Our Perspective

Permanent Beta: Six ways to innovate for development in 2015 and beyond

19 May 2015

image Social Good summit in Egypt

In this blog series, UNDP experts and practitioners share their experiences and views on innovation in development practice. As negotiations on finalizing the new development agenda heat up, one thing is clear - delivering on these goals will require investment in innovation. But what exactly does innovation mean in the context for development? It means to embrace complexity, acknowledging that there are no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions for the persistent, inter-connected development challenges across the globe. Innovations that lead to breakthroughs can only be created in partnerships. These are two of Nine Innovation Principles UNDP endorsed last year, together with seven UN entities and seven foundations and donors. We also launched the Innovation Facility with the support of the Government of Denmark. The Innovation Facility’s “Year in Review” report is just out. As we approach our first anniversary, we highlight six areas where UNDP will seek to innovate in 2015 and beyond. What, exactly, is the problem? We focus on understanding the problem based on available data. UNDP is working with UN Global Pulse and other partners on big data analysis to help give us and governments the most detailed picture possible with the data available. We also embrace ethnographic methods that help  Read More

New momentum in response to the Syria crisis – we must seize the moment

31 Mar 2015

image Za'atari village - Syrian refugees have been taken in by their Jordanian relatives, who have helped them construct makeshift housing on their land, and support them. Photo: Alessandra Blasi/UNDP

We are entering the fifth year of crisis in Syria, with no end in sight. Instability is threatening neighboring countries and indeed the whole region. A political solution that could put an end to this unprecedented crisis remains on a distant horizon. Thus far, the crisis has profoundly scarred the lives of more than 12 million people. Homes have been destroyed, hospitals and schools wiped out, and jobs and livelihoods lost. Data on Syria shows that development has been rolled back by four decades; poverty now prevails among 75% of the population - 4.4 million live in extreme poverty. And the economic and social situation in neighboring countries is deteriorating every day. The conflict has caused the largest population displacement in recent times – 3.8 million people have fled to countries neighboring Syria, increasing pressure on host communities, on national service delivery systems, and on social relations, beyond the carrying capacity of those countries. Traditional responses approaches challenged As the crisis continues, it not only challenges traditional conflict resolution approaches and humanitarian responses, but also standard aid response mechanisms. The crisis has gone beyond the typical humanitarian scope of providing food, shelter, and basic services to internally displaced and refugee groups.  Read More

Building Resilience in the face of mounting risks in the Arab Region

16 Mar 2015

image droughts and floods in North Lebanon

Much has been said about the rolling back of development results and vulnerability of communities in parts of the Arab region because of violent conflicts, but less has been said about the converging driver of change that communities face from natural disasters and the risks from climate change. Debates at the recent World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan highlighted that in the 21st century, development will need to be increasingly resilient to shocks and crises, and address the multi-dimensional nature of risk. This holds special relevance to the Arab region, as the most food-import dependent and water-insecure region on the planet today. Many communities face the convergence of, on the one hand conflict and one of the largest mass movements of forced migrants and refugees in modern history, and on the other more frequent and severe droughts, land degradation and food and water insecurity. Added to this is the exacerbating force of climate change. Out of a population of 357 million about 150 million in the region are exposed to drought risks. The drought and famine in the Horn of Africa demonstrated the serious impact upon societies. In Somalia, the famine killed between 50,000-100,000 people and displaced 4  Read More

Against all odds: Egypt's fight against Climate Change

26 Nov 2014

image Residents of Alexandria enjoy the seaside in Egypt. Photo credit: Dylan Lowthian/UNDP

It’s less than a week to COP20, the UN climate change summit where nearly 200 governments will meet in Lima, Peru. This is an important opportunity for the global community to make progress on a universal and meaningful global climate change agreement, to be agreed in Paris in 2015. Reaching an agreement is often a hard process, but if everyone is committed to it we can break through. Egypt is one example. The Nile delta is the richest farmland in Egypt. It is fascinating that, while it covers only 5% of the total area of the country, it is home to 95% of its population. But this beautiful area dotted with tourist sights and industries faces a harsh reality: Coastal erosion caused by sea-level rise threatens low lying lands and has a direct and critical impact on the country’s entire economy. In 2010, we started working on coastal protection, with a grant from the Special Climate Change Fund.  Our project promotes the idea that we should work with the sea rather than trying to fight nature. “Living with the Sea” became our strategy, as we aimed to strike a balance between protective, hard, infrastructure such as seawalls, and reinforcing the protection  Read More

A rural community calls for an end to FGM

23 Nov 2014

image Girls from Beir Anbar (Qena) where the whole community has joined forces to end FGM. Photo: Jose Sanchez/UNDP

I recently visited the village of Beir Anbar in the district of Koft, Qena governorate, and listened to the powerful statement this community is conveying to the rest of the country to put an end to the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).   The whole village, from young schoolchildren to village elders came together to denounce FGM as "violent", "wrong" and "harmful". Even today, many girls and young women are subjected to genital mutilation in the name of ‘tradition’.   According to the 2008 Demographic and Health Survey, at least 91 percent of Egyptian women between the ages of 15-49 have undergone genital mutilation.  The people of Beir Anbar made it clear that Egyptian girls and women deserve a new tradition – a tradition of protecting and safeguarding their rights. But the joint efforts of families, community activists, authorities, development agencies and media are gradually making a difference to phase out this traditional harmful practice.   Let us be clear:  there is no justification – moral, religious, cultural, medical or otherwise for this practice.  ‘Cutting’ demeans, dehumanizes and injures.  It is a human rights violation that must be actively opposed until it is ended. As we gathered inside the community centre, a group  Read More

Innovation is Imperative to Address the Syria Crisis | Gustavo Gonzalez

23 Nov 2014

As the Syria Crisis is well into its fourth year and affecting a sub-region, which has a middle-income context and has made strides in development with significant investments in home-grown human capital and technical and technological infrastructures, I believe that seeking innovative solutions in our resilience-based response is not more an option, but an imperative. We, at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), should be taking the lead in this and tap into this wealth of existing resources and harness their powers for more effective and sustainable responses to the crisis. We must be able to do things differently; as such, an unprecedented crisis requires unprecedented responses. Saying this, we observe that the Syrian Crisis has already triggered innovative solutions from key humanitarian and development actors as few other crises before, such as the use of e-vouchers for food items, iris-scanning for refugee registration, digital mapping, and 3-D printing for the provision of prosthetics. And there are many more examples! In all of these cases, innovation clearly comprised much more than technological injection, but was rather employed as a dynamic process of readapting and optimizing already existing capacities, resources and knowledge, which then resulted in greater efficiency, effectiveness, quality and impact  Read More

Bridging the language gap: A new lexicon for electoral terminology

19 Nov 2014

image Radhya Bourawi is elated to have voted after a three-hour wait in the Libyan elections. Photo credit: Samia Mahgoub/UNDP Libya

What happens when there are no words in a language to refer to a new situation or process? People naturally make up new ones, either using their own language, borrowing from others, or a combination of both. This is what makes language so fascinating because it is alive and constantly changing. But talking about things that are both very technical and politically sensitive is a challenge. This is what happened in the Arabic speaking world when winds of democracy started to blow across the region, regimes fell and people aspired to hold real elections as the key to a new future.   When people in the countries of the Arab Spring - Tunisia, Egypt and Libya – began work on organizing their first democratic elections, they used their own local understanding and expressions to refer to what are often complex processes and concepts. Just like others in the region who had had earlier electoral experiences, for example in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, people delved into the rich vocabulary of the Arabic language. As an Arabic speaking international electoral assistance consultant for UNDP, I worked in a number of Middle Eastern countries. In Tunisia in 2011, I saw the potential for misunderstanding  Read More

Volunteering the future: A call to arms

16 Oct 2014

image (Photo: Zaven Khachikyan/UNDP in Armenia)

How does volunteering make a difference? These days, we are trying to do development differently: to partner with less usual suspects for outside insights, and tap into local energy and initiatives. The ethos of volunteerism is exactly the same – it is not a supplement to the work we do; it is a natural component within it. And with whom do we partner up to do this? The answer, of course, is young people. They are the natural choice. Every year, over 6,300 UN Volunteers are mobilized to help build peace and bolster sustainable development in 130 countries worldwide. It’s a challenging task but one to which the UN Volunteers are wholly committed. During a recent visit to the UNDP Regional Centre in Istanbul, we discussed at length the many natural synergies between the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme and our development work in Europe and Central Asia. We agreed that for UNV and for UNDP, the critical element is inclusion. To be truly inclusive, we will have to work harder to reach women, minorities, and other vulnerable groups. Volunteerism can be an essential part of that reach. Today, we have the largest cohort of youth in human history. Fifty percent  Read More

Questioning the ‘feminisation of development’ and the business logic

18 Aug 2014


‘Feminisation of development’ is a fancy phrase referring to the recent trend of seeing women as both beneficiaries and agents of change in development. This has become a popular approach and many of our programmes such as micro-loans, or skills trainings for women fit into this category. This new role is bolstered by a so-called ‘smart business’ logic. Based on this view, women’s empowerment is not only a rights or equity issue, but is also a good investment. UNDP and other UN agencies have, to a degree, subscribed to this logic saying that empowering women leads to better health, education and development overall; and many  of our programmes proved to be quite effective in producing results. For instance, the Conditional Cash Transfers programme provided to mothers in Latin America reduced inequality by 21 percent in Brazil/Mexico and 15 percent in Chile. An initiative targeting ultra-poor female-headed households in Bangladesh raised income by 36 percent and food security by 42 percent. But despite such success, there is mounting opposition against this trend, surprisingly, from the feminist schools. Sylvia Chant, a prominent gender and development scholar, strongly argues against this approach stating: “Women are enlisted as foot soldiers to serve in battles whose aims  Read More

Making sense of the world we live in: The development contribution

08 Aug 2014

image South Sudanese refugees in a Refugee Settlement in Northern Uganda. Photo: F. NOY/ UNHCR

It’s hard to remember a time when more crises were jostling for space in the headline news, or when the world’s leading diplomats, like Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN Secretary General, were engaged in shuttle diplomacy on so many issues simultaneously. Top of mind by late last month were the conflicts in Gaza and eastern Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Mali, Nigeria. Meeting the costs of humanitarian relief is proving overwhelming. By the end of June this year, UN coordinated appeals for humanitarian crises had already reached $16.4 billion. This was before the latest conflict in Gaza began, and before a lot of the fighting in eastern Ukraine.  Could more be done to anticipate, prevent, or mitigate these traumatic events? The short answer is – yes and there is a compelling need to try to get ahead of the curve of future crises and disasters, to avert huge and costly development setbacks and lives lost.   Rough estimates suggest that for every dollar spent in disaster preparedness and mitigation, seven dollars will be saved when disaster strikes. It is also true that spending in fragile states which have been or still are immersed in conflict does  Read More