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The new UNDP in Afghanistan: A transformative approach to development

“Tempora mutantur”, goes the Latin adage. “Times change, and we also change with them.”

In Afghanistan, things are changing quickly. For the first time in years, there is a genuine sense of hope that peace may be achievable in the near future, and that the country might shed the shackles of conflict that have held back its political and economic development for so long.

UNDP, which has worked in Afghanistan for 50 years, is also changing at a rapid pace, both in order to meet the requirements of the modern world – a world of AI, blockchains, and climate emergency, and also to keep pace with the rapidly evolving development landscape, which is unrecognisable from how it was when UNDP started out in the 1960s.

In line with the vision set out by UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, and in the context of the ambitious targets set out in the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this ‘New UNDP’ is taking an entirely different approach to programming in Afghanistan.

Simply put, the approach is based on two tools: viewing problems through a systems lens and tackling them through a ‘platforms’ approach.

A ‘systems view’ means regarding problems as part of a complex, multifaceted system. Such an approach is necessary, because development problems are complex, and are becoming more so every day. The key point about the SDGs is that you cannot tackle one problem in isolation: problems are interconnected in ways which we cannot immediately see, and do not even fully understand.

For historical reasons, development actors have tended to act as if it is possible to tackle a problem – like poverty, for example – in isolation. But how can you tackle poverty without thinking about governance, or the rule of law, or the role of corruption?

Employing a systems-based approach to development problems can help us to cope better with complexity. A systems approach can look at how, say, gender equality affects poverty reduction, or how climate emergency impacts livelihoods and jobs. Only by taking all these factors into account can we develop effective and sustainable solutions.

We also need to collaborate with partners and stakeholders – the UN, businesses, NGOs, government and communities – if we are to achieve sustainable change. By ‘sustainable’ we mean development that doesn’t borrow from the future (like using up precious environmental resources) to pay for the present. 

A ‘platforms approach’ means moving away from isolated projects (the way development has been done in the past) and integrating actors across the whole of society to effect change.UNDP’s reputation as an impartial actor, along with the global expertise it has built up over many years, means that it is uniquely positioned to help the Afghan Government to convene across ministries and development partners to promote a “whole-of-government” and “whole-of-society” set of responses for transformational change.

This new platform approach is complemented by new and innovative financing approaches to unlock previously untapped capital.This will include testing innovative ‘blending’ finance schemes, and working with the private sector to mobilize commercial finance for sustainable development.

UNDP will also work with the Government to model the economic conditions required to support peace and increase the Government’s capacity to independently raise its own funds to support its own development.

If the changes described above sound ambitious, that is because they are. But Afghanistan, with UNDP’s support, cannot hope to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by aiming low.

Together, we need to imagine the kind of country that we want Afghanistan to be in 10-15 years – a country that is financially self-reliant, and no longer dependent on international aid to balance its budget; a country that is well along the path to sustainable development, which meets the needs of present generations, without compromising the wellbeing of our children and grandchildren.

UNDP realizes the urgency of the challenge, and the huge task ahead of Afghanistan if this ambition is to be realized, and we are rapidly shaping ourselves into the organization that can help to deliver on this promise.

View expressed in this article are of the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Pajhwok’s editorial policy.

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