Paradise has its own challenges or why we love our new video system

BY Asaeli Sinusetaki | May 25, 2016|Comments 0

A video conference system is not just a piece of infrastructure.

Don’t agree? Ask the UN in the Pacific. Or even better: Keep reading and I will tell you their story, which also happens to be mine.

First of all, a brief explanation to put you (the reader) in context:

The UN in the Pacific region covers 14 countries. Spread over vast ocean territory these island nations are small in population and land size, yet as members of the UN General Assembly they all rightly demand a UN presence and programme in their island state.

Everyone equals the Pacific region to paradise, but even paradise has its own challenges. The geographic characteristics of the region (which basically means 20,000 to 30,000 islands) makes programme implementation and the operations needed to deliver it expensive and difficult. Infrastructure is often poor, transport by flights or boat is expensive and inconsistent, especially to remote islands.

Maintaining the UN presence is very costly and with the declining of funding, we can’t have a full-fledged programme and operational presence in each of these states. This is a huge issue and unfortunately we are not alone. The Caribbean for example faces exactly the same challenges.

Member States asked…and the UN answered

Pacific Member States asked the UN at the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in September 2014 to develop new ways of working that will allow the organization to support these states despite challenges.

The UN Joint Operations Management Team developed a business strategy for 10 countries covered out of Fiji, which serves as a central UN hub. We have out posted small teams on the rest of the states, and these teams represent the UN and serve as a liaison with 10 governments.

These programme teams work under a common UN strategic framework (what we know as UN Development Assistance Framework in UN jargon) so they are bounded to work together. This is a bit hard if you are 10s of thousands kilometers away from everyone else and sitting there alone or (in the best case scenario) with only a few colleagues.

The geographic features of the region have an impact on the programme when teams cannot engage with the central hub. But this is not the only problem. It has an impact on morale.

This is where the video conference facility comes in and revolutionizes everything.

A simple solution to a complex problem

With a view to reducing the costs of regular communication and coordination, the operations team sought to introduce improvements in communication across the region by putting in place ICT equipment in the UN joint offices.

Setting up video conferencing in these offices was the answer to reducing travel costs, increasing connectivity between UN colleagues, and looking at innovative ways to strengthen their engagement across distance in ongoing programming.

This system facilitates the remote teams to dial in through videoconferencing every week and engage in the programme meetings. Communications, in terms of quality, availability and good equipment has improved a lot and will improve both operations harmonization and overall UN coordination.

We should be able to observe the changes soon. The quality and alignment of programming across this fragmented region will be enhanced. Teams in small islands can directly access UN agencies in Fiji and obtain advice and guidance.

Also, because the teams feel more connected to the rest of the UN, the system has an impact on our colleagues’ moral.

Last, we all have to travel less as we can engage from afar, so it lowers travel costs.

We strongly believe that this simple solution is changing the way the UN does business and will have a tremendous positive impact on coordination among us. We learn to work with fewer resources but innovate to still be able to deliver on the things that matter.

Looking forward, we are planning to make full use of this technology in the rollout of the new strategic plan and to consult our partners and stakeholders in this process.

So, just to recap: with this video system we see an improvement in morale, reductions in cost and better coordination, maybe even better programmes.

This is how a simple but crucial operational intervention enhances programme. And that is why we love our video conference system.

Authors


Asaeli Sinusetaki Asaeli Sinusetaki is Coordination Analyst a.i. at Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Fiji. You can follow Asaeli in Linkedin.

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