19 June 2014

Africa is on the move - Transforming itself - How to put the Intentions into Reality?

Africa is on the move - Transforming itself
Last week I attended the Global Compact events hosted in Addis Ababa, co-organized by UNDP AFIM and other UN agencies, entitled "Africa: Advancing Partnerships and Responsible Business Leadership". It was an interesting event - held for the first time in Africa - bringing over 300 participants together from business, Global Compact networks, UN and government.

One of the key topics was on the role of business in Africa's Economic Transformation which is a hot and complex topic. One of my key observations was that Africa is transforming itself, partnering with various actors from China, Europe, US etc... while multinational companies do play a role it is increasingly clear that it's African policy makers and business people in setting the continents own agenda. 

Inclusive Growth requires Jobs, Inclusive Business and Social Entrepreneurship
The new mantra that economists and development practitioners are reciting to tackle inequality and achieving development goals is "inclusive growth".  As UNDP's Eugene Owusu stated "inclusive growth needs to be job rich, and the private sector has a major role to play".

UNDP AFIM sees inclusive growth (macro) achieved by inclusive markets development (meso) and inclusive businesses (micro). Participants also mentioned social entrepreneurship and responsible investment - next to inclusive business - as key ingredients. "Jobs don't fall from heaven, they need to be created by responsible entrepreneurs" said UN Global Compact's Georg Kell.

Overall there is agreement that business needs to go well beyond philanthropy and CSR, towards making its core business better for societies and the environment. Owusu concluded that "responsible and inclusive business can transform poverty into prosperity for all." 

Transformation is much more than Growth
Africa is expected to be one of the world's fastest growing regions, with 4.8 percent growth in 2014 and over 5 percent in 2015, according to the recent African Economic Outlook 2014. However, while this transformation entails growth it goes well beyond it.

Transformation is much more fundamental and usually more leap-frogging and disruptive as incremental growth. The African Union Vision 2063 is an attempt to visualize how a continent with so much potential could transform itself. The jury is still out and to predict Africa's transformation requires more soul-searching and observing.

Addis Ababa, as Africa's diplomatic capital is an interesting example in this transformation process. People who visited it some year ago, hardly recognize the city with its tall buildings and all present construction sites including a new light rail, ring roads and express way.

How to put the Intentions into Reality?
Most of the discussions were interesting with largely agreeing participants on what is needed (such as we need more and better infrastructure, education, skills, infrastructure, jobs, policies etc...). The WHAT was well articulated but less the HOW.

So this question of the moderator Peter Ndoro (SABC) resonated with me: "How do we turn intentions into practice?". Unfortunately this question came in the closing and I wish it to be a starting question for future meetings. Less wishful thinking but deeper reflections on getting to the core of making it happen.

What role does Attitude play?
A similar 'game-changing" question arose in a special session on education. UNICEF stated rightly that "education is not an expenditure but an investment". And the discussion continued with diagnosis of what is and what is needed.

Then one participant asked: "What role does attitude play?" Attitude of the educators, of the students, of the various people in the system. To me this question is going down the rabbit hole and would lead to real insight. I would add some more questions:
  1. What role does our thinking and awareness play? (as thinking leads to decisions and actions).
  2. What role do attitudes, aspirations, passion and 'inner' side? play (as inner creates the outer)
  3. How to see development more holistically, from personal to societal?
Let's take some young entrepreneurs as an example. Will they do better or worse with a "can-do" attitude? With being open-minded, self-motivated, passionate, pro-active, solution-seeking? (even if all other environmental and support factors would be the same). If so, then how can we empower people and entrepreneurs, how can mind-sets and inner attitudes be shifted? These dimensions do matter and can be developed if taken into account.

Otto Scharmer calls the 'inner' side our blind spot. Unless someone has tried meditation or a a similar practice it is a difficult topic for economists and development practitioners to grasp. But until we learn from the personal development, coaching and psychology fields, I feel we are scratching the surface and could do a much better job with a more holistic 'inside-out' development approach.
"Development is not something that we do for people. Development is what people do for themselves. It must start and end from within. Our job is to facilitate the process."
- IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze, Addis Ababa, May 2014

20 March 2014

Happy "International Day of Happiness" - book recommendation for Robert Muller, former UN leader

Happy International Day of Happiness! The UN General Assembly resolution 66/281 in 2012 proclaimed 20 March the International Day of Happiness recognizing the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world.

I have written in an earlier article why I agree that we urgently need an approach that aims at a higher goal rather materialistic 'wealth' in my blog on "Happiness as a UN goal? The Inside-Out Development Paradigm?". A happiness day can raise awareness with people and policy makers alike to explore more holistic approaches to human development.

"The world needs a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.”
-UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon 

One of the most inspiring books in this regard I have ever read is "Most of All, They Taught Me Happiness" by Robert Muller (here on Amazon). The book is a fascinating life story of an authentic person embodying the spirit and value of the UN. I therefore highly recommend it to anyone who wants to be inspired and learn about the UN's evolution.

Muller fought in WWII and developed a passion to overcome wars by uniting countries beyond borders. He first joined the UN as an intern and rose through the ranks over a 40 year career to become Assistant Secretary-General under three Secretary-General.

He was known by some as "the philosopher of the UN" and his ideas about world government, world peace and spirituality led to the increased representation of spirituality in the UN.  As a visionary leader he was instrumental in the founding of numerous UN agencies and programmes, including UNDP and WFP. Muller received numerous awards and was nominated repeated times for the Peace Nobel Price.

"Are you happy? Decide to be happy! Happiness is a state of mind, a conscious, determined decision or will to embrace with fascination, enthusiasm the entire world and creation. Happiness is total consciousness. Happiness is not external to man, it is a genial force in him, an attribute, an essence of the human person."
-Robert Muller, former UN leader

His legacy lives on in many inspired coworkers and people, and also in the UN University for Peace in Costa Rica whose first Chancellor he became after retirement. Muller furthermore documented over 7000 'idea-dreams' who are disseminated in a daily, inspiring newsletter (sign up here).

03 March 2014

Developing Transformative Leaders: 2014 programme open for registration

Interesting for all UN staff, consultants and Global Compact member companies working with the UN, is this "Transformative Leaders" 2014 Training Programme which I had the honour to co-create and also participate in last year.

I am delighted to invite you to engage in an exciting leadership programme being offered by the UN Transformation Network - a network of innovators and change makers in the UN system who want to transform the UN from within.  Last year, our first programme generated excellent feedback and so, due to its success, we want to build on the momentum and launch more sessions.  The practical skills I gained in communicating, inspiring others and leading in complex situations was especially impressive.  It helped me achieve my learning goals of leading positive change and innovation as well as connect with like-minded colleagues. 

The overall intention of this leadership programme is to build the skills and capacities of UN staff - at all levels - so as to increase personal effectiveness and to evolve the UN system to have greater impact and relevancy.  We hope to catalyze UN innovation and collaboration to enable colleagues to deliver even more powerful results in the field.  This is a transformative inside-out approach to development as we believe that leadership potential exists within everyone, regardless of role.  The time is now to harness our wisdom and creative intelligence because the sustainable solutions we seek reside within each of us. One of the best part of this course is being part of a bright, innovative and motivated group of peers who generated support for doing things differently.

As one participants from UNDP BDP said, "The course introduced us into a new world about transformation and leadership. It's not enough to have the motivation to be a leader or an innovator, you need the knowledge and skills to understand change, see how this plays out within organizational cultures and structures, and manage the processes to guide transformation. The course filled this vacuum." Another colleague from the Ethiopia Country Office said, "It gave me the confidence to speak up and the skill set take positive action."

Please note that there are both in-person and on-line cohorts and all UN agency staff and consultants are welcome to participate.  The NY session starts on April 3rd, the Geneva session starts on March 27th.  I am currently working on creating an in-person course for Addis Ababe in fall 2014, please email me in case your are interested.

For more details on this unique programme, please visit: http://transformative-leaders.org.  Feel free to pass this message onto other colleagues who may be interested. There are limited seats so I encourage you to take action!  Lastly, please consider joining our LinkedIn network group - the link is below.  We now have over 300 members world-wide, consisting of all UN stakeholders, and the conversation keeps growing.

Warm regards
UN Transformation Network (Co-leads: Patrick McNamara, Juergen Nagler, Elizabeth Soltis, Ian Thorpe)
Visit http://transformative-un-leaders.org
Join http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=4469347

PS: Thanks a lot to Patrick McNamara for drafting the brochure and excellent facilitation work, and to Elizabeth Soltis for inspiration and a lot of the text of this article.

17 January 2014

Business Fights Poverty (BFP) Interview

Business Fights Poverty 
Many thanks to Business Fights Poverty (BFP) for this Member of the Week Interview:

BFP: What do you do?

JN: UNDP AFIM is advancing inclusive business and market development in Africa. We bridge partnerships between public and private sectors and develop capacity along target value chains contributing to sustainable development and inclusive growth, especially through job creation and income generation.

For instance, we have undertaken regional Project Facilitation Platforms in East, West and Southern Africa advancing several key agri-food value chains such as sorghum, dairy, onion, mango, ground nuts and soy beans benefitting thousands of farmers and all value chain actors in each project.

Personally I focus on partnership building, communication, innovation and project coordination. AFIM has released several knowledge products including the major report “Realizing Africa’s Wealth – Building Inclusive Businesses for Shared Prosperity”.

BFP: What is the best part about your job?

JN: I love working within the United Nations with people from all nations to advance universal goals. Considering myself a ‘bridge-builder’, it’s a privilege to connect different stakeholder groups, learn from them and facilitate knowledge exchange.

This also allows me to be part of the paradigm shift in development approaches towards greater engagement of the private sector and enlightened business leaders to realize UN goals which links to my own work experiences from the business, NGO and UN worlds.

As UNDP is consulting with people from all over the world about the post-2015 development agenda, I am also very grateful to broaden my own development knowledge and philosophy. For instance, the UN General Assembly clearly recognized the need to go beyond measuring GDP as an indicator for a country’s wealth and calling “happiness” a more holistic approach to development.

BFP: What have been your greatest challenges? 

JN: Scope of demands and financial resource pressures have been the biggest challenges so far. As UNDP has a very broad global human development mandate it attracts very high expectations and demands from the widest set of stakeholders. Moreover, as some countries shifted focus on reviving their own economies UNDP has experienced challenging financial resource limitations.

BFP: How have you overcome these challenges?/  What advice, would you give to others?/ What is the secret of your success?

JN: A shared vision and positive attitude have helped me to overcome challenging times and to grow from self-employed entrepreneur to business manager and from UN intern to UNDP staff. My advice, even if it may sound philosophically, is to follow your heart and succeed in what one loves doing and is passionate about. Then one is able to work and lead not only hard but smart achieving transformative results.

For instance, I honorary also co-facilitate the UN Transformation Network which is a close to 300 members strong group of like-minded UN innovators, change-makers and thought leaders that are interested in advancing collaboration, innovation and transformation within the UN system and its work, hopefully leading to a future-ready UN 2.0.

Personally, I also see the importance of development happening “inside-out”, therefore inner work plays an important role in my life which includes personal development practices such as meditation. In many instances have I positively experienced that a shift in my inner attitude to a problem lead to an outer transformation - from a negative problem to a neutral challenge to a positive lesson learned.

BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?

JN: There are many different ways to work at the cross-roads of business and advancing UN goals. For several years I have been sharing relevant stories and insights on my blog at www.business4good.org.

Companies increasingly shift from philanthropy and CSR to the next level, may it be called inclusive business, creating shared value or whatever the name. Leading firms join the UN Global Compact or the Business Call to Action, so these are good sources of inspiration.

NGOs also play an important role to bridge the ambitions of lead firms with realities on the ground, e.g. by mobilizing and building capacity of youth, women and farmers in rural areas which have been previously been out of reach for most companies.

The UN is a highly competitive place to enter and there is no substitute to the right education and experience. Internships and consultancies provide ways to gain UN experiences and to expose oneself to the organization and its work. There are also national recruitment assessments for some countries and it is key to monitor for suitable positions to apply online, e.g. directly at the relevant UN agency websites or through specific search engines such as unjobslist.org.

BFP: Finally: what do you hope to get out of being part of the BFP community?

JN: I appreciate the platform for sharing knowledge and experiences, not only to fight poverty but to advance shared prosperity and sustainability. Therefore, it’s great to connect with like-minded people, share stories and together bridge the power of business for the greater good.

Source: Business Fights Poverty

UN Global Compact Leaders Summit & Muhammad Yunus

Some months ago I had the privilege to attend the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit 2013 in New York. This major even, happening only every three years brought together 1,200 participants making it the largest UN business meeting.

Chaired by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, chief executives met with leaders from civil society, Government and the United Nations to unveil the Business Engagement Architecture to align and scale up business action in support of sustainable development priorities.
"The Global Compact has helped generate a major shift in corporate mindset in just one decade. Enlightened leaders are making sustainability a core part of business strategy. Today, I ask you to be architects of a better world. What was once a call to the founding members of the United Nations is now a rallying cry to business and civil society leaders everywhere. Help us to respond to the urgency of our global challenges and build a better tomorrow".
- H.E. Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary-General
It has has been the third Summit I have been able to attend and these major events have gone from strength to strength. Recently, the summary report has been published and is worth a read as it outlines the global Corporate Sustainability agenda for years to come. Read the summary report.

A personal highlight was the encounter with Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus. He has been a true inspiration for many years, firstly for pioneering microfinance, followed by his work on the social business concept. His perspective that humans not only interact as economic agents maximizing their own utility but also as social beings seeking happiness is playing an increasingly important role.