Sustainable Development Goals Are Country-Led And Country-Owned

BY Magdy Martínez-Solimán, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco | September 22, 2017

Over the past 20 years, the world has seen unprecedented progress of human development, as nearly 1.1 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty. But unfinished business remains. Today, roughly 800 million people still live in extreme poverty and inequalities are growing. It was with this in mind that world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) almost two years ago. This is the most ground-breaking development agenda the world has seen, for it contains a radical promise: to leave no one behind. It is a promise to every man and woman who goes to bed hungry, every boy and girl who is deprived of education, every person who is fleeing violent conflict. Put to practice everywhere, this promise transforms our world! You may ask what a set of goals and high-flown words on paper can do to address these enormous challenges in practice. It is a fair question. But the answer is- a lot! The City of Montería in Colombia has become one of Latin America’s greenest cities by linking green urbanism, transportation and renewable energy to the SDGs. In Mexico, a project on reduced inequalities focusing on children with disabilities has improved the lives of 12,000 boys and girls. 350 caregivers in 9 states have been trained in this UN-supported project to increase the quality of care, give better opportunities to children with disabilities to complete schooling, and ultimately increase their prospects of leading a life as fully empowered members of society. In Kyrgyzstan, supported by the UN Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund, local self-governing authorities and citizens have jointly identified and implemented more than 120 local infrastructure projects aimed at smoothing tensions over scarce natural resources. Multilingual education has reached more than 9,000 students, helping to increase inter-ethnic understanding and enhance the prospects of success for historically marginalized groups. These efforts contribute to achieving the SDGs and address root causes of conflict. The leadership demonstrated by citizens and governments in these countries show the SDGs to be country-led and country-owned, and relevant everywhere. Now, a particular challenge is to reach the 1.4 billion people that today live in fragile and conflict-affected situations. With the concept of “sustaining peace”, endorsed by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, the world is recognizing that there cannot be peace without development and no development without peace. The United Nations is moving away from a narrow focus on time-bound peacekeeping interventions to emphasize efforts for long-term sustainable peace. This encompasses the imperative of conflict prevention and addressing root causes and drivers of violence. It also includes the need to address all stages of the conflict cycle, the importance of breaking siloes and formulate comprehensive and coherent approaches, as well as the need to ensure national ownership and inclusivity. For countries on the move from violent conflict to peace and democratic rule, the 2030 Agenda can indeed be a powerful lever for change. The world has the largest generation of young people ever. 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 are preparing for their future. This is by itself an incredible opportunity for change. In many countries in transition, youth has played a key role in instigating change. In the Gambia, the youth population was crucial in choosing a peaceful path away from authoritarian rule nine months ago. In a country where a disproportionate number of young people risk their life to cross the Mediterranean in search for a better life, this new chapter is an opportunity to build a more open and inclusive society. Like the Gambian youth, people have engaged to make the SDGs come alive across the globe. Over 10 million people voiced their priorities during the run up to the Agenda’s launch in 2015. Now we need more people to do the same. We need new ways of working together, we need investment bankers to work with environmental activists, religious leaders with feminist organizations, sports leaders with disabled young people. To spur this development, the UN is strengthening its support to Member States for the implementation of the SDGs around the world. We know that the 2030 Agenda is a bold plan for humanity that requires equally bold changes to the UN development system to ensure that we support countries as effectively as possible. This also means better connecting our efforts across the peace and security, human rights and development pillars of the organization to achieve sustainable development on the ground. (Context: On 21 September 2017, the UN Development Group held a side-event to the UN General Assembly: “The SDGs in action – Country-led, Country-Owned”. The event focused on initiatives and lessons learned to accelerate progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in different countries and regions, including in vulnerable and conflict-affected settings.) Photography: ©FAO/Antonello Proto

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Using Machine Learning to Accelerate Sustainable Development Solutions in Uganda

September 14, 2017

A year and a half after it was prototyped, the radio content analysis tool developed by Pulse Lab Kampala and partners has become fully operational. The findings and lessons learned during the process were compiled in a report entitled: “Using Machine Learning to Analyse Radio Content in Uganda - Opportunities for Sustainable Development and Humanitarian Action.” The recent Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Good Global Summit has brought together partners to define a roadmap for governments, industry, academia, media, and civil society to develop AI in a safe, responsible and ethical manner benefiting all segments of society. At the summit, the radio content analysis tool was showcased as one of the applications of AI currently in use at the UN. The tool was designed to leverage public radio content as a source of information to inform on issues relevant to sustainable development. The most complex part in the development of the prototype is capturing the transcription of spoken words into written text. This technology, called speech recognition, is used in applications ranging from simple voice dialing (e.g. "Call home") to fully automatic speech-to-text processing where every word is being converted into text (e.g. dictation to a document or email). The world’s largest IT companies, including Apple, Google, Microsoft and IBM, invest significant resources in speech recognition for their products. There are also companies that specialise in speech recognition as Nuance Communications (Apple’s supplier) or HTK. This type of companies offer automatic speech-to-text dictation in about 50 languages, but languages and dialects from the African continent are not available among them. The radio content analysis tool was developed as part of a project conducted by Pulse Lab Kampala in collaboration with the Stellenbosch University in South Africa. The tool works by converting public discussions that take place on radio in various African languages into text. Once converted, the text can be searched for topics of interest. The tool is now fully functional in the Northern and Central regions of Uganda and available for three languages: Luganda, Acholi and English (as spoken in the country). The report outlines the methodology and processes of the radio content analysis tool, distills the technology behind its creation and presents the lessons learned along the way. It also details the results of several pilot studies that were conducted together with partners from the Government, UN agencies and academia to understand the validity and value of unfiltered public radio discussions for development. The hope is that the processes and lessons detailed in the report can serve as examples and inspiration for using radio talk and data analytics to inform decision-making processes in development and humanitarian scenarios, in contexts where other sources of data may be missing or insufficient. Using Machine Learning to Analyse Radio Content in Uganda from Global Pulse Uganda’s population is the youngest in the world, with 77% of its population being under 30 years of age. The country is now gaining international recognition for the development of Artificial Intelligence products by its youth.Listen to insights from the young Ugandans working at Pulse Lab Kampala on the development of the radio content analysis tool.   Cross-posted from the United Nations Global Pulse Blog.

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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!

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Sustainable development and sustaining peace: Two sides of the same coin

BY Magdy Martínez-Solimán, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco | July 20, 2017

More than 1.4 billion people, and half of the world’s extremely poor people live in fragile and conflict-affected settings. The number is forecast to grow by a staggering 82 per cent by 2030. Around 244 million people are on the move, with 65 million people in our world being forcibly displaced. You might assume that for countries in the cross hairs of these dynamics, the last thing on anyone’s mind right now is getting on track to achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). If you did, think again. Sustainable development is key to sustaining peace and vice versa. Sustaining peace, a concept endorsed by the UN General Assembly and Security Council, focuses on the importance of having a long-term, comprehensive vision in all responses to violent conflict, to end vicious cycles of lapse and relapse. Many countries in complex situations have embraced the SDGs as part of the solution. Afghanistan, for example, is presenting its plans at this year’s UN High-Level Political Forum, the global platform for SDG follow-up and review. At the same forum, Togo, a self-declared ‘fragile’ state, is showcasing its SDG initiatives for the second year running. And Colombia, one of the masterminds of the SDGs, considers them an integral tool in its peacebuilding process. Traditionally peace has been approached in sequential and separate steps: first humanitarian rescue; then securing a ceasefire and sending in peacekeepers; next creating a new governing system; and finally investing in economic, social and environmental development. But peacebuilding and development are symbiotic, like getting fit: you would not stop smoking for a month, exercise the next month, then eat well the following month - you would work on all together. This is why the 2030 Agenda that contains the SDGs and the Resolutions on the UN’s peacebuilding architecture call for the dissolution of silos and the advancement of a strongly coherent and integrated approach, recognizing that development, peace and security, and human rights are interlinked and mutually reinforcing. The radical heart of the Sustainable Development Goals is their promise to leave no one behind and to reach the furthest behind first. This is a game-changing commitment to the poorest, most vulnerable people around the world who face violent conflict, disease, natural disaster, and unstable government. Old development agendas might focus on boosting a narrow idea of economic growth, industrialisation or social services. Alone, none of these achievements leads to welfare, sustainable economic transformation or sufficient support to a peace process. They could even worsen tensions in a country if growth is not inclusive, services are captured by an elite or industrialisation generates unbalances between regions. A rising tide only lifts all boats if everyone has a boat. The UN’s new sustainable development agenda builds on its past experience in reducing poverty, supporting growth and public services. But it goes further to provide the funds and tools to also address environmental risks, reduce vulnerabilities and pursue peace, justice and equality. Sustaining peace and sustainable development are two sides of the same coin, and this is the fundamental principle that the United Nations of the 21st century must now stand for. For any country to reach a lasting peace, the journey must always be led by its own people. The role of the UN is to support this journey, providing the experience, expertise and using the convening power at its disposal to give countries in crisis the best chance at stability and prosperity. Peace is not simply a benchmark to achieve. It requires ongoing, dynamic participation from the entire society in its governance and economy to ensure that conflicts don’t escalate into violence. That is why a country’s development must be inclusive and sustainable; it gives everyone a stake in a shared future. On 17 July 2017, the UN Development Group held a side-event for the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, co-hosted by UNDP and PBSO, on: “The SDGs in action – eradicating poverty and promoting inclusive prosperity in a changing world.”  The event focussed on how countries at various stages of development, including those faced with violent conflict, are accelerating efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and illustrated the support of the UN development system to Member States.   Photo credit: Mónica Suárez Galindo/UNDP Perú

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Open data for social good in the Kyrgyz Republic

BY Markel Toromyrza uulu | June 30, 2017

At the UN in Kyrgyzstan, we believe that open and reliable data is essential to data-driven decision making by key policy makers and other organizations that use data for social good. As Ashish Soni, a machine-learning and data-science expert, says, there are five characteristics which constitute building blocks for data analysis and decision making:       Accurate: data and information must be reliable and accurate       Complete: partial data depicts a partial picture; completeness of data and information is essential for sound decisions       Consistent: systematic collection using consistent methodology and updates are important for data users and decision makers       Unique: good decisions need high-quality data and information       Timely: new and current data is more valuable than outdated data With this and the current national situation in mind, we worked with the country’s National Statistical Committee developing an open data website and the StatKG mobile application to make specific national data available to everyone free of charge. The app and the website rely on the data provided by the National Statistical Committee, an institution with unique and reputable methodology and tools to collect, analyse and interpret raw data. 24,000+ data points in Russian, Kyrgyz and English The open data portal and mobile app is our attempt to  reflect reliable and open data in Kyrgyzstan related to the Sustainable Development Goals and it is a one-of-a-kind in the Commonwealth of Independent States region. The mobile app also supports data in English, Kyrgyz, and Russian languages. We think it’s pretty cool that  the application is not just an electronic handbook of statistical data, but also a powerful tool which allows comparison across different data points.  This thing is packed:  3,293 indicators across 312 categories with a total amount of 24,731 indicator values. We believe that this tool will be  useful for government decision makers, journalists, academia, NGOs and international agencies dealing with development issues. Both are convenient ways to get accurate, complete, consistent, unique, and timely data on various social, economic, and environmental aspects of life in Kyrgyzstan. Developing the website and its mobile app was a laborious process where a team of experts, IT specialists and statisticians from the National Statistical Committee spent long days trying to simplify vast dynamic tables to come up with a user-friendly way to visualize statistical data. Working on a beta version allowed us to identify bugs and errors that we could successfully fix. We are now proud to share the we have a user-friendly powerful tool on statistical data and analysis.  And this was just the beginning! Want to learn more? Now that we have these new tools, a team of national experts is working to increase their analytical capability. The Government of the Kyrgyz Republic is working on taking the globally agreed goals and targets and finding ways to measure them that work for the Kyrgyz Republic. This will help us establish a solid baseline to monitor the SDGs, support the government, and strengthen UN accountability through monitoring and evaluation. Pretty impressive, right? If you want to know more, go and check out our free of charge statistical data and analysis tool. Have a look at it and let us know what you think!   Photo:UNFPA/Y-PEER Kyrgyzstan

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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!

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Joining up data in the humanitarian–development nexus: Why does it matter?

BY Beata Lisowska | June 14, 2017

Imagine living in a community that faces poverty and vulnerability and has limited resilience to shocks. Your livelihood is dependent on subsistence farming in a region that is vulnerable to climate change and crop disease outbreaks. Only 26.7 percent of households in your region have enough food to last until the next harvest. 50 percent of the population in your district are refugees and you find yourself competing for the little resources that you have at your disposal with people who have fled from prolonged conflict. It is estimated that 935,000 South Sudanese refugees will arrive in Uganda by the end of 2017, entering through West Nile – a region that already faces poverty, vulnerability and food insecurity and has limited resilience to shocks. With so many refugees arriving there is danger of conflict breaking out between communities in need of assistance from the humanitarian and development sectors as they compete for limited resources. How does data help to understand the needs of these communities and drive collective development and humanitarian responses that are beneficial to them both? A clear need for joined-up data As it stands, the socio-economic indicators for a given region and statistics on host populations in Uganda are collected using household surveys or censuses and are usually published by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. However, data on refugees – where they are and how they are doing in relation to socio-economic indicators – is gathered by the Office of the Prime Minister, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other actors operating within a region that perform refugee needs assessments. Data is published as a bi-weekly update on the Uganda Refugee Response Portal by the UNHCR and the Office of the Prime Minister. The needs assessments carried out by other actors are not usually publicly accessible. In practice, data on different communities within a region cannot easily be joined up. For those seeking to address development or humanitarian issues, to help improve outcomes for those living in complex communities, there is no single data story that gives a complete picture of the issues that people face. This means that decisions on how best to address an issue can only ever be a ‘best guess’, without full knowledge of the potential for knock-on effects – positive or negative – on other communities in the area. It’s not just a question of joining up data – often data for evidence-based decision-making is simply not available. For example, it’s not possible to track how many refugees provided with land choose to settle in a region, move around the country or go back to their country of origin. This is because refugee communities are often missed from household surveys, censuses are few and far between, and if a refugee becomes homeless they may fall off the data radar altogether. Signs of progress in bridging the divide There are, however, signs of progress in the humanitarian–development nexus. The Ugandan government recognises that humanitarian and development assistance are intertwined, and this is reflected in the Ugandan National Development Plan under the Settlement Transformative Agenda, which develops programmes for the benefit of both refugees and refugee-hosting areas. Recent efforts by the Government of Uganda, UN agencies and the World Bank to develop a ‘Refugee and Host Population Empowerment’ strategy is testament to an understanding that the development of both local and refugee communities is linked and that priorities for long-term sustainable outcomes must benefit both. However, such frameworks should be supported by principles of joined-up data, such as FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable) to inform new policies and recommendations. In the past, as observed by Oliver Walton in a research report on preventing conflict between refugees and host communities, the barrier to effective initiatives in the humanitarian–development nexus “has been a tendency for donors to keep humanitarian assistance for refugees separate from broader development assistance”. We now seem to be moving towards a common political will to overcome the barriers highlighted by Walton. The missing piece is the joined-up data to make it happen.   Photo: @UNHCR

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Why the UN in Burkina Faso is listening to what young people are saying

BY Metsi Makhetha, Daouda Djouma | June 7, 2017

There are 4.5 million people between 15-35 years old in Burkina Faso, according to the last general population and housing census of 2006. By 2025, this number will almost double to 8.6 million people, which means that roughly half of the population in Burkina Faso will be young. Some young people in Burkina Faso feel that the government does not take their aspirations seriously. To voice their disapproval, millions rose up against the system on 30-31 October 2014, and they caught the government’s attention. On 18-19 June 2015, young Burkinabés met with decision-makers at the National Youth Conference to talk about the importance of their participation in development programs and projects to promote peace. Mr. Michael Kafando, the former Head of State and President of the Transition was so impressed that he said: “With young people, everything is possible. Without the youth, watch out!”  Sustainable development planning with young people As the UN in Burkina Faso began to work on the new framework of cooperation and support to development for 2018-2020, we connected with young citizens to better understand their needs. Twenty-six young people (two per region) worked with us to collect data from all regions. They received support from the National Volunteer Program and the Centre for Democratic Governance and Africa Monitor trained them on data collection techniques. The 26 youth researchers conducted two surveys to 1,532 individuals between 15-35 years old. With a qualitative survey, they collected and registered young people’s perceptions on the implementation of UN programs in Burkina Faso. They carried out 65 focus groups. Six opinion leaders (religious, customary, associations, and politicians) also participated. In total, more than 598 people took part in the qualitative survey. We learned that education, health, and decent work are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) they care about the most. For example, youth want to receive technical training because they think that the educational system is outdated and the main pipeline to unemployment. With the quantitative survey, they obtained data on the baseline of the indicators of the SDGs and the National Plan for Economic and Social Development. While some of these findings might be expected, we found it important to undertake this listening exercise.  While we at the UN are gearing up achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we found out that we need to start with a dialogue so that young people in Burkina Faso know what their government has promised to do.  From the research, we learned that 72 percent of respondents had not even heard of the SDGs. Fifty percent had never heard of the National Plan for Economic and Social Development 2016-2020. This surprised us! Measuring progress to ensure transparency and accountability In the context of Burkina Faso, monitoring and reporting on socio-economic indicators is a major challenge. Approximately 25 percent of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework output indicators were not reported over the period of 2011-2015. Two problems were the infrequency and lack of accountability from the agencies in collecting the data. To address this problem, we are implementing Open UN-Burkina, modeled after UNOCHA’s  Online Reporting System (ORS). The platform will: Enhance the transparency of the activities of the UN in Burkina Faso; Strengthen the participation of state and non-state partners in the UNDAF indicators. This platform will provide information which will be accessible to everyone. It will also have a tool that will allow young people to give their opinions and collect the data continuously. With this platform, our aim is to ensure transparency, accountability, and improve our targeting efforts. We hope that this enables a continuous dialogue with the youth of Burkina Faso.  To the young people out there: monitor our work and hold us to account!

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How twelve UN entities in Viet Nam integrated their ICT systems and optimized their workflow

BY Clement Gba | May 25, 2017

At the UN in Viet Nam, we had a hunch that sharing costs associated with IT equipment, infrastructure, and skilled staff would improve our overall efficiency and save costs. With this hypothesis in mind, we started working on an integrated One United Nations Information Communications and Technology (One UN ICT) system as part of the reforms of the Delivering as One initiative. In April 2015, 12 UN agencies unified their information, communication and technology systems and started working under one roof at the Green One UN House. This move is part of the Deliver Green initiative which aims to make the UN a carbon neutral organization by 2020. The difficult bits Technical: Integrating 12 IT systems into one was not an easy task. We also had to ensure proper separation of our IT networks for security purposes. In the context of UN Country Office operations, this is a major achievement. Financial: The integration of IT infrastructures and systems required upfront costs, with a return on investment  beyond the first years. This means that we needed to spend some time developing a strong business case and understanding of the financial and non-monetary benefits in order to get investments from the managers across 12 UN agencies. Institutional: To accommodate the administration of staff, ICT policies, compliance, and requirements, we had to create a unique set of governance and institutional arrangements. Human resources: Prior to the move, our ICT staff only supported users from their respective UN agencies. Under the new initiative, all ICT staff provide support to users from the 12 UN entities operating at the Green One UN House. To scale up the One UN ICT project, we sought help from headquarters, with two interagency missions in 2008 and 2012. We also received support from the United Nations International Computing Centre in Geneva which with us for more than a year to make the integration of the systems a success. What we got out of this effort Extension of ICT services: All UN Viet Nam staff, whether based in Vietnam or providing advisory services to the government from elsewhere, project-based staff, as well as staff living outside the capital city of Hanoi have access to telephone services. This means the whole UN system in Vietnam can now call each other for free anytime, anywhere, so long as they have an internet connection. Provision of additional ICT services: The Green One UN House, now uses Cisco Jabber, an application that enables  computers and mobile devices to function as a telephone via Voice over IP technology and uses the wire/wireless network as the medium for transmitting telephone service. The application works beyond the physical compound of our office. Provision of file server storage services: UN agencies in Vietnam have a Business Continuity Plan. The new data system provides a file storage server that can also be used by other Country Offices as part of their Business Continuity Plans. Client-focused and quick turnaround for ICT requests: All ICT services and transactions are managed by Common Services. The system triggers a ticket number that assists the back-office assign a request to an IT expert. The system is benchmarked against specific key performance indicators, and helps managers track and trace users’ requests. A user feedback survey also helps measure the quality of the services.   This model provides real-time updates on the operations of the team and is going to be expanded to other UN Operations Centers as well as Country Offices. We hope that sharing our experience will be useful to other teams trying to save money and optimize workflows. At the UN in Viet Nam, we are proud to be working with a highly skilled and a top-notch IT team. Yes, this is not an easy road but based on our experience, the benefits (in terms of systems upgrade) far outweigh the challenges! Photo caption: The Green One UN House IT Team/ UNCT Viet Nam

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Ghana: How listening to those “left behind” changed our thinking

BY Bianca Juhl Andersen | May 17, 2017

A 14-year old orphan girl told us her story. When her parents died, she was forced to drop out of school. She was 10 years old. In a desperate attempt to earn money to provide for herself and her younger siblings, she became a sex worker. She charges GHS 5-12 (USD1,25-3) per customer - barely enough to even cover her expenses. She sleeps outdoors, despite the high risks of theft and sexual assaults - especially during the frequent power cuts in Accra, Ghana’s capital, leaving the area dark and dangerous. Her dream is to go to school, and to gain skills to get a good job. But first she has to deal with her daily need to earn money, the ever-present danger of assault and violence from customers, and health risks. These are some of the stories we have been hearing during a consultative process we as the UN in Ghana have convened over the past several months. We have been listening to human rights experts, advocates and representatives on the human rights challenges in Ghana; on both current and future challenges. Based on these expert inputs, we reached out to excluded groups who have little or no voice in Ghana: people with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTIs), underage sex-workers, prisoners, and injection drug users. We wanted to consult representatives of groups of people, whose human rights are at risk of not being respected, and have little or no access to decision makers in Ghana. For the first time, we used our networks to identify people from these hard-to-reach groups and met with them to better understand the human rights challenges they are facing. Obscured by data gaps We met with representatives from three of the identified groups, where we had vast data access difficulties: underage sex workers, the LGBTI community, and injection drug users – about 50 people in total.  We asked open-ended questions because we wanted to understand the challenges they face with respect to their human rights. While challenges differed across the three groups, there were common concerns such as security and personal safety, stigmatization from society, the need for education and skills training, and the lack of access to health facilities and medical care. When we talked to, for instance, the underage sex workers, they all shared a common wish to stop working in the sex industry. They wanted to go to school instead – they wanted a “normal” life. But to stop working as sex workers and return to school, they need to get an income to provide for themselves and their families. In our work in Ghana, the UN is committed to ensuring that human rights are recognized and protected. Human rights are at core of the UN’s pledge to support Ghana in meeting its commitment to the sustainable development agenda. Despite our ongoing programmes, these harrowing stories were new to us, as we hardly even knew that underage sex workers — or intravenous drug users for that matter — existed in Ghana to the extent they do. The need to check in with those we serve Engaging with people who face these issues changed our thinking. We assumed they wanted to be taken off the street and given educational opportunities. But that was not necessarily the case — at least not in the short run. The main objective of the underage sex workers was to ensure an income for their families – and to stay safe. In the long run, they want expanded opportunities, but in our strategies, we need to consider interventions that preserve the income they provide to their families. We are now exploring how best to enable government and other partners to address the problems we heard, in the UN’s next strategic plan, the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) 2018-21, via interventions by UN agencies working together to make sure that no one is left behind in Ghana. The UNDAF will be finalized in partnership with national stakeholders in 2017. We will keep you posted on how we will address the issues heard in our consultations. As we move forward, the UN will support Ghana to ensure that human rights challenges are fully addressed - so that no one is left behind.

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The true poverty of data

BY Alexandru Oprunenco, Tom Saunders | May 10, 2017

Eradicating poverty remains a long-standing goal of global development. It’s also a centerpiece of the 2030 Agenda. And while no one would doubt the importance of this goal, a lingering question remains: how do we measure poverty and how do we best make use of poverty data? Beyond income as a measure of poverty The standard approach to measuring poverty is monetary metrics or the international poverty line, which in October 2015 was updated to $1.9 from $1.25 per day. Monetary poverty is at the core for the progress indicators under MDG1 and to a significant extent under SDG1. The main advantages of this approach are its relative easiness to measure and international comparability. The key disadvantage is however that it fails to grasp multiple deprivations including access to basic services, such as health and education. The Multi-dimensional poverty index (MPI) was in part developed to answer exactly this question: how can we have a more truthful measurement of human poverty by combining several crucial dimensions of deprivation. Seeds of discontent: when numbers meet reality Both the income based and multi-dimensional approaches to poverty measurement are examples of upstream data: while they  provide the advantage of international comparability, their uses are quite limited when it comes to informing programmatic interventions and contextualizing poverty in national or subnational contexts. For instance, years of schooling can mean something completely different in countries with strong or weak public educational system and thus have different relevance as a part of poverty measurement depending on the country context. So the risk is that while comparability of data is important to drive a spirit of competition among countries to advance their development, it might not give policy makers the data they need to make decisions based on reality. Take poverty data in Moldova – a focus on income only has made available data increasingly devoid of sense. While the poverty rate has fallen more than thrice, the poverty has increasingly topped the list of public’s concerns. How can this seeming ‘cognitive dissonance’  be explained? Part of the explanation is that nation poverty line is set artificially low. Another part of explanation is that focusing on the monetary aspects of poverty conceals important dimensions such as access to health or education or high discrepancies resulting from characteristics of different categories of population. For instance, issues related to access to health services in some rural communities of Moldova or the capital city can be of completely different nature. So, we need a different poverty measure in Moldova that would be able to: a) reflect better realities on the ground and b) be granular and context-aware enough to inform and inspire action either on nation and/or local and community level.  But how can we move forward to achieve that? Is there an alternative way? The democratization of the public policy space, and the advent of new technologies fortunately opens opportunities to test alternative approaches to poverty measurement. One of these approaches involves harnessing the collective intelligence of those living in poverty to inform policy interventions. After all, as G.K. Chesterton famously quipped: “By experts in poverty I do not mean sociologists, but poor men.”  (of course, we can’t blame him in the 19th century for omitting poor women as experts in poverty...) While tools for harnessing collective intelligence are constantly evolving, getting peoples’ views on poverty isn’t all that new.  In the 1990s the World Bank undertook a number of comprehensive studies that tried to incorporate the voices of the poor into poverty measurement exercises. These consultations, conducted in 23 countries around the world, used a number of participatory methods to capture the experiences of those living in poverty in a given place and time. Consulting citizens about what poverty means to them isn’t particularly new. However, making this information useful for decision makers - civil servants, politicians, and those with aid budgets, is an ongoing challenge. Together with our partners from Nesta and the Moldova National Bureau of Statistics we have decided to undertake several pilots to understand how the knowledge of those living in disadvantaged circumstances can be successfully harnessed to inform decision making. First, we want to redefine what poverty and its various dimensions mean in Moldova. And we want to do it together with poor and vulnerable people in Moldova. This is a stark departure from most current approaches that rely on experts defining poverty dimensions, not poor people themselves. Our assumption here is that we will be able to focus on relevant aspects of poverty dimensions that are relevant in the Moldovan context, even if these would mean sacrificing the international comparability of data. This will improve  decision-makers’ understanding of the issues that matter most to poor Moldovans, and hopefully improve their ability to act, for instance, shifting from monetary social assistance to the one targeted to identified aspects of poverty. Furthermore, we will be able to highlight differences across different regions and have a more granular understanding of how various characteristic of people affect their poverty (age, employment standing, people with disabilities, etc.) status. Eventually, this understanding will lead to different indicators suitable for either national or local decision-makers (eventually households themselves – working together on understanding and measuring poverty can bring completely different power dynamics and give poor people agency to act). In practice this will involve holding conversations with 20 groups of vulnerable and disadvantaged people, from the unemployed to the elderly, to understand the issues matter most to them. These conversations will be carried out by local NGOs in Moldova. Since this is not the first time we have held consultative processes in Moldova we have decided to use two simple methods to try to understand these issues: semi-structured group discussions, led by a trained facilitator, and a ranking exercise, to understand the relative importance of the various issues that vulnerable communities face. While these conversations will not aim to bring together a representative sample of vulnerable people in Moldova, they will hopefully give us a much richer understanding of what it means to be poor in Moldova. Making participatory evidence useful Many citizen consultation exercises stop at this stage: the consultation is used to write a report, which is then handed over to policymakers, in the hope that they will act on the information. However, as the work of Nesta’s Alliance for Useful Evidence has shown, promoting the use of evidence in decision making is not just about the quality of the evidence, there is also a need to make it useful for the consumers of evidence. This has several implications, from supporting decision makers to develop the skills to make use of evidence, through to tailoring the presentation of the evidence to the needs of the audience. Building on these insights, in the second stage of the project we will design several tools for various audiences and test them in small scale pilots. The first will be a survey that will be designed in conjunction with, and carried out by, the National Bureau of Statistics in Moldova. It will be used to complement the Household Budget Survey (HBS). The goal is to provide a richer picture, for policymakers, of what it means to experience poverty in Moldova. The second will be a tool that NGOs, community groups and potentially local governments can use to inform their planning and budget allocation, based on the needs and knowledge of the communities they serve. What will success look like for this project? Well, we hope to inspire other countries to pursue similar journeys on redefining poverty based on their national context and views of poor people themselves, in order to better explain and inform interventions on the ground. Alongside this, we hope that the methods that are developed through this pilot and the lessons that we learn will prove useful for those wishing to harness the collective intelligence of citizens.

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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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In DRC, building bridges between peacekeeping and development

BY Per Bjälkander | May 4, 2017

Have you ever read an article about the failures of UN peacekeeping? And wondered why the UN invests significant money towards sending foreigners into war-torn countries, only to get caught up in stories of sex abuse and some peacekeepers hiding in their bases when the going gets tough? The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is not new to such stories. When President Mobutu was overthrown in 1997 after over 30 years of autocratic rule, the country tumbled into chaos with an increased number of armed groups. This led to internal and regional conflict involving many neighboring countries. Despite several peace agreements, the country is struggling to recover from this history of conflict. Old problems continue year after year. State building, where the international community tries to support the government in developing institutions, is still ongoing. Several presidential elections have been postponed. Armed conflict has escalated in new parts of the country such as the Kasai provinces, where we recently lost UN workers. There are currently approximately 2.1 million people who have been forced to leave their homes due to violent conflict. Collaborating for a cause We at the UN are asking ourselves: how do we help break this trend? UN civilian and military peacekeepers (MONUSCO) have been in the country 18 years and have tremendous capacity. The United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo includes over 20 other UN organizations that are also present in the DRC, and many work on similar issues as the peacekeeping forces. The problem is that there isn’t enough collaboration between the UN organizations and the peacekeepers. However, with the new global consensus as agreed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, there is an understanding that development actors, peacekeepers and humanitarian workers need to work together. To sustain peace, we need functioning schools, social services and local councils just as much as we need “blue helmets.” The UN in the DRC wants to innovate by finding ways to take advantage of the peacekeepers’ presence to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), focusing on promoting peace, justice and strong institutions. Peace keeping and development agencies working together  Our main objective is to ensure that MONUSCO and the UN country team have a joint strategy that builds on what each one does best. The UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAFs) need to be in line with national priorities and capture the SDGs. Therefore, the UN decided to first support the government in adapting the SDGs to the Congolese context, in order to prepare a new National Development Plan. For SDG 16 which aims to promote peace, justice and strong institutions, the government prioritized reducing violence, fighting corruption and good governance. To build on this work, the UN also supports the Ministry of Planning in arranging a meeting with government officials, specifically on the topics of peace, justice, and strong institutions. With the help of MONUSCO, government officials presented and discussed baseline data for reducing violence, fighting corruption and good governance. It is critical to know where we stand in order to measure future impact. What’s next? The UNDAF has been postponed by one year due to significant political issues and delays in drafting a national development plan that the UN could align itself with. The year will provide extra time for a discussion between the UN and the government on strategic priorities. In the meantime, the UN is putting in place “joint task forces” on specific themes where MONUSCO and the UN country team have a common interest. Inspired by the call for new ways of working at the World Humanitarian Summit, we are working together on reintegration of ex-combatants, displacement, justice, gender and human rights. Stay tuned for more about this in future posts. In countries where violent conflict exists, let’s remember that teaching a young person a skill is peacekeeping, and getting a young combatant out of war is development. Photo: UNHCR/B.Sokol

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