What if the UN system acted more like a UN ecosystem?

BY José Dallo | March 12, 2015|Comments 1

An ecosystem is a community of living organisms interacting as a system. The ecosystem is more than the sum of its parts: each member of the community depends on acting and working together. Becoming an ecosystem will require bringing together all the United Nations’ capacities, even the ‘soft’ ones – like our convening power . This will guarantee the system’s ability to act holistically and to link the national and global levels.
Imagine the different parts of the UN System as a dynamic community with continuous realignment of synergistic relationships of people, knowledge and resources in responsiveness to the vision of the post-2015 development agenda. This way of working takes forward the ideas of the Innovation Ecosystem Network, at Stanford University which brings together an international interdisciplinary team to share insights among diverse groups of people involved in technology-based business development.

Talking about an evolution

All ecosystems thrive on novelty and innovation, which help build resilience. Nature is the ultimate innovator; human nature in the case of sustainable development. Humans are a pivotal and creative force capable of adaptation to complex problems. However, we often tend to overlook sources of innovation provided by others outside our community.

The UN Ecosystem will need to do a better job of coordination among its systemic components. More importantly, it will need to engage in collaboration more closely with its members and those outside its system. This entails a move – an evolution – from ‘coordination’ towards ‘collaboration’. It will require the UN System to open up, or to ‘Open as One’, a term coined by my colleague Gina Lucarelli in her paper ‘From complicated to complex: DaO for post-MDG development agenda’.

Opening up is not only about interacting with civil society and the private sector, but also opening up to people living in poverty. A UN Ecosystem would engage all in delivering the post-2015 development agenda while upholding UN norms such as human rights. A good example of what can be done in this regard is the World We Want initiative, a global conversation facilitated by the UN to contribute to an open and inclusive definition of the post-2015 development agenda.

Collecting data for a purpose

Natural systems function as living organisms. The UN Ecosystem will be a community interacting as system. It will scan the horizon constantly when planning and implementing work because ‘static’ strategies and analysis are not an option. To support this responsiveness, the UN Ecosystem will need to take advantage of the exponential amount of data and new technological tools available today. It will need to have a common vision and analytical framework.

A good example of data for development is UNICEF’s Monitoring and Results for Equity System (MoREs), which monitors programmes and policies to ensure that the equity approach of reaching the most marginalized children is evidence-based and makes the most impact.

In the next 15 years, the UN System has the opportunity to be a creative force in achieving the ambitious goals of the post-2015 development agenda. Functioning as a UN Ecosystem can enhance shared progress.  Three things are key: taking into account all capacities, constant interaction with the outside, and adjusting our ecosystem based on continuous data scanning.


José Dallo José is Policy Advisor at the UN Development Operations Coordination Office. Follow him on Twitter.


  1. Janet Hatcher Roberts says:

    Excellent ! A good read and will use for our class in global health and governance #universityofottawa

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