Innovation: The new currency for emergence in Africa

06 Nov 2014 by Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Director of UNDP's Regional Bureau for Africa

Young woman texting in KenyaIn Kenya, M-pesa – a cell phone based peer-to-peer money transfer system – had more than 14 million users in 2011.
Across Africa, many nations are aspiring to become emerging countries. Beyond growth, they want to transform and diversify their economies, rapidly improve the standards of living of their people, and assert internationally their economic and political clout. As participants in the African Economic Conference concluded, innovation is necessary to achieving that objective. Why? First, because high economic growth can only be sustained with innovation. With diminishing returns, jobs and livelihoods will only continue to grow if more productive sectors are sought. And only innovation – understood as the application of new and existing knowledge to improve processes – can do that systematically. For instance, when irrigation and fertilizer use improved in Asia in the 1960s, crops grew bigger and leafier, but yields didn’t increase. However, with the help of science and technology, Asia eventually experienced the Green Revolution. Despite impressive efforts in countries like Ethiopia, a similar breakthrough is needed in Africa. Boosting agricultural productivity will require adopting new practices. Innovation also matters in the delivery of social services and often requires low-tech interventions. For instance, in Senegal, between 2005 and 2010, the under-five mortality rate declined by almost 10 percent a year while India took 25 years to achieve similar … Read more

A recipe towards a career in international development

04 Nov 2014 by Jérome Sauvage, Deputy Director, UNDP's Washington Representation Office.

youth in BelizeConsider starting with “transportable” skills from one project or one organization to another. Photo: UNDP in Belize
As I am about to transition to independent work from a very rewarding life with UNDP, young professionals often ask for my own recipe towards a fulfilled career in international development. After mentioning that any accomplishment is in the eye of the beholder, I point to the following principles: Prepare for diversity. I was lucky to experience both geographic and functional diversity, but modern careers will include, it seems to me, an even greater mixture of jobs, contracts and organizations than when I started. Consider starting with “transportable” skills from one project or one organization to another. Often these skills are technical, like education, health, logistics, etc. Technical or generalist? A career is a long affair, getting longer and with inevitable ups-and-downs. If we started from a technical background, we may grow into more managerial positions or, as in my case, be a manager who enjoyed picking up specialized skills along the way, but always guided in my choices by what I loved doing. Competencies. To me, the ultimate UNDP competency is what the social enterprise and media platform DEVEX calls “Integrator”, someone who understands multiple specialties and how they impact each other and excels in fostering collaboration between various stakeholders who may not be accustomed to … Read more

Finding durable solutions for urban settings in Haiti

31 Oct 2014 by Jessica Faieta, United Nations Assistant Secretary General and UNDP Director, Latin America and the Caribbean

A woman standing next to her door. The government of Haiti and its people have made extraordinary efforts to recover from their traumatic experience. Photo: UNDP in Haiti.
For those who arrived in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, the images of destruction in the capital city will be probably remain in our minds forever. They are in mine: at least 200,000 people dead and over a million displaced, thousands of buildings collapsed, houses damaged everywhere, economies disrupted, basic services interrupted, and tents and camps mushrooming in every small plaza or area where rubble had barely been removed. The earthquake took place in a very specific context, aggravated by pre-existing conditions:  lack of adequate housing, land tenure issues, and disorganized rural-urban migration patterns. Unfortunately, there are no easy fixes for durable solutions in urban settings. One time initiatives may be effective – such as emptying the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps - but affected families need sustainable solutions. Affordable housing, basic services and income generating activities are some of the key components of any programme promoting the return from IDP camps. The government of Haiti and its people, men and women, have made extraordinary efforts to recover from such a traumatic experience. From the 1.5 million displaced after the earthquake, only 80,000 remain.  The country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rose from $1,548 to $1,602 per capita between … Read more

Tobacco and public health: a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

30 Oct 2014 by Dudley Tarlton, programme specialist for HIV, health and development, UNDP in Geneva.

A young man smokes in Timor-Leste.Health systems in lower and middle-income countries are the ones that can least afford the costs associated with the rise in tobacco consumption. Photo: UNDP in Lebanon.
Tobacco poses challenges to various dimensions of human development, from public health to poverty reduction, gender equality and environmental sustainability. As the market for tobacco products declines in the developed world, multinational corporations have turned their sights to lower- and middle-income countries. But the health systems in these countries are the ones that can least afford the costs associated with the increased burden that results from the rise in tobacco consumption. To make matters worse, the tobacco industry’s practices in these countries are often in direct contradiction to laws and policies meant to protect public health: - paying policymakers to block or water down tobacco control laws; - influencing science and providing biased expert opinion in public and government forums - delaying measures such as graphical pictorial warnings on cigarette packs; - offering to draft countries’ national non-communicable disease strategies, so that they focus more on increasing physical activity rather than reducing tobacco consumption. While tobacco industry interference in policymaking is a long-standing problem, the trend has been picking up steam in developing countries, with WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan stating that “the wolf is no longer bothering to wear sheep’s clothing.”  However, countries working to protect their citizens’ health … Read more

Moldova’s innovation hub: Changing the way we police

28 Oct 2014 by Alex Oprunenco, Cristina Lisii and Alexandru Cocirta

People and police working with a board during the workshop. Police officers and community members discuss the design of the new space. Photo: UNDP in Moldova.
In June this year we launched our Innovation Facility  with generous support from the Government of Denmark. The initiatives we fund involve end users as designers of solutions which are put directly to the test in various countries across the world. For example, in Chișinău, Moldova’s capital, the renovation of a dilapidated Soviet-era police station was done differently - involving the community throughout the process. Our office in Moldova, partnering with the municipal police, FutureGov  and Studio TILT, quickly realized that changing the dynamics of a space involved more than just constructing a room and moving around some furniture. They considered questions such as: Can we create a space that makes the police more efficient, accessible, and trustworthy? What about the community? Can we make them feel happier, helpful, and more secure? Here’s how they did it Day 1:  Understanding the needs The first day was critical to change the police officers’ perception. We spent it learning about their daily issues, observing the constraints of the physical environment, and looking for possibilities for improvement. Day 2: Bringing in the community members We went to local markets and the police station to get the citizens’ point of view:  their perceptions of the police and … Read more

Loud and clear: Rethinking service design in Georgia

24 Oct 2014 by Sophie Tchitchinadze, Communications Analyst, UNDP Georgia

woman at a workshop in GeorgiaPeople living with speech or hearing impairments now have more options to contact the emergency hotline. Photo: David Khizanishvili, UNDP Georgia.
On the heels of SHIFT, UNDP's Week of Innovation Action, we tried to answer some basic questions: Why do we need it all? Why should we do innovation work in development? We got our answers after a design thinking session with the national emergency hotline in Georgia.  112 is one of the most dialled phone numbers in Georgia. In 2013 alone, they received over 8 million calls. Their website lists emergency services available for children, with a video tour, and frequently asked questions for those who may need immediate help. They provide everything for everyone – except for those who cannot hear or speak.  This is because 112 is only reachable through a voice call. Those living with speech or hearing impairments simply don’t have options. To change this, 112 teamed up with our office in Georgia and the Swedish Government  to prepare a new service design – one that would be truly universal. Earlier this year, the 112 team travelled to Ireland to examine how new technology can make emergency services more accessible for the hearing and speech impaired. This was followed by a three-day design thinking workshop that brought together people with disabilities, tech specialists and civil society organizations. … Read more

The private sector as a gamechanger for poverty-related disease prevention

21 Oct 2014 by Suliman Al-Atiqi, Programme Analyst

Community Health Volunteers with Ebola prevention kits walking through West Point in Monrovia, LiberiaCommunity Health Volunteers with Ebola prevention kits walking through West Point in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo: Morgana Wingard/ UNDP
The recent Ebola outbreak has witnessed a resurgence of global attention on health issues facing poorer nations. However, as Bill Gates cautioned in a recent interview, the energy poured into the Ebola outbreak could mean less attention is given to other deadly diseases in poverty stricken areas. In our recently published report, Barriers and Opportunities at the Base of the Pyramid, we not only look at the relationship between poverty and poor health, but also at how poor health is in and of itself a barrier to poverty reduction. The report delves into various factors affecting disease prevention such as accessibility, availability, acceptability, and affordability of health services for those living in poverty. This message was also underscored by Gates,  stating that the prevention of Ebola and other diseases in Africa is strongly linked to making basic healthcare more readily available. In the report we make a strong case on why and how the private sector can be a game changer when it comes to improving the overall well-being of individuals, particularly for those living in poverty. While corporate philanthropy and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes have popularized examples on how the private sector contributes to poverty reduction, there are other … Read more

Philanthropy as a partner in implementing the Post 2015 development goals

20 Oct 2014 by Karolina Mzyk, Policy Specialist , Foundations

A woman sitting in a class room. Philanthropy has so much to offer. Photo: UNDP in Pakistan.
Philanthropy is evolving rapidly as a sector, taking new shapes and forms. Although philanthropic contributions are poorly measured because difficult to estimate, total philanthropy from Northern countries (DAC donors) was reported to be $59 billion in 2011. Traditional philanthropic giving, such as grant-making, have been complemented by innovative approaches such as impact investing and advocacy, and more voices are calling for strategic philanthropy to engage in the conversation on the Post-2015 development agenda, another new development within the sector that traditionally has been aside of global processes. When we first reached out to foundations asking their views on the future development goals, our conversation was mostly about explaining the MDGs. The language and the measuring mechanisms of the MDG framework have not been well known or used by foundations, despite enormous philanthropic resources committed to issues such as education and health. The Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF), dedicated to global development, did not mention MDGs during its annual gathering. But this conversation has shifted dramatically. Committed foundations and associations have stepped up efforts in mobilizing and educating peers about the importance of the conversation about the future global development goals and implications for philanthropic strategies. “Collaborative philanthropy” became the buzzword at the … Read more

Leaving no one behind and leaving no one out in Viet Nam

17 Oct 2014 by Dr. Pratibha Mehta, United Nations Resident Coordinator, Viet Nam

Women walking on the road. Vietnam’s fight against poverty is incomplete and it’s running out of steam. Photo: UNDP in Vietnam
Over the last decades Viet Nam has rightly earned a global reputation for rapid and sustained reductions in poverty. The positive trends have been driven by rapid, fairly consistent and high labour intensity economic growth, Viet Nam’s integration within global trade and contributory demographic changes. Yet, all is not so rosy in the garden. Viet Nam’s fight against poverty is incomplete and it’s running out of steam. Economic growth has declined considerably since 2008 and poverty is unevenly distributed - severe deprivation is experienced by particular groups and the Ethnic Minorities especially so.  Major gaps are also evident in other Millennium Development Goal outcomes, like in health and education. I have learned that to understand poverty in Viet Nam one has to look beyond the averages and the sound-bites.  As I’ve travelled around the country, I have had the chance to meet some of those who have been left behind, including young unregistered migrant workers in urban areas, the disabled and elderly and single-headed households. I’ve been struck by their resourcefulness and courage, but too many still struggle against extreme poverty and inequality. And this is in spite of the often genuine efforts of the Government. There are many things to … Read more

Eradicating poverty: thinking beyond income

17 Oct 2014 by Alfredo González Reyes, UNDP specialist on poverty and human development, Latin America and the Caribbean

Rural woman in Peru.Many countries have already started taking an important step towards a new way of thinking about poverty. Photo: UNDP in Peru
Today, the 17th of October 2014, marks 21 years since for the first time the International Day for the Eradication of Extreme Poverty was celebrated. Notable progress has been made since then. According to World Bank data, among the 115 low-income countries of the world, the proportion of people in extreme poverty (i.e. an income per person per day of US$1.25, adjusted for purchasing power parity) declined from 43.4 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2011; i.e. 912 million people were lifted out of extreme poverty over the past two decades. This drop was mainly concentrated in East Asia and the Pacific, where the incidence of extreme poverty was reduced from 57 to 7.9 percent during the same period (i.e. 750 million people). In Southeast Asia, it dropped from 54.1 to 24.5 percent (221.5 million people). In Latin America and the Caribbean, between 1990 and 2011, the incidence of extreme poverty dropped from 12.2 to 4.6 percent, i.e. 25.5 million Latin Americans no longer live in this extreme condition. Two decades ago, poverty was defined in monetary terms, based on a consensus around the concept that income was an adequate measure to represent wellbeing. Today, it is more readily acknowledged … Read more