18 countries, 18 UN agencies and one goal: Sustainable development in the Caribbean

BY Bruno Pouezat, Christian Salazar Volkmann, Khadija Musa, Richard Blewitt, Stephen O’Malley | July 28, 2016|Comments 2

Saying you work for the UN in the Caribbean is an excellent way to induce envy and jealousy!
Yet beneath the image of sun, sand and artistic creativity is the reality of small island developing states trying to shape their futures while buffeted by climate change, natural disasters, and the swings of the global economy.

There is an incredible diversity across the 18 countries of the English and Dutch speaking Caribbean. Almost all of the countries are classified as middle income, a status that masks the significant social and economic challenges they face, including the persistence of inequality and intergenerational poverty.

The populations range from just under 6,000 people in Montserrat to more than 2.8 million in Jamaica. And while 12 of the countries are UN member states, three are UK overseas territories and three are Dutch overseas territories.  

A unique approach to a unique region

The UN has long been a trusted partner for the countries of the region, for the regional organizations, and for civil society.  However, the UN’s physical presence brings its own challenges.  

The UN covers the region through five UN country teams – Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago – and one UN Subregional Team – Barbados and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.  While some UN agency offices cover just one country, there are also multi-country offices – for example, UN Women covers 22 countries from its office in Barbados!  

Planning, executing and reporting have been challenging, and it has been very difficult to accurately disaggregate regional results to the country level, or to aggregate country level results into a coherent regional picture.

All UN resident coordinators for the Caribbean realized that the six existing UNDAFs would end in 2016, and that there was considerable overlap in the areas of work. We saw this as an opportunity to work more closely together and strengthen our focus on results across the region.

Further, the adoption of the SAMOA Pathway in September 2014 and impeding adoption of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals gave added impetus to the need to change.  

The idea of merging together six separate UN country strategic plans into a single UN Multi-country Sustainable Development Framework, 2017-2021 was born.

Testing the Caribbean waters

Early on, we identified that a multi- country sustainable development plan could bring a number of benefits:

  • Strengthen the focus on results at both a regional and national level
  • Lighten the coordination burden on national Governments
  • Enable the region to maximize its use of limited resources
  • Prompt a more coherent response from the UN to regional and national needs/priorities
  • Maximize access to the full range of UN system-wide expertise on issues relevant to Agenda 2030 work for the region
  • Serve as a resource mobilization framework, particularly for regional resources

The first step was to see if the concept would fly.  

By the end of May 2015, national governments were consulted and gave their assent, and the UN agencies from across the region had met in Barbados and agreed to go ahead.  

Since then, we’ve drafted a multi-country assessment which was used for 15 separate national consultations (three countries came on board later), then brought the results of these consultations into a strategic prioritization workshop with governments, regional organizations and civil society.

At the workshop, we identified four priority areas:

  1. An inclusive, equitable, and prosperous Caribbean
  2. A healthy Caribbean
  3. A cohesive, safe, and just Caribbean
  4. A sustainable and resilient Caribbean

The governments are currently doing their final review of the document, and we’re aiming for signing ceremonies by the end of July 2016.

Where we stand and what we learned

Of course there were and are concerns. The countries were worried that their national needs could be lost in a regional approach, and the UN agencies wanted to be sure that we could strengthen our focus on results without creating an ornate regional coordination architecture.

We’re addressing the former through country implementation plans that translate the regional strategic plan into actions on the ground, and the latter through vigorous discussions in our Regional Steering Committee, which was just expanded from the five Resident Coordinators to include eight UN country team members.

We’ve also learned a few lessons that might be useful to others traveling down this road.

  1. First, there is a big time commitment from the UN Resident Coordinators to work with their teams and with each other, and from the technical experts from agencies to develop the results matrix. Dedicated assistance helps, as noted above, but the work-load is higher in the formulation stage;
  2. Second, although the Executive Boards of UNICEF, UNDP and UNFPA will consider the Country Programme Documents (CPD) in September 2016, there is still more that can be done to harmonize the CPD development process

After a year of working to bring this idea to fruition, we are confident that we are on the right course. We need to implement new integrated approaches for a rapidly changing world, and the UN multi-country sustainable development framework is our comprehensive offer to support the countries of this beautiful region in their journey to achieve the Agenda 2030. We will be signing it this month, so stay tuned for future updates.


Bruno Pouezat Bruno is UN Resident Coordinator in Jamaica covering also Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos. You can follow the UN in Jamaica on Twitter.
Christian Salazar Volkmann Christian is UN Resident Coordinator for Belize. You can follow the UN in Belize on Twitter.
Khadija Musa Khadija is UN Resident Coordinator in Guayana. You can follow the UN in Guyana on Twitter.
Richard Blewitt Richard is the UN Resident Coordinator in Trinidad and Tobago covering also Suriname, Aruba, Curacao and Saint Martin. You can follow the UN in Trinidad and Tobago on Facebook.
Stephen O’Malley Stephen is UN Resident Coordinator in Barbados and also covers Anguila, Antigua and Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. You can follow him on Twitter.


  1. Hi Silo Fighters!

    Cool blog and great initiative. I’d be really interested in connecting with the authors about the Caribbean initiative. I’m Douglas F. Williamson, Managing Director of the Collective Leadership Institute in Germany. We are specialists at guiding multi-stakeholder processes and enhancing collaboration capacities in multi-sectoral initiatives towards achieving the SDGs. SDG17 is our home base, but we are active in working with all kinds of sustainability topics like water, nutrition, agriculture, gender, energy, etc. It’s especially our interest in helping individuals and organizations break out of silos and form effective collaborations. I’d love to be in touch!



    1. Steve O'Malley says:

      Hi Douglas – absolutely – would be interested to talk. I am at Stephen.omalley@one.un.org

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