behavioral insights, innovative finance, crowd-sourced solutions and predictive analytics [among others] are seen as a package deal.  I am looking for collaborators to learn more about how are all these methods and tools related. Do they help or hinder each other? Are there lessons that can be learned from one area and applied to others? Should some new tech and methods not be combined with others? 9 elements of next practices in development work A few of us UN experimenters came together in Beirut in July to pool what we know on this.  We had a pretty awesome team of mentors and UN innovators from 22 countries. We framed our reflections around the 9 elements of innovation which I see as approaching critical mass in the field. This is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a start to moving these methods from fringe tests led by various teams to core, connected operations. Here are the “nine elements of next practice UN” we are working with: Tapping into ethnography, citizen science and amped up participation for collective intelligence to increase the accuracy, creativity, responsiveness and accountability of investments for sustainable development. Using art, data, technology, science fiction and participatory foresight methods to overcome short-termism and make sustainable futures tangible. Complementing household survey methods with real time data and predictive analytics to see emerging risks and opportunities and design programmes and policies based on preparedness and prevention. Building on the utility of “superman dashboards”  for decision makers to helping real people use their own data for empowerment, entrepreneurship and accountability. Leveraging finance beyond ODA and public budgets by finding ways to attract private capital to sustainable development. Evolving the way we do things and even what services we offer by managing operations through new technologies Applying psychology and neuroscience for behavioral insights to question assumptions, design better campaigns and programmes and to generate evidence of impact when it comes to people’s behavior. Carving out space for science and technology partnerships within the UN’s sustainable development work Improving how we support our national partners in managing privacy and ethical risks Moving from “that’s cool” to “aha it’s all connected” We need to start thinking of these 9 elements as connected. It might be that they reinforce each other - whereby focusing on data empowerment gives meaning, context and legitimacy to the use of big data to understand behaviors and online activity. Or that they undermine each other - in the way that citizen science can undermine innovative finance pay-outs, or behavioral insights are helping companies get around privacy regulations. Looking for the practical connections, here’s what we’ve got so far: Collective intelligence methods that listen to people organically can help determine whether your behavioral campaigns are resonating.  Because people’s intell is often more granular than statistics, they could also be used to test whether new forms of finance are making an impact on health, education and other development issues. Small scale and/or internal experiments in the UN to manage operations with new technology help us know what the next generation privacy and ethics risks are. Experiments in gray zones can then inform future-oriented regulatory frameworks. Keeping a focus on helping people use data for empowerment is a good northstar when using new data and predictive analytics to ensure that cultivating realtime sources of data isn’t deepening the digital or data privacy divide. Using foresight methods or predictive analytics can point to signals of where to invest with innovative finance instruments [Follow Ramya from IFRC innovations for more on this. Hence some early connections form a budding conspiracy theory! If you are thinking multi-dimensionally too, or using a few of these methods and see where this line of thinking can be improved, help me draw more lines on the innovation conspiracy board! [Or tell me why this is the wrong tree to be barking towards… That’s always helpful too.]   We’re working on a playbook to codify what we know so far in terms of principles and methods for each of these 9 elements. Stay tuned for that... and please do get in touch to throw your own knowledge in!

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Creating an impact investment culture in Armenia: Our way of doing it

BY Dmitry Mariyasin, Vahagn Voskanyan | August 22, 2018

According to some estimates, implementing the SDGs will cost a whopping 172.5 USD trillion by 2030, while current aid flows to developing countries sit at 350 USD billion annually. You might want to read the previous sentence again or let us summarize it for you: we have 350 USD billion per year, but we need around 172 USD trillion annually to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. Tricky, no? I guess the quick answer is yes, it is tricky. However, we believe that this gap can be partly filled by something called impact investing. This is, in short, investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate social or environmental impact alongside a financial return. At the UN in Armenia, we are testing impact investing and other new funding mechanisms to explore how they can be best used in middle-income countries to generate financing for the SDGs. Our UN team, led by UNDP Armenia, is experimenting around a set of initiatives that are already turning to be great learning experiences that we are proud to share in this blog. Our impact venture accelerator To support initiatives that put social or environmental issues at the core of their businesses, we created ImpactAIM: an impact venture accelerator. In short, ImpactAIM is a programme to support sustainable companies to scale up their impact. One of the criteria for ventures to be part of this initiative is that their business must reflect the mission and programme priorities of the United Nations in Armenia. With this exciting idea in mind, last year we launched a call for proposals for companies to apply. We partnered with Catalyst Foundation and Impact Hub Yerevan, and received 96 applications from 25 countries! We were happily surprised with this great response and we moved quickly to select our candidates. After a detailed process which included almost 30 interviews, we selected seven ventures to be part of the programme: Dasaran, Armacad, Armath, WiCastr, Smart Kindergarten, Sylex and IoTLab. These companies are currently enrolled in an intensive program which combines study sessions based on cutting-edge methodologies and hands-on experience in areas that are crucial for the start-up/business development world. The selected ventures also receive intensive mentorship to help them strengthen their market base and increase their investment absorption capacity. We are also trying to leverage the existing expertise of different UN agencies into the programme. This is the case of UNICEF, currently mentoring ventures working on education issues, but we are working to better integrate the expertise of agencies across the UN system. At the end of the programme, we will introduce the ventures to a network of impact venture capitals and angel investors to broke potential funding opportunities. Impact Investment Catalyzing Facility With the launch of the impact venture accelerator in December 2017, we realized that there is much more that we can do to support the expansion of impact ventures. In order to do that, and to stimulate the flow of private funds towards SDG targets, we are piloting an impact investment facility which will have two main elements: To support the establishment of impact funds through partnerships with fund managers to attract financing into impact ventures. To introduce impact-focused financial tools in Armenia. For example, long term loans, loans with subsidized interest rates and credit guarantees, that will encourage banking capital to fund impact ventures that target SDGs. What this means is that UNDP is going to introduce available impact and SDG targeting funding opportunities to engage external financial facilities for further disbursements to impact-focused clients. Considering that this type of funding usually includes a grant component and technical assistance, banks will be incentivized to add impact and SDG targeting into existing structures. Looking into social impact bonds Here in Armenia we are also developing social impact bonds to respond to key SDG bottlenecks. A social impact bond is a multi-party agreement based on the idea of “pay for success”. The Government identifies a social problem that it has a) not been efficient in solving or b) lacking the necessary resources to solve it.  The service providers who could efficiently solve the social problem are then identified, along with investors who are willing to pay the service providers upfront. The Government only pays the investors back when the pre-defined success indicators are reached or, in other words, pays only for success. Currently we are e working on the design of two social impact bonds: Improving quality of agricultural education in cooperation with FAO Armenia. Improving learning outcomes of the IT sector in cooperation with UNICEF Armenia. Our short but strategic roadshow During the last few months we have been spreading the word about impact investment. We participated in the Social Good Summit in Geneva and the Social Capital Markets (SOCAP2017) in San Francisco, where we met impact investors and made a strong pitch for partnerships with the private sector to achieve the SDGs. e now have a clear sense of what impact investors and key stakeholders outside the UN need and expect.  We have also received  feedback from key players in the industry and, together with INSEAD, organized Impact Investment for Development Summit in Yerevan in March 2017, which was the first time a dialogue on the role of impact investment took place in Armenia. Landing impact investments to the day-to-day reality Moving forward, we are looking into setting a legal framework that will allow the UN, private sector and other partners to make investments to support ventures promoting sustainable development. The fancy word for it is “impact investment platform”. The Impact Bonds, the Accelerator and the Catalyzing Facility are all specific and practical way to facilitate these investments, and help solve development challenges on the ground in Armenia and beyond. Working with the Armenian Government The Office of the Prime Minister in Armenia is eager to help accelerate SDGs. Our goal is to support Government to figure out ways of bringing academia and  government together to  engage citizens around the SDGs. We also hope to engage social entrepreneurs to  identify funding. Since its inception four years ago, the lab continues to evolve, from a social venture incubator to an accelerator. The accelerator takes the profitable business and scales globally. We also set up, together with the Government of Armenia, the National SDG Innovation Lab to ensure that both public and private partners work in a coherent way. The Lab brings together contributors from the public and private sectors to experiment and create to unlock Armenia’s development potential. For each new project that we work on, including this one pertaining to impact investments, we always ask ourselves three questions: Are we building a user (citizen)-driven intervention? Are we helping advance innovative approaches that help leapfrog to SDG achievement? Are we using the potential of private initiative and capital to achieve our objectives? Will this work? Stay posted  and follow us on Medium to find out!

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Making money move: New financing to achieve the SDGs

BY Richard Bailey | July 3, 2018

“Money doesn’t grow on trees.” Regardless of where you grew up, we all learn about the importance of securing every penny, rand, real, euro, yen, ruble, or rupee. And the saying is particularly relevant today since development organizations like the United Nations (UN) must mobilize more than US$3.0 trillion every year if we hope to achieve the ambitious goals laid out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Official development assistance (ODA) is still an important finance mechanism but only $140 billion are secured each year. If we, the UN, intend to accelerate progress so no one is left behind, ODA needs to be used more strategically, and other sources of finance must be secured. There also needs to be an organizational shift from strictly funding programmes and initiatives to an approach that involves “funding and financing” to tap into international, national, private and public financial flows. Perspective shift: from funding to financing A growing number of blended finance sources have helped advance development aims in recent years.[1] Private sector guarantees, syndicated loans, and shares in collective investment vehicles mobilized $36.4 billion,[2] while socially responsible investing exceeded $6 trillion between 2012 and 2014. Impact investors and development finance institutions created a new investing asset class that is projected to grow to $400 billion by 2025. When it comes to financing, the rules are changing, and the UN is looking at new ways of aligning financial flows and attracting new investors. UN Country Teams (UNCTs) in Kenya, Indonesia and Armenia explored ways of helping national governments and local partners secure broad, non-traditional funds for development purposes. They mapped out challenges, unlocked new types of financing and used resources in a timely and innovative manner. The three most successful tools adopted were impact investing, Islamic financing, and sector-specific fund modalities. Impact investing in Armenia In the last few years, Armenia has turned into a thriving tech start-up hub and financing initiatives have followed two major trends: venture philanthropy and impact investing. To capitalize on these new forms of funding, the UNCT set up a country platform for SDG implementation that is aligned with national reform and SDG efforts. The collaborative space allows the UN, development partners and civil society to strengthen relationships and develop new ones with international financial institutions, donors and philanthropists. Other innovations: SDG Innovation Lab, the Kolba Social Innovation Lab, ImpactAim Venture Accelerator. Islamic financing in Indonesia Home to the world’s largest Muslim population and the tenth largest economy, the Government of Indonesia recently turned to inclusive and ‘green’ financing to accelerate the SDGs. The UNCT saw the potential and embraced new forms of finance to support sustainable development initiatives. Good practices include employing blended finance instruments and Islamic financing (Baznas).[3] In 2017, UNDP channelled zakat (charitable funds) for a micro-hydro energy project to improve access to water, renewable energy and livelihoods in some of the most remote parts of Indonesia. Other innovations: Financing Lab, “Bring Water for Life” and #TimeforTigers crowdfunding campaigns. Primary health care financing in Kenya One million people in Kenya fall into poverty every year because of a fractured health care system,[4] which is why the national government prioritized rolling out Universal Health Care in the “Big 4 Action Plan.” The UNCT supports the government by working with private sector partners on the Private Sector Health Partnership Kenya initiative and SDG Philanthropy Platform. Bringing together the private and public sectors together has opened doors to new cross-sectoral opportunities in the health, tech, early childhood development, nutrition, and technical and vocational training sectors. Make it rain: harnessing the potential of innovative financing The cost of solving the world’s most critical problems currently runs into the trillions, forcing development financing into a new era. There are no other options if traditional development aid no longer makes the grade. The UN has to pivot and embrace the changes taking place or risk becoming redundant and irrelevant. Luckily there are many opportunities to seize, and the UN has plenty of comparative advantages to bring to the table. The organization has a long, successful history of bringing together partners, training and recruiting experts, scaling up projects, and imparting technical knowledge. UN staff are skilled in advising, brokering knowledge, innovating, analysing data, and measuring impact. As we have seen in Kenya, Armenia and Indonesia, capital can be mobilized through impact investing, attracting early investors, or securing funds for larger investments in sectors identified by the central government. Embracing the latest tech innovations (e.g. e-health or mobile diagnostics) can turn unattractive investment areas into “bankable propositions.” Perhaps the most important takeaway is to not “let perfection be the enemy of the good.” Change may take time but UNCTs can’t wait for everything to be in place before embarking on new initiatives or adopting innovative types of financing. Steps to secure the right kind of capital have to be taken because time is running and “business as usual” no longer works—the numbers tell the whole story. Societal progress involves taking calculated risks, and achieving the SDGs is no exception. Unlocking new sources of funding is one way the UN can make sustainable gains and help governments make returns on the 2030 Agenda. ---- [1] Discussed in detail in “Financing the UN Development System. Pathways to Reposition for Agenda 2030” (September 2017), Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in collaboration with the MPTF Office, http://www.daghammarskjold.se/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Financing-Report-2017_Interactive.pdf. [2] Amounts Mobilised from the Private Sector by Official Development Finance Interventions: Guarantees, syndicated loans and shares in collective investment vehicles’, OECD working paper, 2016. [3] Baznas was established by the government based on Presidential Decree 8/2011. The agency is responsible for collecting and distributing zakat at the national level. [4] Thomson Reuters Foundation, February 2018, http://news.trust.org/item/20180209112650-s1njv/.

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Five ways the UN is experimenting together in 2018

BY Maria Blanco Lora | May 3, 2018

Here at silo-fighting HQ, for a fourth year in a row, we are trying to incentivize the UN to innovate together. This is our annual moment to listen to how UN country teams plan to go beyond business as usual and model next generation practices to meet the demands of Agenda 2030. We love this time of year, as the proposals themselves are great intelligence on the front line, and we get to know the problems teams want to solve and what tools they have at their disposal to solve them. We were looking for joint efforts across UN agencies to innovate in the areas of data, behavioural insights, finance, collective intelligence and foresight. With thanks to our donors, these are investments in innovations which can either be scaled from one agency to the rest of the system efforts, from one sector or field to another, from one country to another, or from one geographic area to country-wide applicability. We are also funding UN teams that want to break new ground and test hypotheses for more proof-of-concept type innovations. The competition among country teams for the funding was tough, but thanks to our review team, after 100 proposals, we finally decided on 34 experiments and scaling efforts that we are thrilled to present in this blog. Data for preparedness, prevention and prediction Innovations in data was the most popular area in the proposals this year. A good chunk of winning pitches focus on new ways of gathering and analysing data to allow countries better prepare and respond to natural disasters along with citizen-generated data for predictive analytics.   In the Pacific, the UN country team in Samoa, will use new technologies to analyse households preparedness to cyclones, while Fiji will be scaling VAMPIRE to measure the impact of cyclones through data mining and build predictive analytics. In Viet Nam, the UN team will develop digital tools to link baseline data on vulnerability and resilience to preparedness to long-term planning disaster recovery planning. To prevent food insecurity, the UN in Malawi will be using geospatial information to assist farmers and, in Ghana, the team will use remote sensing and drones to provide the government with timely data to respond to food security threats. In Iraq, crop productivity mapping through the use of mobile data collection and satellite imagery will explore new ways of measuring poverty beyond traditional surveys.  Sudan, PNG and Jordan will use participatory methodologies, based on mobile phone data, to test water and sanitation projects in camps for internally displaced persons to predict development investments and to look for future development trends.    The UN team in Dominican Republic will build on their previous experience to develop a national SDG data lab to integrate sustainable development into the development planning in the country. Also, Serbia will be developing an algorithm to assess the alignment of the national development plan and sectoral strategies to the SDGs. Last but not least, Uzbekistan will be using blockchain to improve public services testing whether this will reduce transaction costs and increase transparency. Ramping up participatory programming with collective intelligence Lots of UN teams are trying to tap into the best collective minds in the countries they serve, with an increase in the use of  new methods and technologies to engage the general public in policy development, budget allocation and monitoring. Based on what we got for our call for proposals, UN country teams feel comfortable using mobile tech to tap into collective intelligence to triangulate data or test their hypothesis while undertaking planning processes. Albania and Mexico are using mobile technologies and social media to gather perceptions on the progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Digital tools, such as Rapid Pro, will be used by Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and Somalia to enhance the dialogue with local authorities and, in the case of T&T and Suriname, to engage young people in policy monitoring and development. Colombia, through automatic speech recognition, and Lesotho, through open challenges, will also use collective intelligence for participatory planning and accountable governance respectively. In Senegal, the UN country team will be supporting community health workers with a real-time monitoring tool, SMS-based, to prevent health emergencies. Monitoring will be also the scope of the project in Honduras, where women will be able to share and identify safe zones in the city of Choloma through crowdsourced audits facilitated by a real-time data collection app. The UN country team in Iraq will engage youth IT developers and activists to harness the power of new technologies to oversee public investments in the documentation, conservation, rehabilitation and reconstruction of the country's cultural heritage. In China, the UN team will link up farmers with tech companies to find solutions to connectivity gaps among poor farmers and decision makers using mobile technologies, e-platforms and drones. The Pulse Lab Kampala in Uganda will advance their machine learning driven radio tools to develop an open software platform for the UN country team to enable open access to existing software applications developed by the Lab that will allow programme colleagues harness collective intelligence for their work.  The UN team in Moldova will be on a quest to experiment, test and fine-tune a platform-based organizational model to explore if this type of platform would be feasible in the case of the UN global mandate. Behavioural insights to meet people where they are 2018 was the first year we opened up to proposals in the area of Behavioural Insights. We will be funding initiatives to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse (Nigeria), to learn from devients to halt male violent behaviour towards women (Palestine) and to eliminate female genital mutilation/cutting (Mauritania). In Costa Rica, the UN country team will use behavioural insights to understand and tackle structural development gaps among the most excluded communities. Popular technologies in these proposals are social media, SMS polling, big data and the use of radio. Innovative finance to channel private funds to development UN teams in three countries will be experimenting with new forms of financing in 2018: Colombia, Somalia, and Armenia. Team Colombia will develop innovative blending finance solutions to support enterprises with peacebuilding impact in remote locations in the country. The UN in Somalia will set up open innovation challenges and crowdfunding platforms and the UN and the government in Armenia will be leveraging private finance for SDG-related objectives through social impact bonds as part of their SDG innovation Lab. Imagining possible futures and seeing the future that is already here To begin to use the future as a tool for development work today. Two UN teams will be using foresight and alternative futures as part of their sustainable development work. In Egypt, the idea is to build scenarios to encourage foresight dialogues as a tool to increase civic engagement to define Egypt's future. The team will make use of forecasting tools such as Three Horizon Framework and Verge Foresight Framework. In the same region, Lebanon will apply a participatory approach to foresight, asking citizens to contribute to a foresight exercise using a mapping tool.    Pinky swear: we promise to work out loud…. This work will be led by a growing community of innovators within the UN. We are proud to have colleagues from almost every agency working in the field leading these innovations and we are aware that there are many more out there. The idea is to connect and learn from each other, so we are looking for mentors to help us (data scientists, human-centered design, machine-learning among others. Webinars and our One UN Knowledge Exchange group will be our main channels to support our innovators. We will also tap into the UN Innovation Network. This was just a taste of the innovations that are coming up this year, for more, keep showing up to our Silo Fighters Blog. The UN innovators will be sharing their own stories in this space. And while you are at it, follow us on Twitter.     Photo: Trevor Samson / World Bank

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The UN and SDG financing: Make or break moment?

BY Annika Östman | April 24, 2018

There is no way around it. Development financing has entered a new era; with the cost of solving the world’s most critical problems running into the trillions, traditional development aid is simply no longer enough and those active in this space are faced with the choice of readjusting or becoming irrelevant. This includes the United Nations. “We can play a crucial role in redirecting capital towards the Sustainable Development Goals, but for the UN to be successful it needs to partner outside the organisation,” said Richard Bailey, Policy Specialist at UN DOCO, during a workshop organised by the UN and the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Uppsala earlier this month. The seminar brought together UN practitioners and external financing experts already forging ahead on the path towards a new financing approach, and it gave them an opportunity to share their experiences in unlocking innovative financing for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Some UN country teams have already come quite a bit along the way. Early adopters Armenia is one country that, with proactive support from the UN, is actively pursuing innovative financing solutions to mobilise capital for national development priorities. One such solution is impact investing, in which the Government and partners invest in companies, organisations and funds to generate positive social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. “Our job is to grow the impact ventures that contribute to SDGs, connect them to investors and to find ways to scale them,” explained Dimitri Mariassin, Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP in Armenia. To achieve this the UN team in country has set up an accelerator to strengthen impact ventures and is creating an impact fund with an existing fund manager in Armenia to leverage funds for larger investments. In Indonesia, the UN Country Team is also partnering effectively with government and the private sector in experimenting with new forms of finance to support the SDGs. This includes UNDP Indonesia’s innovative work in exploring the potential of Islamic finance for SDGs, launching crowd funding campaigns for environment projects, supporting the establishment of a first sovereign wealth fund in Indonesia and setting up an Innovative Financing Lab. “We are trying to bridge and connect investors with the communities and issues that need investment,” said Francine Pickup, Deputy Country Director of UNDP Indonesia. “Our belief is that by coming up with innovative finance instruments we can attract capital to where it is most needed.” Defining the UN’s role The work of these early adopters has shown that there is a role for the UN in the space of innovative financing for the SDGs. In fact, there are many different roles the UN can play ranging from convening, brokering, de-risking, to impact reporting and monitoring. “We are the ecosystem player, trying to play that honest broker role and we ensure everything we do is built on needs and is demand-driven,” explained Arif Neky, Advisor UN Strategic Partnerships and Coordinator of the new SDG Partnership Platform in Kenya. This platform will help drive public-private investments into the SDGs with an initial focus on health and wellbeing. The UN is playing a key coordination role; a function that many outside the UN see as crucial. “Now that there is interest from the private sector in financing SDGs, there is a fundamental role for the UN to spell out what it means to drive financing to the SDGs,” explained Andrea Armeni, Executive Director of Transform Finance. “More capital is not sufficient, it has to be the right kind of the capital, it needs to be aligned and coordinated and that is a role only the UN can play.” For the UN to realise its full potential in this space though it is evident that its roles need to be unpacked and there a number of challenges inherent to the UN system that need to be addressed. Workshop participants cited slow internal bureaucratic procedures and inflexible rules and regulations as limiting UN country teams’ ability to test new things and take risks. The need to sharpen and retain in-house skills, particularly in regards to speaking and understanding the language of investors and the private sector was also identified as a key challenge. What next? The workshop will feed into a broader scope of work the Foundation is pursuing together with the UN Development Operations Coordination Office (UN DOCO). Specifically, the discussions will enrich a series of three case studies about Armenia, Indonesia and Kenya that will be published soon, as well as a joint comprehensive report based on findings of the different case studies. The case studies will identify and analyse the best practices and needs from these UN country teams, and the expectation is that other countries looking to follow these early adopters can build on their experiences and avoid potential pitfalls. The reports also aim to further identify the key challenges and bottlenecks in adopting new approaches, so that, where possible, they can be addressed centrally at the UN. This corporate response will be critical for the experience in these countries shows that if these new funding methods are to work and be adopted by UN agencies in different countries a change in mindsets across the organsation is required. Innovative financing must be integrated into the core strategies and operations of the whole UN and not only be the work of a few brave outliers. Cross-posted from the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation blog. Photo: UN in Liberia

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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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Opening up the magic of pooled funds at the UN

BY Richard Bailey | May 4, 2017

In the development field, donors can provide funds to the UN through pooled funds, a special type of mechanism that has made our work – reaching the right people at the right time with the right resources – much easier. Thanks to pooled funds, we can support humanitarian interventions, peacebuilding, development and climate change efforts in an accountable and a flexible way. Accountable to tax payers, flexible in the field To ensure flexibility in complex situations such as in Iraq 2004, the money donors contribute is pooled together and administered centrally by a UN fund, rather than being earmarked to a specific UN agency. Once a fund-allocation decision is made, the money is passed from the central UN fund to the UN entity responsible for implementing the relevant programme. But in a short period of time (since 2004), they have impacted our financing systems: They now account for 8 percent of the total funding for the UN’s operational activities and they are expected to grow in the coming years. This is just the beginning. The drive for more joined up work across the UN and with partners is gaining momentum. UN pooled financing mechanisms will play an increasingly strategic role in financing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and you can see our analysis here. Where does the money go? For the first time, we have begun to publish UN pooled-fund data using the International Aid Transparency Initiative Standard (IATI). We adopted the IATI data standard because it helps us compare funds across the UN. At the same time it enables us to get our data on pooled funding out there in the public.    Publishing our data in IATI means that we have a reliable, machine readable way of ensuring that high quality financial data on pooled funds is published once and can be used whenever and wherever it is needed. The UN Development Operations Coordination Office and the UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office, the center of expertise on pooled financing mechanisms in the UN system, partnered on this major step to make our transactions transparent. Like much of the drive for the more than 500 publishers already using the IATI data standard, publishing data is only the first step. The goal is to make sure this data is used, so dig in and let us know how you use it! Photo:© 2010 Arne Hoel/World Bank

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Taking pilots to standards: Marking 10 years of ‘Delivering as One’

BY Alexander Freese, Gerald Daly, Helene Remling | November 2, 2016

We’ve all felt the touch of coordination. Whether for a hiking trip, a wedding or a picnic in the park: planning together who does what, working on more challenging treats in a team (that barbecue, photo book or treasure hunt!) leads to better results than anyone could have achieved alone –  and it is always more creative and fun too! When it comes to complexity, organizing the activities of 32 UN entities with development operations in 165 countries and territories and a total budget nearing 17 billion US Dollars can hardly be compared to a picnic in the park. But still, coordination in either scenario is essentially about common sense, pooling ideas and resources. Underlying is  the conviction, that one needs to go together instead of alone to achieve common goals. In November 2016, the UN has perhaps a less known anniversary to celebrate. Ten years ago a process was initiated that put the common sense of coordination for better development results on center stage for the UN development system: ‘Delivering as One’ was born.  Aimed at supporting the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, this initiative was launched by then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006 based on recommendations by Member States to strengthen coordination and management of the UN development operations. Test, evaluate and standardize But what does it take to bring to bear the full potential of a cooperative and collaborative UN on the ground? ‘Delivering as One’ equipped UN teams in 8 countries with flexibility and resources to experiment and find answers to this crucial question.  Some six years later,‘Delivering as One’ was formally recognized by Member States as a valuable business model for UN development activities. Building on five crucial pillars of the UN at the country level, namely one programme, a common budget, one leadership, and to communicate and operate as one, the UN set off to formalise the approach. Mandated by the UN General Assembly, senior UNDG leadership launched a unique interagency process  to come up with  Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for ‘Delivering as One’. These procedures were to codify the approach and bring together the lessons learned from the pilot countries for the benefit of all UN teams across the globe. If you would like to return to the travel analogy, the ultimate survival guide for a successful camping trip. In 2014 the UN Secretary General and 18 Heads of UN Agencies signed the SOPs, making the SOPs document the UN guidance document with the largest ever number of signatures by UN leaders. We’ve learned a number of valuable lessons in this two year journey of reviewing, drafting and negotiating a guidance document that would help unite UN efforts on the ground. With Ban Ki-moon’s term ending and a new resolution to guide the UN development system underway, the UNDG is at an important crossroads and  these lessons could inform future UN change processes:  1. Maintaining momentum: Reforming big institutions takes time. But with concrete yet strategic requests such as for the SOPs, change can happen fast. New resolutions and leadership create momentum for necessary change that should be harnessed. Sometimes this does not allow for in-depth preparatory research, but this time around much data has been collected on the functioning of the SOPs at the country level, paving the way for speedy progress in taking the SOPs to the next level. 2. Co-create change with those who will implement it: The UNDG set up a dedicated high level group to develop the vision of the SOPs, and a series of working groups to flesh out technicalities. Even though the high level group included colleagues from the regional and country levels, due to the very ambitious timeline, little time was left to consult and communicate intensively with important stakeholders such as country level agency staff who would be the eventual implementers of the SOPs. This might have caused delays in the behavioral change required by UN staff at the country level. 3.Keep the big picture in mind, even as you work out the detail: Developing the SOPs was a technical consolidation of experiences with ‘Delivering as One’ At the same time it was a political negotiation as to what extent agency procedures would later align to the the new standards. The UNDG focused on the technical aspects, and could have informed senior leadership and communicated to its governing bodies better about the strategic goal of the SOPs along the way: A UN system at country level ready to provide integrated policy support and solutions to multidimensional development challenges as versatile and complementary teams and has the internal procedures in place to fully support it (e.g. to allow for truly joined upfront analysis and planning). 4.The plan-monitor-adjust loop: The adoption of the SOPs falls in a period of change for many agencies, with shifting funding structures, calls for reform of governance mechanisms and the Agenda 2030 that requires taking policy integration and coherence to the next level. The SOPs embody a whole-of-UN approach that mirrors the whole-of-Government ethos that is called for to find the ideal balance between the economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda breaks new ground. In the same way, the SOPs allow for continuous adjustment of technical details while maintaining their broader strategic intent. To this end, the UNDG has set up a system to track progress in the implementation of the 15 core elements of the SOPs to allow for the analysis of bottlenecks and accountability towards Member States. Challenges ahead: Changing the way we work In 2015 the UN turned 70, a year that will always be remembered as a year marked by major agreements signalling a paradigm shift in tackling global challenges. But while it was an opportunity to look back, it was also a chance to look ahead.  To help us deliver on the universal and transformative 2030 Agenda, the main challenge going forward is to enable UNCTs to provide equally integrated support to Governments through fully implemented SOPs. We need to gather more evidence on the value addition of the SOPs towards the UN’s contribution to the 2030 Agenda, and in continued reduction of transaction costs and duplication in the UN development system. On average, 16 resident and non-resident agencies in each of our 131 UN Country Teams make an incredible breadth and depth of expertise available to  Governments and societies. They provide pooled expertise, policy support and resources at country level. The SOPs allow us to harness the opportunities inherent in this vast offering by the UN system. As the recently published first Progress Report on the SOPs shows, much has been achieved in the short time span of two years since the launch of the SOPs: They have contributed greatly to improved inter-agency collaboration and enhanced the strategic positioning and relevance of the UN development system at the country level. A growing number of UNCTs are now organized around results groups and the most advanced ones focus their policy capacities around joint policy products and joint work plans. Around one third of UNCTs are implementing, or are in the process of preparing, common Business Operations Strategies in support of their United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF). Programme Country Governments that have formally requested the UN to ‘Deliver as One’ are responding much more positively to questions on the UN’s alignment with national priorities, its overall contribution to development, and its focus on the poorest and most vulnerable people. The SOPs were agreed upon, signed and rolled out. Nevertheless, more time and effort is needed to fully implement them across all UN Country Teams. To realise the full potential of the SOPs, we also need to bring the required actions at headquarter level to the governing bodies of UN entities. Member States should understand that this change does not come overnight. Persistent follow-up is required from all stakeholders. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. As John Hendra, Senior UN Coordinator “Fit for Purpose” for the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, put it we can build on the SOPs as the “floor” – for UN support to the 2030 Agenda at the country level. They are flexible and common sense principles of working together, transparently, efficiently and effectively. They also ensure government oversight and ownership, helping the UN to better align with national development needs and objective. In this sense, progress made in the past 10 years on ‘Delivering as One’ makes for a great campfire story perfecting a journey towards a UN that delivers better together. A story told jointly by so many UN colleagues from a diversity of organizations, based in countries across the globe, united by the UN values, vision and mission. This is an encouraging result from the 2012 quadrennial comprehensive policy review (QCPR) resolution and positive signal going forward into the negotiations of the next resolution on the UN’s operational activities for development.

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Restructuring aid for Syria and its neighbours

BY Jason Pronyk | December 7, 2015

The recent surge of hundreds of thousands of refugees travelling from Syria and elsewhere into Europe has prompted new debate about the international aid response to the crisis caused by the Syrian conflict. Should European and other countries do more to help refugees leaving Syria and its neighbours? Should they do more to help in Syria and its neighbours? Can more be done to bring about an end to the war? Amidst the debate, in September the EU pledged an extra US$1.1 billion in aid and the United States pledged an extra US$419m. These pledges come on top of the large sums these donors had already pledged and disbursed this year. They have been welcomed by aid organizations and the countries at the front of dealing with the consequences of the Syrian conflict. Nonetheless, the gaps are still large between the funding that aid organizations and their national partners have appealed for, and the funding that has been pledged or disbursed. The governments of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are still seeking more assistance with the costs of hosting between them more than four million refugees. And all the while Syrians continue to be displaced within Syria itself, and refugees continue to travel out of the region. Underfunding – and obstacles Underfunding in aid has consequences, direct and indirect. The World Food Programme has had to cut food aid for refugees. Local authorities have struggled to provide water and sanitation. National budgets have been unable to finance all the schools, teachers, health centres and healthworkers that are needed. And initiatives to generate jobs and livelihoods have gone underfunded – leaving people struggling to make a living. The task of helping those in need has also been hampered by the structures and systems of international aid. The greatest obstacle is the way aid is structured according to whether it is labelled humanitarian or development. Aid is then further compartmentalized, according to goals under each of these headings. In general, if money is labelled humanitarian it goes to short-term goals. If it is labelled development, it goes to longer-term goals. A further obstacle is the classification of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey as middle income countries. This precludes them from receiving the types of grant aid from multilateral financial institutions that poorer countries receive. Little of this makes sense for helping the millions displaced in Syria and who have fled abroad, and the neighbouring countries that have taken in more than 4 million refugees, and which face their own budgetary pressures. A change – and more needed Put simply, the structure of international aid – its architecture – is not fit for the purpose of responding effectively to the consequences of the Syrian conflict. So what needs to change? One recent proposal has been to increase the access that Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have to “concessional loans.” Under the proposed arrangement, the World Bank will provide new loans to Syria’s neighbours to help deal with the financial burden of the conflict, and wealthy donor countries will pay the interest on those loans. The proposed arrangement is welcome and overdue. But more needs to be done. More needs to be done to break down the barriers between humanitarian and development aid, and to create new and innovative mechanisms for financing the collective response to the Syria crisis. This is why the structure of the international aid response to the Syrian conflict was one of the topics discussed at the Resilience Development Forum held in Jordan on November 8th and 9th. The event brought together 500 participants in an unprecedented spectrum of stakeholders: senior representatives of Governments from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey; 31 UN Agencies and IOs and IFIs; 23 donor countries; 50 international and local NGOs and research institutions; and private sector leaders exchanged their rich experiences and discussed innovative ideas. The Forum explored ways to better connect public finance and private finance, where they can work well together, and ways to remove unhelpful barriers between humanitarian and development aid. You can download the Dead Sea resilience Agenda here. Changes need to be made so that good projects can be designed and implemented, less constrained by needing to present themselves as short-term, immediate responses just in order to maximize their chances of being funded. Changes need to be made so that good projects do not go underfunded. And changes need to be made so that there is more international solidarity and burden sharing with the countries in the frontline of dealing with the consequences of the Syrian conflict. Investing in the resilience of these countries means strengthening their ability to cope with the millions of displaced and refugees who remain among them. It means striking a better balance between providing emergency assistance and investing in the kind of longer-term development that will enable the displaced and refugees to fulfill their ambitions and aspirations in Syria and in the neighbouring countries. And it means supporting these countries’ national response plans and the linked international plans. On December 7th, the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (‘3RP’) for 2015-16 and the Syria Response Plan will be part of the Global Humanitarian Appeal. The 3RP provides a framework to deliver on the results in the Dead Sea Resilience Agenda. Its elements will be the point of reference as we prepare for the pledging opportunities at the London Conference on 4 February 2016. What do you think? What more needs to be done to break down the barriers between humanitarian and development aid, and create new mechanisms for financing the collective response to the Syria crisis? 

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