Business Operations are defined loosely as “all non-programmatic activities needed to deliver UN programmes efficiently and effectively.” This in effect implies quite a range of operational processes, tasks and infrastructure development and maintenance, from policy to implementation, from personnel management to telecommunications infrastructure, from banking to security, from procurement to building maintenance.

In order to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of UN operations in country and throughout the UN System, the practice of streamlining a lot of this operational work has become known as harmonization of business practices, which includes common services and common premises.

Silo Fighters Blog

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

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

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

Silo Fighters Blog

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

BY Zumrad Sagdullaeva, Jakob Schemel | June 23, 2017

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

UNDG Guidance Notes and Policies on Business Operations

Other stuff we like on Business Operations

Innovating on Business Operations

Many UN country teams take innovative approaches to support the design and implementation of the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) through business operations strategies.

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Common Premises

Premises shared by UN organizations are an important component of the Secretary-General’s UN Reform Programme. The objective of common premises is to build closer ties among United Nations staff and promote a more unified presence at country level in a cost-effective manner.

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Facts on Business Operations

Based on UNDG real-time IMS data, this global snapshot shows the latest progress by countries, towards implementation of the “Operating as One” Standard Operating Procedure: (1. Business Operations Strategy endorsed by the UN country team; 2. Empowered Operations Management Team and 3. Operations costs and budgets integrated in the overall medium-term Common Budgetary Framework).

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