Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The DaO of UNDAF

"One love, one blood
One life, you got to do what you should
One life, with each other
Sisters, brothers
One life but we're not the same
We get to carry each other, carry each other


- U2

The term 'dao' may refer to a Chinese philosophical concept meaning 'The Way'

or alternatively a Chinese type of sword used for slashing and chopping. In UN-speak it is an acronym for Delivering as One. The purpose of the Delivering as One initiative is to make the United Nations system more coherent, efficient and therefore effective and focusses on four key principles namely one leader, one budget, one programme and one office. DaO could be construed as 'The Way' forward to slashing budgets and chopping off unnecessary bureaucratic bits.

It came out of a High-level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence in 2006 and was piloted in eight countries - Albania, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Pakistan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uruguay and Viet Nam. Subsquently, the UN adopted the approach in several 'self-starter' countries and is gradually creeping across the globe.

How noble and novel a notion it is to imagine that the UN system could deliver on its humanitarian, development and environment objectives in harmony as though it is one entity. Afterall the very name 'United Nations' conjures up the illusion that nations are in agreement and forging ahead towards global oneness, working tirelessly together to achieve joint goals, underpinned by core values and principles. In reality, the work is carried out by a plethora of UN departments, entities and organisations, which have mushroomed over the years to include numerous committees and commissions, 21 departments and offices, 11 programmes and funds, 6 research institutions, 15 specialised agencies and a handful of other entities and related organisations. In reality, dare I suggest that the UN system could be the largest and most dysfunctional family in the world? Shhhh...did I say that out loud? (No, you must have imagined it...time for some R&R).

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for humanitarian agencies and their like working together, sharing resources and expertise to achieve common goals. It makes pragmatic sense. However, having spent a brief period seconded into UN agencies in two UN Country Teams that recently wandered down the DaO yellow brick road, I offer up a couple of reflections into the humanitarian ether.

My first reflection concerns the UNDAF (UN Development Assistance Framework), a strategic programme document between a UN Country Team and a national government that guides collective actions of the United Nations in pursuit of national development priorities. I observed a stage in the UNDAF drafting process, which was very illuminating. Judging by the speed of progress through the various stages of consultation, drafting, re-drafting and validation I estimate that it could take up to two years to actually complete a UNDAF document, which is nearly half of the period of time an actual UNDAF strategy covers. I wonder if the UN has hired any consultants to study the impact of the UNDAF drafting process itself has on delivering ongoing development programmes?  

Talking of external consultants, the UNCT concerned, employed one to write the country situational analysis offshore, with one or two actual visits thrown in to finish off. Now, I don't mean to be funny (oh but I do cries my alter ego, because that is the sole purpose of this blog...) but wouldn't you have thought it more expedient and practical to have in country personnel to draft the SitAn, especially staff who have been there for a while and have picked up knowledge about the socio, political and economic situation, who have built up good working relationships with fellow agencies and Government Counterparts? Not surprisingly the SitAn had to be re-drafted by a small editorial committee drawn from, yes you guessed it, in country UN personnel.

Part of the UNDAF document describes the UN System's comparative advantage in delivering development outcomes. Now, you'd think that if the UN had been present in a country for about 20 years or so, it would be able to articulate its comparative advantage fairly easily but not necessarily. This was an especially painful part of the process not dissimilar from extracting haemoglobin out of a hard piece of the earth's surface. Do I hear the distant, shrill vibrations of alarm bells? I pose the question if the UN cannot articulate its comparative advantage clearly, succinctly and expediently in a given situation, then why is it there? Might it have outstayed its welcome I gingerly suggested as diplomatically as I could manage, in one of the many in house consultative meetings? Going on to dig and even deeper hole for myself, I alluded to the importance of having an exit strategy and suffered the incredulous glares of one or two international career civil servants, whose gast was completely flabbered.

My second reflection, from DaO in a different country, which shall remain nameless, concerns aid architecture. No, I don't mean designs for transitional shelter or avant-garde plans for constructing a UN House but organisational structures that are supposed to help us get the business of aid done. In this particular country the UNCT had set up at least 16 committees to create an enabling environment for the UNCT to work with National Government Counterparts to implement the UNDAF. It occurred to me that this could even be a greater number than the total of UN entities present in country. Of these 16, 10 were task teams on particular themes. As you can well imagine a number of UN staff and their respective counterparts would be required to participate in more than one task team...and so the meetings add up. In contrast few or, in some cases, no implementing partners e.g. NGOs were invited to the task team meetings and invariably there would be additional meetings laid on to engage with civil society. On top of these, 5 humanitarian cluster groups were formed to be 'on standby' in parallel to the existing Government national disaster coordination mechanism, which was already in place at national, regional and district levels.  How daft one might say, the whole caboodle has the makings of one gigantic clusterf*@?k doesn't it? 

Delivering as one charlie foxtrot could never be easier...

Time to join the UNDAFT instead. 

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