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
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.
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.
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