Tag Archives: partnerships

A new UN for a new (and better) global order (Part Two): seven solutions for seven challenges

This is a response to my post in July 2021, which identified seven main challenges and problems facing the UN system. While it is easy to criticise, it is much more difficult to recommend and deliver change.  Hence, this short piece offers a set of suggestions for fundamental reform across the UN system in response to the challenges identified in my earlier post. These are grounded in a belief that the UN needs to be smaller, leaner and fitter for purpose in serving the needs of national governments across the world.  In so doing it should therefore primarily serve the interests of citizens rather than of itself and the global corporations that have subverted its high ideals. 

Context

The seven main inter-related problems and challenges identified in my previous post were:

  • The UN largely serves the neo-liberal political interests of the USA and its allies. 
  • The UN does not appoint the most capable and appropriate people to senior leadership positions.
  • There is disagreement about the size that the UN should be; should its agencies aspire to be implementers of development interventions themselves, or should they instead mainly provide guidance and good practices for governments to implement?
  • The SDGs have already failed, but the UN persists in their propagation primarily in its own interests, so that UN agencies can claim they are doing something worthwhile
  • The UN system is beset by duplication of effort, overlap, and reinvention of the wheel between agencies, between the Secretariat and the agencies, and even in larger agencies between the various silos within them
  • The UN’s ambitions go well beyond the budget available to fund them
  • The SDG agenda, the lack of UN funding, and the opportunistic behaviour of many global corporations mean that the private sector has been able to subvert the UN’s global governance structures in its own interest

Responses to each of these are addressed in turn, outlining potential ways in which these problems might be overcome.  As with my previous post, it draws largely on my experience in working with UN agencies over the last two decades primarily on aspects associated with the use of digital technologies in international development, and it also draws comparisons with my experiences from working with a diversity of organisations within The Commonwealth.

The UN has indeed begun to recognise the importance of some of these issues, and the Secretary General’s (SG’s) recent Our Common Agenda report in 2021[i] does emphasise two important requirements with which I largely concur:

  • The need to renew the social contract between governments and their people (see Section II);[ii] and
  • The introduction of new measures to complement GDP to assist people in understanding the impacts of business activities and the true costs of economic growth.[iii]

However, much of the SG’s report is wishful thinking, highly problematic, and not grounded sufficiently in the harsh reality of the interests underlying global geopolitics and economic systems.  It also clearly represents the interests of those within the UN system, and especially in the central Secretariat, as expressed succinctly in its assertion that “now is the time for a stronger, more networked and inclusive multilateral system, anchored within the United Nations” [my emphasis].[iv]  The fundamental challenge is that the UN system and its leadership are part of the problem and not the solution.


Seven proposals


1. Increasing diversity and changing the power relationships within the UN

The UN and its agencies have generally sought to be broadly representative of the cultural diversity of the world’s peoples.  They have also recently made important strides to increase gender diversity amongst staff.  Nevertheless, huge efforts still need to be made to achieve greater diversity both among the staff and in the interests that the UN promotes.  Remarkably few staff within the UN system, for example, are drawn from those with recognised disabilities, and the interests of many economically poorer or smaller countries, as well as minority ethnic groups remain under-represented.  Rather than serving the rich and the powerful (as well as itself), the UN truly needs to serve all of the world’s peoples, including the stateless.

The fundamental issue here, though, is the need to change the UN’s ideological balance away from the primacy that it gives to neo-liberal democracy (in large part derived from the heavy influence of the USA and its allies), towards a recognition that there are many competing political-economic ideologies currently being promoted globally. One of the UN’s roles is to help weaker countries negotiate these ideological power struggles, and if it is allied too closely with any one of them the UN is doomed either to increasing irrelevance or failure.  It must above all serve its role wisely in delivering the first paragraph of Article 1 of its founding charter: “To maintain international peace and security”.[v]  This is becoming an ever more pressing issue at a time when the fortunes of the USA and its previously dominant ideology are waning and those of China are waxing.[vi]  It is thus crucial for the UN to have the means whereby it can retain a level of oversight, while also serving as a neutral forum where conflict can be resolved through negotiation and mediation.

Three practical recommendations could help resolve this issue:

  • First the UN Security Council[vii] needs to be fundamentally restructured.  Its permanent membership seems anachronistic, and at the very least France and the UK should no longer be included, perhaps to be replaced by a rotating representation from countries within the European Union.[viii]  There are many options: the idea of permanent membership itself should be revisited; membership could be linked to population size, whilst also providing some guarantees for small states; the more than 50 countries that have never been members could be prioritised; and better means should be found to enforce its resolutions.
  • Second, new locations should be identified for the headquarters of UN agencies and the central Secretariat.  It would be a massive and expensive undertaking to move the entire Secretariat from New York to an alternative location.  However, this is ultimately likely to be necessary for the long-term viability of the UN system, not only for symbolic reasons, but also because of the bias that a US location causes in terms of the number of US citizens employed and also the subtle ideological influences that it creates in the minds of those working there from other countries.  More realistically, there should at the very least be a substantial reduction in the overall UN presence in New York.  The use of new generations of digital technologies could greatly facilitate this.  As experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic have shown, it is no longer necessary to hold as many face-to-face meetings within the UN system as has heretofore been the case.  A very strong argument can be made for the UN headquarters to be located in a clearly neutral country,[ix] as is already the case with those UN agencies located in Geneva.   However, at the very least it would make sense for it to be situated somewhere other than in one of the major, and potentially conflicting, states such as China, the USA, Russia and India.
  • Third, considerably more attention and resourcing need to be given to those UN agencies concerned with reducing conflict and maintaining peace, notably the Department of Peace Operations (DPO),[x] but also those with experience of mediation, conflict reduction and peace building such as UNODA (Office for Disarmament Affairs), OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights), UNODC (Office on Drugs and Crime), and possibly even UNOOSA (Office for Outer Space Affairs) as territorial and strategic interests of nations and corporations now spread beyond planet earth.

2. Improving the quality and diversity of the UN’s leadership and senior management

There are undoubtedly some capable and well qualified people in senior leadership positions[xi] within the UN system, but they are the exception.  Far too many do not have the qualifications or experience to be able to deliver their roles effectively. There therefore needs to be a fundamental restructuring of the processes used to elect or appoint them.[xii]

At least two tensions make it difficult to resolve this issue: the perceived need to balance appropriate national representation with quality and expertise of leadership; and the varying challenges associated with election and/or appointment to senior roles.  However, despite such challenges it is completely unacceptable that a UN Under-Secretary General on appointment to a new post within the UN should as recently as 2021 tweet that he was “a relatively newcomer to the field”.[xiii]

One way to resolve these issues would be for a small review and appointments office to be created to provide guidance to all entities within the UN system relating to senior leadership positions.  Two of its key roles could be:

  • to review all short-listed or nominated applicants against the criteria required for the specific post, ensuring that they have the experience and expertise to fulfil the role; and
  • to serve as a search facility that could identify additional people who might be appropriate for upcoming appointments.

Where elections are the means of appointment to such positions, countries could nominate as at present, but all such nominations would be subject to approval by this review office.  For both appointments and elections, the unit could also encourage specific countries to nominate one of their nationals highlighted in any of its searches.  Furthermore, this would provide a mechanism whereby the unit could specifically seek to find people who would be suitable to fill appointments from under-represented communities and countries, thereby helping to respond to commitments to diversity.[xiv]

Additionally, it is very important that all UN officials once appointed should undergo regular and appropriate training so that they can improve their relevant expertise.  Given the importance of mediation and consensus building, it is critically important that these should also feature prominently in all staff UN training.  It would not be too much to suggest that all staff in any UN entity should be required to spend 5% of their time in various forms of training.  Far too many UN officials are overly confident of their own abilities, and do not pay enough attention to the critical importance of staff training, either for themselves or for those who report to them.  Just because someone has been a government Minister, for example, does not mean that they have any understanding of international diplomacy or subject matter expertise.  It is essential that the UN as a whole including all of its agencies should become learning organisations, so that they are better fit for purpose. This will be a major undertaking and require a fundamental shift of thinking within many such agencies.

The UN System Staff College (UNSSC) might be a possible home for this unit, although the highly critical 2020 report by the Joint Inspection Unit[xv] does not inspire confidence that it has the capacity to do so.  It would, though, be wise for the unit to be situated outside the central UN Secretariat so that it can be seen to have some independence from the highly politicised and some would say over-bloated headquarters operations.  If, though, it was felt that it had to be in the Secretariat headquarters, it might be created as a division within the Office of Internal Oversight Services.


3. Towards a smaller, more focused UN

The UN has grown haphazardly and surreptitiously largely in its own interests so that it is now far too big and ambitious, but has neither the funding nor the capacity to deliver its agendas effectively.  A central issue that must therefore be addressed concerns how big the UN and its agencies should be.  I suggest that it is already far too big, in part as a result of the neo-liberal hegemony it has embraced. Its agencies seek to do too much by themselves. Instead its basic role should be as the servant of all member governments, empowering them to serve the best interests of their citizens.  It should not be the servant of private sector corporations, as it increasingly seems to be becoming.

One of the main ways in which this could be achieved would simply be through eliminating most of the work that UN agencies do in trying to implement their own development initiatives, and replace this with a clearer focus on delivering appropriate training and support for governments so that they can deliver relevant development programmes within their our countries.  Most UN agencies are neither well designed or appropriately staffed actually to implement effective on-the-ground development interventions, yet huge sums of money are wasted on attempts to implement their own development projects, and this situation has got far worse through the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in support of Agenda 2030 (see Section 4 below).  Many other civil society organisations, bilateral and multilateral donors, foundations, and private sector enterprises are already implementing high quality development programmes.  There is absolutely no need for the UN to try to do so as well.  Indeed, external reviews highlight the poor quality of the development work done by many (although certainly not all) UN agencies.  The UK Department for International Development’s (DFID)[xvi] Multilateral Aid review in 2016 thus noted that the organisational strengths of UNAIDS, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNOCHA, the UN Peacebuilding Fund, UN Women, and the WHO were all weak or only adequate, and this excludes the agencies that DFID was not already funding because it did not even consider it worth so doing.[xvii]

This is not to say that the UN should cease trying to improve the important humanitarian and peacebuilding initiatives in which it is already engaged.  As noted above (Section 1) the UN has a crucial role to play in global peacebuilding, and it could also do much more effectively to help co-ordinate global responses to physical disasters and humanitarian crises, providing relief assistance rapidly and efficiently where needed.  However, its current implementation processes need to be considerably improved, and this requires both appropriate financial resourcing and increased global commitment to deliver them. Some will, no doubt, claim that such humanitarian interventions are often caused by wider failures in “development” and therefore that the UN must also be involved in these.  However, the track record of many such interventions by UN agencies is poor and the existence of so many other agencies delivering better interventions suggests that the UN should concentrate on doing what it does best, rather than proliferating failure.

There are many other ways in which the UN could reduce its size and expenditure, such as employing fewer external consultants, producing fewer reports that have little real impact, limiting the number of wasteful meetings and events that it holds, and reducing the number of staff that it employs.  The bottom line, though, is that we need to move away from a large poorly co-ordinated self-important system that is far too big, to a much smaller, leaner organisation that truly delivers effectively on the needs of governments and their citizens.


4. Abandoning the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2030, and planning for a new future for the UN

Many of the above comments relate directly to the development agenda that the UN has embarked on, first with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and since 2015 with the SDGs.  These still have their supporters, often mainly on the grounds that they are the best things we currently have to help co-ordinate global development agendas, and any criticism thereof is potentially damaging.  However, the strength of criticism of the SDGs has grown considerably in recent years, reinforcing the views of those of us who were critical of them from the beginning, and were well captured by William Easterly in 2015 when he described SDGs as standing for “Senseless, Dreamy, Garbled”.[xviii]

Now is the time to recognise that the SDGs really are a failed agenda, and that, as noted in Section 3 above, the UN should replace most of its attempted practice in international development with clear, focused and high-quality support and training for governments in delivering their own interventions to improve the lives of their citizens.  It will take considerable time to make this shift, but 2030 is only eight years away.  We all need to be brave in acknowledging that the SDGs have failed, and start working urgently instead to create a better system that can serve the global community more fairly from 2030 onwards.

Three things are key for the success of such a new agenda: the abandonment of attempts to make neo-liberal democracy the global religion that its advocates would like to see; the replacement of the economic growth agenda with a more balanced view that places the reduction of inequalities at its heart;[xix] and a shift away from the dogma of the primacy of universal human rights to a recognition that these need to be balanced by individual and governmental responsibilities.[xx]  None of these will be easy to achieve, but there are indeed at last some signs that the second of them is gaining traction.  As noted in the introduction to this post, Our Common Agenda has at last signalled recognition at the highest level within the UN that there is an urgent need to redress the focus on untrammelled economic growth as a solution to poverty with one that recognises that economic growth has a propensity to cause further inequalities, and that seeks to redress this by placing primacy on redistribution and equity.  This is nowhere more true than in the vast wealth accrued by the digital barons from their exploitation of the world’s poor and marginalised.

Put simply, it is time to abandon the economic growth agenda of the SDGs, and replace it with a more caring and human approach that gives primacy to redistribution, equity, and a reduction in inequalities.


5. Removing duplication, overlap and reinventing the wheel

It is widely recognised that there is enormous waste within the UN system, driven in large part by competition and a lack of co-ordination between agencies.  This is further enhanced by the aspiration of senior managers to gain ever higher positions within the UN by championing their own highly visible projects, a lack of understanding about what other agencies are actually doing, and inward looking and self-serving career structures within many such agencies.

An increasingly worrying tendency in recent years, at least in the digital tech sector, has also been the growing power of the UN Secretariat and its staff in wanting to lead by creating new initiatives that overlap with other existing global initiatives, and frequently reinvent the wheel.[xxi]  This is nowhere more true than in the bizarre history of the formation of the UN SG’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation,[xxii] and the subsequent development of his Roadmap for Digital Cooperation in 2020.[xxiii] 

Moving towards a smaller, more focused UN will require the creation of much tighter and precise mandates for its central Secretariat and each of its agencies.  This in turn will require the strengthening of existing structures designed to enable effective cooperation and collaboration, not least since many of the world’s most pressing challenges require multi-sector and holistic approaches to their resolution.  However, this should most certainly not be done by the UN SG setting up new initiatives within the Secretariat that frequently serve the personal interests of the senior leadership within it.  One such mechanism that seems to be undervalued and insufficiently utilised is the UN System Chief Executives Board for Co-ordination (CEB) which “provides broad guidance, co-ordination and strategic direction for the UN system in the areas under the responsibility of Executive Heads. Focus is placed on inter-agency priorities and initiatives while ensuring that the independent mandates of organizations are maintained”.[xxiv]  Much of its practical work is undertaken through the High-Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP),[xxv] and based on my own experience of working with this committee I have no doubt that its mechanisms can indeed lead to the production of valuable recommendations and actions.[xxvi] The challenge is that such initiatives can easily be overtaken by events, and the creation of new priorities, either by the UN SG (representing the collective interests of the Secretariat) or by individual agencies whose leaders want to drive forward their own agendas.

Another undoubted challenge is that decision making in most UN agencies is based on the collective views of their members, and ultimately these represent the interests of individual Ministers (or equivalent) in all the member countries of the world.  Hence, the WHO is meant to represent the collectivity of Health Ministries, UNESCO the Education Ministries, and the ITU the Telecommunication and/or Digital Technology Ministries.  Often, the lack of co-ordination at the UN level mirrors the lack of policy integration at the national level.  This implies that if real progress is to be made there need to be ambitious approaches that seek to improve internal co-ordination within both national and global systems of government and governance.  Unfortunately, the ambitions and aspirations of individual Ministers as much as the senior leadership of specific UN agencies therefore conspire effectively to constrain the potential for effective co-ordination systems to be put in place.

There would also be much to be gained from more effective collaboration between the UN and existing regional organisations which often have a much better understanding of regional issues than do UN agencies.  Rather than competing with them or duplicating what they are already doing, it would make far more sense to pool resources and work together to achieve desirable outcomes for specific countries and groups of people.                      

In summary, the senior leadership of the UN system as a whole needs to give much greater attention to delivering effective co-ordination in policy and practice, but this should be done through existing mechanisms rather than by increasing the power of the UN Secretary General and his close colleagues.[xxvii] 


6. Rebalancing the budget for a leaner UN

The problem of systemic funding shortages for much of the work of the UN Secretariat and its many agencies and offices is closely related to the scale of its activities.  Not least, many poorer countries cannot provide sufficient resources for delivering its remit, especially when it comes to implementing development interventions.  The funding arrangements for the UN Secretariat and its many funds, programmes and specialist agencies are separate, but most consist of a combinations of assessed and voluntary combinations, that enable funding countries to choose how much they support different agencies.  The core budget for the UN Secretariat in 2020 was only US$ 3.1 billion,[xxviii] excluding additional donations and peacekeeping activities for which the budget is currently around twice as much.[xxix]  One third of the 2019 core budget was provided by the USA (22%) and China (12%), with Japan providing 8.5%, Germany 6%, and the UK 5.4%.[xxx]  The top 25 countries contribute about 88% of the total core budget. The percentage national contributions to specific UN agencies and programmes vary considerably with respect to the funding by different countries, but they do emphasise once again the striking overall power wielded by the USA.   As noted above (Section 1), this is not healthy for the UN, and it is absolutely essential for many other countries to step up to the mark and fund the UN appropriately.  However, the observation that they do not provide more funding could imply that they do not see sufficient value in supporting the UN system.  If that is really true then fundamental restructuring of the UN and its agencies is long overdue.  Having led a small intergovernmental agency, I know only too well the crucial importance of ensuring that such entities deliver on the wishes of all of their members so that funding can be guaranteed to maintain their activities.  If members see no value in an agency then it should be shut down.

Two further important observations can be made about the UN’s funding situation.  The first is that a smaller UN that is able to reduce the amount of duplication and overlap in its activities, as advocated above, would require less funding, and would therefore be able to live within its means more effectively.  If countries are not willing to support the work of specific agencies or activities these should be closed.  However, second, the most worrying trend with respect to funding is the way in which many UN agencies have instead sought to establish closer relationships with the private sector as funders of the ambitions of their leadership for expansion of their programmes and raising their own individual profiles through eye-catching initiatives.  This is extremely worrying because it changes the role of UN agencies that have embarked on this approach away from being inter-governmental agencies supporting the needs of governments and their citizens, to being vehicles through which private sector corporations seek to shape global policy and implement activities across the world in their own interests of increasing market share, corporate profits and the benefit accruing to their owners and shareholders.  As UNESCO states on its short private sector partnership page, “Over these last two decades, the Private sector has become an increasingly valuable partner for UNESCO – contributing its core business expertise, creativity, innovative technological solutions, social media outreach, financial and in-kind contributions to achieve shared objectives in the area of Education, Culture, the Sciences and Communication and Information”.[xxxi]  There is, though, little that is innocent or altruistic about the corporate sector’s involvement in such partnerships.  The UN yet again becomes diminished to being merely a vehicle that serves the interests of neo-liberalism and the free market – or to call it by a less popular name, global capitalism.


7. The restructuring of global governance and the establishment of multi-sector partnerships on a rigorous basis

The increasing embeddedness of the private sector in UN activities (Section 6) is seriously worrying since it detracts from the core role of its agencies as inter-governmental organisations.  In a richly prescient argument, Jens Martens summarised the potential dangers of such partnerships some 15 years ago,[xxxii] and most of his concerns have since come to pass.  Anyone in the UN who has sought to implement such partnerships since then, and has failed to read his work, as well as some of the other detailed recommendations concerning the dos and don’ts of partnership building by other authors is directly culpable for their failure.[xxxiii]

The private sector does indeed have much to contribute to effective development interventions, bringing technical knowledge, appropriate management skills, and additional specific resources, but far too often UN agencies seek to engage with the private sector primarily for the additional funding that may be provided.  Most people in UN agencies have little real idea about how to forge effective partnerships with the private sector that are built on a rigorous assessment of needs and a transparent mutual benefits framework.  Far too many agencies have therefore become subverted by global corporations, and are often viewed with suspicion by those in other UN agencies who have deliberately chosen to have less direct collaboration with companies.

Many UN agencies resort to the UN’s Global Compact established in 2000 as a means through which to engage with the private sector.  The Compact itself is based on CEOs’ commitments to ten principles relating to Human Rights, Labour, Environment, and Anti-Corruption; with 15,268 companies having signed up, it now claims to be the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative.  However, it actually has rather little to say in detail about about partnership, or with the mechanisms through which effective mutually beneficial partnerships can indeed be established between companies, governments and UN agencies, in the interests of the many rather than the few.[xxxiv]  Sadly, the consequent loosely defined “partnerships” that have been constructed, often subvert the UN’s governance structures and have increasingly led it to serve the interests of the rich and powerful against the poorest and most marginalised.

Unlike some of the other recommendations above, it is relatively easy to implement effective multi-sector partnerships, with much guidance having been written on the subject.[xxxv]  Key success factors for development-oriented partnerships that serve the interests of the many rather than the few include

  • having a clear partnership framework in place from the beginning,
  • ensuring that civil society is also engaged (and thus also avoiding the term Public-Private Partnerships),
  • recognising that there is no one-size-fits-all (partnerships work best when they are attuned to local context),
  • establishing an appropriately skilled partnership management office,
  • building in scale and sustainability at the very beginning (not as an afterthought),
  • ensuring the continuity of participation among key individuals,
  • creating a clear and coherent communication strategy, and
  • ensuring that they are based on mutual trust, transparency, honesty and respect.

More generally, such partnerships should become less important for UN agencies if they focus more on delivering effective training for governments to be able to implement their own development interventions, rather than the UN agencies trying to deliver such interventions themselves.  At present, though, I would not recommend that governments turn to most UN agencies for advice on how to craft appropriate partnerships.


In conclusion

In summary, many of the current problems facing the UN (both the Secretariat and its specialist agencies) could be resolved by:

  • Focusing on doing a few things well, rather than taking on too many activities and failing with most of them (recognising that this will lead to a smaller, but more effective UN);
  • Rejecting neo-liberalism, and instead seeking to serve as a mediator and consensus builder between the many different existing global views around political economy and development;
  • Improving the quality of its leadership (possibly through a specialised unit with such responsibilities), and requiring significant amounts of good quality and relevant training for all of its staff;
  • Accepting that the SDGs were a mistake, and starting to plan now for a new framework for the UN in 2030;
  • Focusing primarily on serving the needs of governments through training and advice, rather than by the UN implementing its own development interventions;
  • Limiting its partnerships with private sector companies, but where these are essential ensuring that they are based on sound partnership mechanisms;
  • Developing effective co-ordination mechanisms for limiting the increasing amount of replication and duplication of effort within the UN system (which could be facilitated through enhancing the roles of the CEB and HLCP); and
  • Ensuring that more countries commit to funding the UN appropriately, so that no country ever provides more than 10% of its budget.

Implementing such changes will not be easy, but that is no excuse for not trying to undertake them.  If progress on these agendas is not made soon, the UN and its agencies will become even less significant than they are at present, and it will forever fail to deliver the ambitious intentions laid out in the four paragraphs of Article 1 of its Charter.

Two final issues require some comment: the balance between the UN Secretariat and the UN’s specialised agencies; and the involvement of governments that are unwilling to engage peacefully and constructively.  On the first of these, my close engagement in various Commonwealth organisations over the last two decades has made me very aware of a tendency for the “centre” to try to take control over as many areas as possible, even when it does not have the competence to do so and there are already existing specialised agencies capable of so doing.   This clearly also applies within the UN, and particularly in the field of digital tech.  Competition between entities within the UN system is both wasteful and damaging (to organisations and individuals), and must be reduced.  There is little within Our Common Agenda that gives rise to the hope that the present leadership of the UN is capable of achieving this.  Clarity of mandates and reducing mission creep are essential for the organisation as a whole to be effective.

Second, though, I am conscious that my arguments rely on a positive view about the role of governments in serving the real needs of their citizens.  In part this is based on my experience that even within governments (in the broadest sense, including civil servants as well as politicians) that some might describe (generously) as unsavoury, I have almost always been able to find people that I can like and trust.  It is these people that we need to foster and support.  The private sector, with its fundamental remit of generating profit, will never be able to serve the interests of the poorest and the most marginalised.  Only governments (at a structural level) and civil society organisations (generally at an individual level) have this theoretically within their remit. To achieve fairer, less unequal societies, we must therefore work primarily with governments, to help them deliver a better and safer world for all of their citizens. If princes (or governments) do not serve the interests of their citizens, I follow John Locke in maintaining that they have a right and a duty to replace them.[xxxvi]


[i] UN (2021) Our Common Agenda – Report of the Secretary General, New York: UN, https://www.un.org/en/content/common-agenda-report/.

[ii] But even this is hugely problematic, grounded as it is in traditional UN understandings of human rights, and paying insufficient attention to the responsibilities that are necessary for them to be assured.

[iii] Although highlighted as the fourth main point in the summary of Our Common Agenda, it is only treated relatively briefly in paras 38 and 39 of the report.

[iv] UN (2021) Our Common Agenda – Report of the Secretary General, New York: UN, p.4.

[v] https://www.un.org/en/about-us/un-charter/chapter-1.

[vi] See for example my https://unwin.wordpress.com/2020/04/23/digital-political-economy-in-a-post-covid-19-world-implications-for-the-most-marginalised/.

[vii] https://www.un.org/securitycouncil

[viii] This could in effect be rotational among countries within the European Union, since UN membership is based on nation states rather than regional blocs.

[ix] Perhaps even somewhere like Costa Rica, which has not had any armed forces since 1949.

[x] Although this was only created in 2019 following restructuring of the UN’s peace and security operations.

[xi] For the present purposes taken to be D1, D2, ASG, USG, DSG and SG.

[xii] For an interesting perspective, see Feltman, J. (2020) Restoring (some) impartiality to UN senior appointments, Brookings, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/restoring-some-impartiality-to-un-senior-appointments/.

[xiii] Tweet by on 23 January 2021; https://twitter.com/HochschildF/status/1352789899938824192.

[xiv] I am not inclined to quota systems, which are very difficult to administer and often lead to a diminution in quality of appointments if there are insufficient people with the necessary skills.  However, I appreciate that there are those who see such quotas as being the only way to achive scuh goals.

[xv] Dumitriu, P. (2020) Policies and platforms in support of learning: towards more coherence, co-ordination and convergence, Report of the Joint Inspection Unit, Geneva: United Nations.

[xvi] Now the FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office), https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/foreign-commonwealth-development-office.

[xvii] DFID (2016) Raising the Standard: the Multilateral Development Review 2016 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/573884/Multilateral-Development-Review-Dec2016.pdf

[xviii] Easterly, W. (2015) The SDGs should stand for Senseless, Dreamy, Garbled, Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/28/the-sdgs-are-utopian-and-worthless-mdgs-development-rise-of-the-rest/.  For my own condemnation of the SDGs see Unwin, T. (2015) ICTs and the failure of the Sustainable Development Goals, https://unwin.wordpress.com/2015/08/05/icts-and-the-failure-of-the-sustainable-development-goals/, and Unwin, T. (2018) ICTs and the failure of the SDGs, https://unwin.wordpress.com/2018/04/23/icts-and-the-failure-of-the-sdgs/.

[xix] Much of my work addresses this issue, but see in particular Unwin, T. (2017) Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development, Oxford: OUP.

[xx] For more detailed argumentation, see Unwin, T. (2104) Prolegomena on human rights and responsibilities, https://unwin.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/prolegomena-on-human-rights-and-responsibilities/.  See also Onora O’Neill’s wonderful (2016) book Justice across boundaries, Cambridge: CUP.

[xxi] I regret that I have found it difficult to fathom out quite what the reason for this is, and whether it reflects a strong UN Secretary General (in which case he is very often wrong) or a weak one (also not exactly good) who is being manipulated by career-minded staff in the Secretariat.  Perhaps he simply has too much on his plate, and is not prioritising the right things.

[xxii] This history, some of which I know about in considerable detail, remains to be told publicly by those who really know the full murky background.

[xxiii] https://www.un.org/en/content/digital-cooperation-roadmap/.

[xxiv] https://unsceb.org/structure.

[xxv] https://unsceb.org/high-level-committee-programmes-hlcp.

[xxvi] https://unsceb.org/sites/default/files/2021-09/Towards%20a%20United%20Nations%20system-wide%20strategic%20approach%20for%20achieving%20inclusive%2C%20equitable%20and%20innovative%20education%20and%20learning%20for%20all.pdf.

[xxvii] Innovative uses of technology could effectively support the necessary decentralised co-ordination, although as yet most such consultative and collaborative systems have tended in practice to increase rather than reduce the ultimate control of those at the centre (or top) at whatever scale is being considered.

[xxviii] https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/12/1054431.

[xxix] The peacekeeping budget for 2021-2022 was US$ 6.38 billion https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/how-we-are-funded.

[xxx] https://undocs.org/en/A/RES/73/271.

[xxxi] https://en.unesco.org/partnerships/private-sector.

[xxxii] Martens, J. (2007) Multistakeholder partnerships: Future models of multilateralism? Berlin, Germany: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung; see also more recently Adams,B. and Martens, J. (2016) Partnerships and the 2030 Agenda: Time to reconsider their role in implementation, New York: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

[xxxiii] See, for example, Martens continued work as Executive Director of the Global Policy Forum

[xxxiv] Much can be learnt about these from the extensive and long-established work of the World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/.

[xxxv] See, for example, some of my own work on effective multi-sector partnership building, including Unwin, T. (2005) Partnerships in Development Practice: Evidence from Multi-Stakeholder ICT4D Partnership Practice in Africa, Paris: UNESCO for the World Summit on the Information Society, Unwin, T. and Wong, A. (2012) Global Education Initiative: Retrospective on Partnerships for Education Development 2003-2011, Geneva: World Economic Forum, and Unwin, T. (2015) MultiStakeholder Partnerships in Information and Communication for Development Interventions, in International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication and Society, Chichester: Wiley, 634-44.

[xxxvi] Locke, J. (ed. by Laslett, P. (1988) Locke: Two Treatises of Government, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2 Comments

Filed under China, Development, Education, ICT4D, partnerships, Politics, UK, United Nations

The advantages of being unconnected to the Internet: a thought experiment

The 2021 ITU Facts and Figures report highlighted that 2.9 billion people, or 37% of the world’s population, have still never used the Internet. Implict in this, as in almost all UN initiatives relating to digital technology, is the ideal that everyone should be connected to the Internet. Hence, many global initiatives continue to be designed to create multi-stakeholder (or as I prefer, multi-sector – see my Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development) partnerships to provide connectivity to everyone in the world. But, whose interests does this really serve? Would the unconnected really be better off if they were connected?

Walking in the Swiss mountains last month, and staying in a place where mobile phones and laptops were prohibited, reminded me of the human importance of being embedded in nature – and that of course we don’t really need always to be digitally connected.

Although I have addressed these issues in many of my publications over the last 20 years, I have never articulated in detail the reasons why people might actually be better off remaining unconnected: hence this thought experiment. There are actually many sound reasons why people should consider remaining unconnected, and for those of us who spend our lives overly connected we should think about disconnecting ourselves as much as possible. These are but a few of these reasons:

  • Above all, we were born to be a part of the physical world in which we live. Virtual realities may approximate (or even in some senses enhance) that physical world, but they are fundamentally different. Those who spend all of their time connected miss out on all the joys of living in nature; those who are unconnected have the privilege of experiencing the full richness of that nature.
  • Those who are unconnected do not have to waste time sifting through countless boring e-mails or group chats to find what is worthwhile, or the messages in which they are really interested.
  • The unconnected cannot give away for free their valuable data from which global digital corporations make their fortunes.
  • Being unconnected means not harming the physical environment through the heavy demands digital technologies place on our precious natural world (see the work of the Digital-Environment System Coalition – DESC)
  • Those who are unconnected do not suffer the horrors of online harassment or digital violence.
  • The unconnected are not forced by their managers to self-exploit by doing online training once they are home after a day’s work, or answer e-mails/chat messages sent by their managers at all hours of the day and night.
  • Those who are not online don’t have to run the risk of online scams or phishing attacks that steal their savings – and the poor suffer most when, for example, their small amounts of money are stolen.
  • The unconnected can largely escape much of the digital surveillance now promulgated by governments in the name of “security” and “anti-terrorist” action.
  • The unconnected do not suffer from digital addictions to online games, gambling, or pornography.
  • Ultimately, being connected is akin to being enslaved by the world’s digital barons and their corporations; if you cannot stop using digital tech for a few days, let alone a week, surely you have lost your freedom?

Despite the fine sounding words of those leading global connectivity initiatives, is it really the poorest and most marginalised who are going to benefit most from being connected? Surely, this agenda of global connectivity is being driven mainly in the interests of the global corporations that will be paid to roll out the tech infrastructre, or that will benefit from exploiting the data that we all too willingly give them for nothing? Does not, for example, digital financial inclusion benefit the financial and tech companies and institutions far more than it does the poorest and most marginalised? This is not to deny that digital tech does indeed have many positive uses, but it is to ask fundamental questions about who benefits most.

I remember visiting a village in Africa with colleagues who couldn’t understand why the inhabitants didn’t want mobile phones. Walking over the hills to see their friends was more important to them than the ease of calling them up. This post owes much to that conversation.

We all need to ask the crucial questions about whose interests our often well-intentioned global digital connectivity initiatives really serve. If we wish to serve the interests of the poorest and most marginalised, we must become their servants and not the servants of the world’s rich and powerful; we must be humble, and learn from those we wish to serve.

And the world’s rich and privileged also need to take care of ourselves; if we have difficulty living a day without being connected, surely we have indeed become enslaved? We need to regain our freedom as fully sentient beings, using all of our senses to comprehend and care for the natural world in which we live. May I conclude by encouraging people to think about using the hashtag #1in7offline. Take one day a week away from digital tech to experience the wonders of our world, unmediated by the paltry digital alternative. Or try taking a week away from the digital world every seven weeks. If you cannot do this, ask yourself why!

2 Comments

Filed under Africa, digital technologies, Empowerment, ICT4D, United Nations

Contributions to UNESCO’s first Partners’ Forum: notes from the underground

AzoulayIt was great to be able to participate in UNESCO’s first Partners’ Forum on 11th-12th September in Paris, and to contribute as a panellist in the session arranged by Indrajit Banerjee and his team on Responding to Opportunities and Challenges of the Digital Age.  Much of the Forum focused on the successes of existing UNESCO partnerships, but our panel yesterday instead addressed practical issues where UNESCO’s Knowledge Societies Division could make a difference.

AudienceOur panel also consisted of:

  • Moderator: Indrajit Banerjee (Director, Knowledge Societies Division, UNESCO)
  • Marcus Goddard (Netexplo Observatory)
  • Marie-Helene Parizeau (Chair of World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology)
  • Dr. Davina Frau-Meigs (Professor of Media Sociology at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, and Chairholder of UNESCO Chair for “savoir-devenir le développement numérique durable: maîtriser les cultures de l’information”)
  • Octavio Kulesz (Teseo, Argentina).

Our session had five themes, and there was a great audience who contributed hugely through their smiles!  I note below some of the contributions that I sought to make:

Introductory comments

I focused on two main issues:

  • We must avoid an instrumental view of the world. AI, the Internet of Things,  5G… do not have any power to change anything themselves.  They are created by global corporations – be they failing USAn ones, or rising Chinese ones – and by individuals in them who have particular interests.  AI, for example, will not change the world of work.  Those who are creating AI are doing so for a very particular set of reasons…  We are responsible for the things we create.
  • Use of the term 4th Industrial Revolution is highly problematic. I guess there are two kinds of people – those who see the world as being revolutionary, and those who see it as evolutionary.  The “revolutionary” people like to see the world as shaped by heroes (perhaps they want to be heroes themselves) – elite people such as Turnip Townsend or Thomas Coke of Holkham in the “agricultural revolution”, or Richard Arkwright who invented the water-powered spinning mill, Jean Baptiste Colbert here in France, or George Stephenson – people who led the so-called industrial revolution. However, the reality is that these changes evolved through the labour of countless millions of poor people across the world, and their lives were shaped by fundamental structural forces, most notably the driving forces and interests of capitalism – money bent on the accretion of money – that sought to reduce labour costs and increase market size.  These forces still shape today’s world.  There is no 4th Industrial Revolution

How can UNESCO leverage digital technologies to achieve SDGs?

I sought to raise challenging questions about the relationship between digital technologies and the SDGs, particularly around notions of sustainability:

  • First, most ICTs and digital technologies are based on fundamentally unsustainable business models – and there are therefore real challenges claiming that they can contribute positively to “sustainable development”. Just thinking about it.  How often do you replace your mobile phone, or have to get new software because you have bought some new hardware with which it is incompatible, or instead need new hardware to run the latest memory and processor demanding software.  Such obsolescence is a deliberate ploy of the major technology companies.
  • Second, the use of most such technologies is damaging to the environment – this is hardly sustainable – think about the satellite “waste” in outer space, or the electricity demands of server farms, or take blockchain; do you realise that Bitcoin mining consumes more electricity a year than does the whole of Ireland?
  • And then, the SDGs have failed already – most countries have not set their targets, and for many the baseline data simply do not exist. It is therefore not going to be possible to say whether many targets have been met or not. Take UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics date on SDG 4.  In most parts of the world less than a third of countries have data for the educational indicators and targets. [http://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/sdg4-data-book-2018-en.pdf].  Indeed, it is often said that the SDGs purely exist to give UN agencies something to do!
  • But being positive, the answer is simple – we need to concentrate our efforts first on the poorest and most marginalised. These new technologies have rapidly been used to make the world a more unequal place.  It is good that we now have SDG 10 focusing on inequality, but few people ever mention it in the context of digital technologies. No-one else has mentioned it in any of the sessions at which I have yet been during this Forum. We should not always be talking about connecting the next billion – but instead of connecting the first billion – yes, the first and most important – those who are poorest and most marginalised – people with disabilities, street children, refugees, and women in patriarchal societies.  We need to work with them, to craft new technologies that will help them achieve their empowerment.

How can we de-risk digital interactions and counter online challenges to privacy, human rights and freedom of expression?

I responded briefly, since other speakers addressed this at greater length and with more sophistication:

  • Ethics is incredibly important – Most people tend to think that new technology is necessarily good. But it is not.  Technology is neither good nor bad – it simply “is”.  But technologies can be made, and used, for good or bad purposes.
  • Two examples on which I have recently been working are:
    • Sexual harassment through mobile devices – Pakistan, India and Caribbean
    • Is it too late for “pure humans” to survive – or will we, are we already, all cyborgs?
  • How might we respond to these challenges
    • We need to focus as much on the negatives as on the positives of technologies in our education systems and media.
    • We need more open public debate and discussion on the ethics of digital technologies – governments tend not to trust their citizens to engage in these very difficult issues.

What forms of multi-stakeholder mechanisms/government frameworks will foster global dialogue around the use of advanced ICTs?

Again, towards the end of the session, there was little time to discuss this, but I noted:

  • Everyone talks about partnerships, but few actually succeed
  • Back in 2005 I actually wrote about multi-sector partnerships as part of UNESCO’s contribution to WSIS – and most of what I wrote then still applies!
  • We must stop competing and instead work together creatively and collaboratively in the interests of the poorest and most marginalised. This applies particularly both within and between UN agencies!

Concluding remarks

This is what I think I said:

I have huge admiration for many of the staff in UNESCO; the organisation has the most important mandate of any UN agency – focusing as it does on Education, Science and Culture.  There are three simple, and easy things that UNESCO could do, but they require a fundamental change of mentality:

  • Focus on understanding the needs of the poorest and most marginalised
  • Work with, not for, the poorest and marginalised
  • Develop digital solutions that will serve the interests of the poorest and most marginalised.

And of course, UNESCO could take much more advantage of the expertise of the many Chairholders in its UNITWIN and UNESCO Chairs networks!

Thanks again to all those in UNESCO who made the Forum such an interesting event.

Leave a comment

Filed under ICT4D

A new global partnership: the report of the high-level panel on the post-2015 development agenda

The long awaited report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, entitled A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development, was published just a few days ago on 30th May.  The 27 member panel responsible for the report included representatives from government, business and civil society from all regions of the world. Their  optimistic report suggests that we can and must eliminate extreme poverty by 2030.

Unfortunately, as evidenced in the title of the report itself, this has been a missed opportunity, and the new agenda will do little to change the lives of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people.  It is more of the same, rather than a radical departure from the MDG consensus of the last 15 years.  By retaining a largely absolute definition of poverty, and claiming that it actually can be eliminated through economic growth, this agenda will serve further to increase inequalities in the interests of the world’s richest individuals and countries.  The focus of the report on the ‘economic’, on the myth of ‘sustainable’ development, and on fundamental misunderstandings about the interests underlying ‘partnerships’ all mean that the proposals will be unable to deliver on the needs of the world’s poorest and most marginalised peoples.

The panel reached consensus on five transformational shifts that it claimed are necessary to achieve the elimination of poverty:

  1. Leave No One Behind: The MDGs aimed to halve extreme poverty (now defined as people earning less than $1.25 a day). The High Level Panel report proposes ending poverty by 2030 – as it says, “We should ensure that no person – regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status – is denied universal human rights and basic economic opportunities”.  This focus on previously excluded groups is indeed a step forward, although there is little agreement on how it can be achieved.
  2. Put Sustainable Development at the Core: The report seeks to bring together the social, economic and environmental aspects of development, focusing especially on a desire to “halt the alarming pace of climate change”.  It is a shame that so little is said about the political and cultural agendas that are such a critical part of ‘development’.  It also fails to recognise the highly contentious character of the notion of “sustainable development” which increasing numbers of people now see as being a contradiction in terms!
  3. Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth: This proposal lies at the heart of the agenda.  The report emphasises that “We call for a quantum leap forward in economic opportunities and a profound economic transformation to end extreme poverty and improve livelihoods”.  From DFID’s overview of the report, this means “a much greater focus on promoting jobs through business and entrepreneurship, infrastructure, education and skills, and trade”. This places the economy rather than social justice, cultural meaning, or political practice at the heart of the development agenda.  Imagine the impact that this high-level transformative shift would be if it had been reworded to read “Transform societies to ensure social justice and equality of opportunity”!
  4. Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all: The report claims that “Freedom from fear, conflict and violence is the most fundamental human right, and the essential foundation for building peaceful and prosperous societies”.  This places the agenda firmly upon a human rights basis, but does little to focus attention on the individual and collective responsibilities that are essential to make this happen.
  5. Forge a new Global Partnership: The report emphasises that “Perhaps the most important transformative shift is towards a new spirit of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual accountability that must underpin the post-2015 agenda”.  I completely agree that partnership is crucial for effective delivery of development interventions, but the report fails sufficiently to address the complexity of delivering partnerships on the ground, and the interests that underlie them.

The illustrative 12 universal goals and 54 national targets associated with the recommendations make interesting reading.  As the report emphasises, “the shape of the post-2015 development agenda cannot be  communicated effectively without offering an example of how goals might be framed”. For ease of information, these are summarised below:

1. End Poverty

  • Bring the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day to zero and reduce by x% theshare of people living below their country’s 2015 national poverty line
  • Increase by x% the share of women and men, communities, and businesses with secure rights to land, property, and other assets
  • Cover x% of people who are poor and vulnerable with social protection systems
  • Build resilience and reduce deaths from natural disasters by x%

2. Empower Girls and Women and Achieve Gender Equality

  • Prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against girls and women
  • End child marriage
  • Ensure equal right of women to own and inherit property, sign a contract, register a business and open a bank account
  • Eliminate discrimination against women in political, economic, and public life

3. Provide Quality Education and Lifelong Learning

  • Increase by x% the proportion of children able to access and complete pre-primary education
  • Ensure every child, regardless of circumstance, completes primary education able to read, write and count well enough to meet minimum learning standards
  • Ensure every child, regardless of circumstance, has access to lower secondary education and increase the proportion of adolescents who achieve recognized and measurable learning outcomes to x%
  • Increase the number of young and adult women and men with the skills, including technical and vocational, needed for work by x%

4. Ensure Healthy Lives

  • End preventable infant and under-5 deaths
  • Increase by x% the proportion of children, adolescents, at-risk adults and older people that are fully vaccinated
  • Decrease the maternal mortality ratio to no more than x per 100,000
  • Ensure universal sexual and reproductive health and rights
  • Reduce the burden of disease from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, neglected tropical diseases and priority non-communicable diseases

5. Ensure Food Security and Good Nutrition

  • End hunger and protect the right of everyone to have access to sufficient, safe, affordable, and nutritious food
  • Reduce stunting by x%, wasting by y%, and anemia by z% for all children under five
  • Increase agricultural productivity by x%, with a focus on sustainably increasing smallholder yields and access to irrigation
  • Adopt sustainable agricultural, ocean and freshwater fishery practices and rebuild designated fish stocks to sustainable levels
  • Reduce postharvest loss and food waste by x%

6. Achieve Universal Access to Water and Sanitation

  • Provide universal access to safe drinking water at home, and in schools, health centers, and refugee camps
  • End open defecation and ensure universal access to sanitation at school and work, and increase access to sanitation at home by x%
  • Bring freshwater withdrawals in line with supply and increase water efficiency in agriculture by x%, industry by y% and urban areas by z%
  • Recycle or treat all municipal and industrial wastewater prior to discharge

7. Secure Sustainable Energy

  • Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix
  • Ensure universal access to modern energy services
  • Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency in buildings, industry, agriculture and transport
  • Phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption

8. Create Jobs, Sustainable Livelihoods, and Equitable Growth

  • Increase the number of good and decent jobs and livelihoods by x
  • Decrease the number of young people not in education, employment or training by x%
  • Strengthen productive capacity by providing universal access to financial services and infrastructure such as transportation and ICT
  • Increase new start-ups by x and value added from new products by y through creating an enabling business environment and boosting entrepreneurship

9. Manage Natural Resource Assets Sustainably

  • Publish and use economic, social and environmental accounts in all governments and major companies
  • Increase consideration of sustainability in x% of government procurements
  • Safeguard ecosystems, species and genetic diversity
  • Reduce deforestation by x% and increase reforestation by y%
  • Improve soil quality, reduce soil erosion by x tonnes and combat desertification

10. Ensure Good Governance and Effective Institutions

  • Publish and use economic, social and environmental accounts in all governments and major companies
  • Increase consideration of sustainability in x% of government procurements
  • Safeguard ecosystems, species and genetic diversity
  • Reduce deforestation by x% and increase reforestation by y%
  • Improve soil quality, reduce soil erosion by x tonnes and combat desertification

11. Ensure Stable and Peaceful Societies

  • Reduce violent deaths per 100,000 by x and eliminate all forms of violence against children
  • Ensure justice institutions are accessible, independent, well-resourced and respect due-process rights
  • Stem the external stressors that lead to conflict, including those related to organised crime
  • Enhance the capacity, professionalism and accountability of the security forces, police and judiciary

12. Create a Global Enabling Environment and Catalyse Long-Term Finance

  • Support an open, fair and development-friendly trading system, substantially reducing trade-distorting measures, including agricultural subsidies, while improving market access of developing country products
  • Implement reforms to ensure stability of the global financial system and encourage stable, long-term private foreign investment
  • Hold the increase in global average temperature below 2⁰ C above pre-industrial levels, in line with international agreements
  • Developed countries that have not done so to make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7% of gross national product (GNP) as official development assistance to developing countries and 0.15 to 0.20% of GNP of developed countries to least developed countries; other countries should move toward voluntary targets for complementary financial assistance
  • Reduce illicit flows and tax evasion and increase stolen-asset recovery by $x
  • Promote collaboration on and access to science, technology, innovation, and development data

As will be clear from this listing, this appears to be something of a “shopping list” reflecting the interests of those who put the agenda together.  The gaps are perhaps as interesting as the things that are actually included in the list!  Given my own interests in the uses (and abuses) of ICTs in and for development, I am particularly disappointed that so little is mentioned about them in the 54 targets listed above (although see Goal 8).  Given the importance of the Internet, and the role of ICTs in the global economy, it is both surprising and disappointing to find so little amongst the goals or targets.  Likewise, whilst women and girls are acknowledged in a specific goal, the 10-15% of the world’s population who are recognised as having some kind of disability are not explicitly mentioned in a target at all.

Given the ‘management’ of the world’s development discourse, it is scarcely surprising that this report has turned out as it has, but I remain deeply saddened and frustrated that this important opportunity has been largely wasted.  Yes, there are of course some good things in the report, but I do wish that there had been the collective will really to address the underlying causes of poverty head on.  Sadly, what I wrote back in 2007 in my paper entitled “No end to poverty” remains as valid today as it did then (for a summary see this blog post)!

2 Comments

Filed under Development, ICT4D

Discussions on educational partnerships

For those interested in education partnerships The Partnering Initiative is convening what should be a very interesting breakfast event next week on 5th June at the Science Museum in London and there are still some places available (details at http://bit.ly/16ppNr7).   Oh yes, and I am moderating a ‘table’ – be warned, it could be controversial!

In essence, the event is designed to explore how collective action can maximise the impact of business investments in education and skills.

As the organisers say, “Education is a fundamental pillar of sustainable development and underpins enduring prosperity and economic growth. Yet, achieving quality ‘Education for All’ remains a major global challenge. There is a growing trend of businesses investing in education and skills both for philanthropic reasons and to help ensure their own long term sustainability. However, businesses have tended to support their own, often isolated projects. Could a move towards stronger collective approaches lead to more effective, transformational delivery of education and skills? How can such approaches be encouraged and supported?”

Speakers include:

  • Ben Dixon – Head of Social Performance, BG Group
  • Olav Seim – Director, Global Partnerships ED/EFA, UNESCO
  • Darren Towers – Head of Sustainability and Environmental Leadership, EDF Energy
  • Professor Timothy Unwin – Secretary General, Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (yes, I think that’s me!)

Places are limited, so please register your interest with jessica.mcghie@iblf.org – do include your name, organisation and job title.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education

How to make ICT4D partnerships better deliver real development impacts

The ICT4D Collective hosted a workshop at the WSIS Forum in Geneva today on the key factors colleagues considered to be necessary to overcome four of the most important problems in delivering effective ICT4D partnerships.  The idea for the workshop stemmed from the systematic review of the impact of ICT4D partnerships completed by Marije Geldof, David Grimshaw, Dorothea Kleine and myself for DFID earlier this year.  This highlighted four main areas where further thought was required:

  • How can we best ensure that local communities and interests are involved in partnership implementation?
  • How to ensure that intended development outcomes are really addressed?
  • How to build sustainability and scalability into ICT4D partnerships from the very beginning?
  • What mechanisms can be used to ensure trust, honesty, openness, mutual understanding and respect?

Following an opening presentation by David Grimshaw (Practical Action, and Royal Holloway, University of London), we divided up into four groups (chaired by Paola Uimonen from SPIDER, Peter Drury from Cisco, and Dorothea Kleine and myself from Royal Holloway, University of London), each discussing one of these themes, and the outcome was the following mind map (click on image for larger version) that reflected the collected views of the 30 or so people present, as well as those who joined by WebEx video conferencing services kindly provided by Cisco.


A more detailed .pdf file of the mind-map is available here: WSIS Forum 2011

Thanks to everyone who participated, and helped to make the discussions so interesting.

Leave a comment

Filed under ICT4D

The development impact of ICT4D partnerships: join our discussion online at the WSIS Forum

Cisco is generously sponsoring the opportunity for anyone to participate in the session on the Development Impact of Multi-stakeholder Partnerships in ICT4D ( http://groups.itu.int/wsis-forum2011/Agenda.aspx?event=event_60) that the ICT4D Collective is convening from 16.30-18.00 Geneva time (15.30-17.00 UK time) on Tuesday 17th May at the WSIS Forum ( http://groups.itu.int/default.aspx?tabid=856).  Please share this information as widely as possible, so that colleagues across the world can join in our discussions and deliberations.

To join the online discussion, please use the following information (best to try to log-on about ten minutes in advance to download the applet and check the systems are working) :

Meeting Number: 608 639 429
Meeting Password: 123

——————————————————-
To join this meeting (Now from mobile devices!)
——————————————————-
1. Go to https://ciscosales.webex.com/ciscosales/j.php?J=608639429&PW=NYzY4NDE5MjI3
2. Enter the meeting password: 123
3. Click “Join Now”.
4. Follow the instructions that appear on your screen.

—————————————————————-
ALERT:Toll-Free Dial Restrictions for (408) and (919) Area Codes
—————————————————————-

The affected toll free numbers are: (866) 432-9903 for the San Jose/Milpitas area and (866) 349-3520 for the RTP area.

Please dial the local access number for your area from the list below:
–  San Jose/Milpitas (408) area:  525-6800
–  RTP (919) area:  392-3330

——————————————————-
To join the teleconference only
——————————————————-
1. Dial into Cisco WebEx (view all Global Access Numbers at
http://cisco.com/en/US/about/doing_business/conferencing/index.html
2. Follow the prompts to enter the Meeting Number (listed above) or Access Code followed by the # sign.

San Jose, CA: +1.408.525.6800  RTP: +1.919.392.3330

US/Canada: +1.866.432.9903  United Kingdom: +44.20.8824.0117

India: +91.80.4350.1111  Germany: +49.619.6773.9002

Japan: +81.3.5763.9394  China: +86.10.8515.5666

Leave a comment

Filed under ICT4D, ICT4D conferences

Policy Brief on the Development Impact of ICT4D Partnerships

The Policy Brief resulting from the systematic review report by Marije Geldof, David Grimshaw, Dorothea Kleine and Tim Unwin on the development impact of ICT4D partnerships is now avalable from the R4D website (Policy Brief) and the ICT4D Collective website (Policy Brief).

This emphasises five key findings:

  1. Success is increased when detailed attention is paid to the local context and the involvement of the local community in partnership implementation.
  2. It is important for such partnerships to have clear and agreed intended development out-comes, even where constituent partners may themselves have different reasons for being involved in the partnership.
  3. Sustainability and scalability of the intended development intervention need to be built into partnership design at the very beginning.
  4. Successful partnerships are built on trust, honesty, openness, mutual understanding and respect.
  5. A supportive wider ICT environment needs to be in place, both in terms of policy and infrastructure, if such partnerships are to flourish and deliver effective development outcomes

Link to Full Systematic Review Report on ICT4D Partnerships (.pdf)

Leave a comment

Filed under Development, ICT4D

Important new report on the impact of ICT4D partnerships on development

Together with Marije Geldof, David Grimshaw and Dorothea Kleine from the ICT4D Collective, I have just completed a DFID funded systematic review on the development impact of ICT4D partnerships. This is part of the extensive programme of systematic reviews initiated recently by DFID, that draws very largely on the model of such reviews used in the medical sciences.  DFID thus emphasises that ‘Systematic reviews have been used in health, education and social policy to meet this need. Systematic reviews are a well-established and rigorous method to map the evidence base in an unbiased way as possible, assess the quality of the evidence and synthesize it. Systematic reviews can then be mediated in specific ways to make it easier for policy makers and practitioners to rapidly understand the body of evidence and use this as a strong foundation on which to base policy and practice decisions’.  Undertaking the review was both challenging and interesting, and we not only reached substantive conclusions about the role of ICT4D partnerships, but we also made considerable comments about the difficulties in undertaking rigorously defined systematic reviews on topics such as this.

Based on our review of 53 key publications in the field, we had five main substantive conclusions:

  • Success of ICT4D partnerships is increased when detailed attention is paid to the local context and the involvement of the local community in partnership implementation
  • It is important for such partnerships to have clear and agreed intended development outcomes, even where constituent partners may themselves have different reasons for being involved in the partnership
  • Sustainability and scalability of the intended development intervention need to be built into partnership design at the very beginning
  • Successful partnerships are built on trust, honesty, openness, mutual understanding and respect
  • A supportive wider ICT environment needs to be in place, both in terms of policy and infrastructure, if such partnerships are to flourish and deliver effective development outcomes

In terms of our recommendations relating to the actual systematic review methodology, we suggest that

  • When dealing with multidisciplinary issues such as this, it is crucial to retain some flexibility in search strategies, and procedures such as those often adopted in reviews of health interventions may sacrifice real understanding in the name of overly zealous adherence to claimed rigour
  • External reviewers play a crucial role in guaranteeing the quality of such reviews, and they need to be rewarded for their contributions
  • Many of the publications that we reviewed lacked a rigorous account of their research methodology, and we recommend that all funders of development related research should insist that researchers carefully document their methods in all of their publications, so that readers can judge the reliability of the findings
  • Many publications on ICT4D partnerships do not specify either what they mean by partnerships or the real development outcomes that they were pursuing.  It is therefore very difficult to identify the precise impact of partnerships on development.  It may well be that interventions that claim to have benefited from partnerships could have been delivered more effectively through other contractual arrangements

Copy of report (.pdf)

Policy brief (.pdf)

Leave a comment

Filed under Development, ICT4D

New guide to good practices in UK-Africa Higher Education partnerships

The Association of Commonwealth Universities’ Africa Unit has just published an excellent short guide on good practices in developing educational partnerships between higher education institutions in Africa and the UK.

As the Africa Unit comments, “The main reason behind the preparation of this Guide … is the lack of knowledge about the scope, nature and depth of partnerships in this area. The Guide does not set out to present a set of universal, objective rules to be followed and which will guarantee success. Instead, it identifies 10 valuable ‘principles of management and good governance’ which have been the driver behind a number of successful and sustainable UK-Africa partnerships, which can inform future partnerships”.

This is a really useful document, full of helpful tips and advice, and anyone considering developing such partnerships should get hold of a copy and read it diligently. The ten key principles that it advocates are:

  1. Shared Ownership
  2. Trust and Transparency
  3. Mutual Understanding of different Cultural and Working Environments
  4. Clear Division of Roles and Responsibilities
  5. Effective and Regular Communication
  6. Joint Strategic Planning and Implementation
  7. Strong Commitment across the board from Staff and Management
  8. Supportive Institutional Infrastructure
  9. Monitoring and Evaluation
  10. Sustainability

As someone who has been actively involved in such partnerships over the last decade, these principles resonate very strongly with my own experiences.  Many thanks to the Africa Unit for expressing them so clearly and succinctly.

1 Comment

Filed under Africa, Higher Education