POLITICS


UN official: Azerbaijan has tremendous experience and many lessons in global cooperation to share with the rest of the world

Baku, March 28, AZERTAC

Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Assistant Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS Mirjana Spoljaric Egger has been interviewed by AZERTAC.

-The 7th Global Baku Forum Azerbaijan hosted earlier this month discussed the topic of the “New Foreign Policy of the World”. How does the UN Development Programme want to see the new foreign policy of the world and what messages does it intend to send to the world from Baku? What is UNDP’s vision of the world?

- We live in the era where global challenges are oftentimes met with isolationism and scepticism, where multilateralism –with the United Nations and its institutions at the core of it –is threatened by a rising tide of nationalism and deepening divisions. In fact, the global structures like the UN and its agencies were established more than seventy years ago in response to an increasing need for post-war reconstruction, peace, stability and international cooperation. Ever since then the United Nations has built a proven track record of saving lives, generating economic and social progress, promoting participatory involvement of people in decisions that matter most, improving public services and preventing war. Despite these paramount milestones, multilateralism today is under immense stress as trust is declining within and among nations, people are losing faith in political institutions and seem less able to cooperate, even as complex global challenges are on the rise. These trends and attitudes have largely impacted the current state of world affairs.

Now is actually a time to increase global cooperation. Issues such as migration, increasing disparities and climate change require that. Tackling these global threats unilaterally or even bilaterally is no longer sustainable. Multinational cooperation, including increased regional cooperation, is vital for development.

Why Baku and why now? Because development isn’t north-south. There is now a constellation of different actors, including upper-middle income countries like Azerbaijan that have tremendous experience and many lessons to share with the rest of the world. The question is how we can deepen transnational ties to make sure countries support one another on the challenges they share: diversification, leaving no one behind, energy efficiency, empowering vulnerable groups of population to partake in decision making and have equal access to resources. These are also central ideas of the new Global Agenda for Sustainable Development, which I specifically want to mention here as the global blueprint for countries to build their national development plans and draw strategies for effective foreign policy alike.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed by world leaders in New York in 2015, has set out an ambitious vision for people, planet and prosperity.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) came into effect in January 2016. They aim to address the key development challenges of our time, from poverty and inequalities to hunger and disease to violence and conflict to climate change and disaster risks.

The 2030 Agenda is a universal agenda. It aims to transform the way we live, work, and do business, so that we can build sustainable, inclusive, and peaceful societies. In brief: it aims to leave no one behind.

Over the past years, we have seen SDG implementation take off in every development setting. Countries are aligning their national development plans and government programmes with the SDG targets. They are identifying innovative ways of financing SDG achievement.

This is the first time in history that all countries are guided by one common development agenda. This is a unique opportunity to put the whole world on a more prosperous and sustainable development path.

As the lead UN development agency, UNDP is uniquely placed to help implement the SDGs worldwide. This is our vision – to help create unique opportunities to ensure that SDGs are achieved for everyone, everywhere.

-The development of Information and Communication Technologies is one of the priorities of Azerbaijan’s economic policy. Azerbaijan joined the club of spacefaring nations 6 years ago. What is the UNDP’s assessment of Azerbaijan’s capacities in the field of cyber security?

- UNDP places innovation at the forefront of its global and country-level development agenda to enable policies that are designed to extend the benefits of communications technologies to every woman, man, and child in the world. ICT innovations can be crucial in ensuring social and economic growth and timely access of every individual to information and knowledge.

Azerbaijan has made tremendous investments in its ICT portfolio and in fostering broader electronic government transformations – be it through the investment in ASAN or in more bottom up approaches, such as the Cleantech Ideation Bootcamp at the end of last year that sought to motivate young entrepreneurs to use technology to address climate change, which was co-organized by UNDP and the Social Innovation Lab, in partnership with academia and one of the largest multinational consultancy firms in Azerbaijan.

Over the past eighteen years, in partnership with the Government, UNDP Azerbaijan has developed one of the largest e-governance programmes in the region, with projects worth over $50m spanning more than a decade.

UNDP and the Ministry of Communications, Transport and High Technology are currently implementing a joint project to modernize and improve the sustainability of the ICT systems and infrastructure in Azerbaijan. This joint effort seeks to extend the benefits and reach of the information and communications technologies to the most remote parts of the country and improve information security for telecommunications operators, businesses and IT companies.

The key milestone of the project was the establishment of the country’s first Data Centre - a data storage facility for state and private entities. Azerbaijan thus became the fourth ex-Soviet country with a Data Centre after Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Also, the Regional Internet Governance Forum that took place a couple days ago when I was visiting Azerbaijan as part of my official mission to South Caucasus, was UNDP’s joint collaboration with the Government. Held annually it has become a unique platform for many key players in this field to come together and share, learn, and innovate for development and help create new more inclusive governance platforms that are more accessible to all.

Today, ICT and specifically Internet for all means access to information and educational resources, health care, timely public service delivery as well as improved food production and distribution. Internet can do a lot more for development than we might actually realize. It can create jobs, for example, providing a pool of experts in coding, robotics and in the broader spectrums of programming. Information and communications technologies have a great potential to also strengthen the good governance agenda offering online dialogue platforms for improved citizen engagement, fighting hate speech and protecting digital identities. Internet and technological innovations play a crucial role in strengthening government services, increasing the efficiency and transparency in the public sector.

- Azerbaijan pays special attention to the development of small and medium-sized entrepreneurship, including women’s entrepreneurship. In partnership with the Government of Azerbaijan, the UNDP has been establishing Women’s Resource Centres with support from Switzerland and Austria. As Head of UNDP regional bureau in Eurasia, what do you think about the prospects of this project?

- Ensuring that women are integral part of development processes and are included at all levels of decision-making is a key prerogative for the success of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Development. Integrating gender equality in all spheres of life is a matter of fundamental human rights, but also an important indicator of economic growth. The economy gets stuck at a particular ceiling if 50% of the population which constitute women doesn’t participate. We at UNDP think that investing in women is not just the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do, from an economic and financial standpoint.

In Azerbaijan, as in many parts of the world, the disparities in economic opportunities for women and men are rooted in patriarchal norms and traditional gender roles. Confidence, capital and connections, easily available to men, often elude most women.

In such a context, giving women spaces to meet, network, exchange ideas, forge partnerships, attract capital, gain confidence and grow professionally can have a transformative impact.

The Women’s Resource Centres, UNDP’ flagship platforms operating in eight regions of Azerbaijan have done precisely this, equipping women in rural areas with tools and resources to help them launch their own businesses.

Since the launch of the Women’s Resource Centres in 2011, more than 6,000 women have been provided with free capacity-building and professional development training in a range of hard and soft skills as well as benefitted from broader community engagement, networking and business start-up support. The capacity-building training courses have tackled a wide range of competencies, including accounting and financial literacy, computer science, fundraising methods, women’s human and economic rights, resumé writing, presentation skills and networking techniques. These initiatives have directly helped almost 150 women launch their own businesses with in-kind grant support.

The Women’s Resource Centres have created an ecosystem for women to learn from and support one another in their quest for personal fulfilment and economic opportunity. The Centres have not only supported women entrepreneurs in setting up their own businesses but helped them gain confidence and equality in the family and grow in stature to become role models in the community. Their experiences offer important lessons to governments, multilateral and donor organizations, the private sector, civil society and other actors working to advance gender equality as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.

I was very pleased to be in Azerbaijan for the opening of the latest (8th) Women Resource Centre –this time in the Baku Khazar district. This year, additional 400 women will benefit from this new joint initiative by the Government, UNDP and UN Women, funded by the Swiss and Austrian governments. This is a crucial initiative that has had a transformative impact on people’s lives.

- You recently announced opening 60 accelerator labs around the world to achieve development goals faster than usual. Can you elaborate more specifically on how you see innovation and the accelerator labs in particular helping to draw solutions for development challenges?

- UNDP is evolving from a development organization to a global network. Why are we doing it? Because we want to re-imagine development for the 21st century. Our current approaches are not making enough progress against the 21st century challenges. The outside world is moving faster than our organizations are adapting. Effectively addressing these problems doesn’t just require new solutions. It requires radical new ways of identifying solutions and speeding up how quickly we learn about which ones work, which ones can grow, and which ones don’t.

The UNDP Accelerator Labs are being established in order to re-imagine ways of making 21st century development happen — not just in silos or small corners of the development sector — but at a scale we have never seen before, by tapping into the relationships, resources, and expertise of a global leader in development.

The Accelerator Lab approach builds on the latest thinking from the fields of complexity science, lead user innovation and collective intelligence to accelerate development impact. It is UNDP’s investment in better tackling most critical and challenging risk, such as inequality, unemployment, or technological change. It’s a new way to accelerate impact by providing the capability to learn about what works and what doesn’t in an uncertain policy space in weeks or months rather than years. The idea is to transform our collective approach by introducing new protocols, backed by evidence and practice, that will accelerate the testing and dissemination of solutions within and across countries. This will enable the global community to learn collectively from local knowledge and ingenuity at the pace and at a scale that our societies and planet require.

I am pleased that the Country Office of UNDP in Azerbaijan is among 60 country offices around the world and one of 6 country offices of UNDP in the CIS and Europe region to become an Accelerator Lab in this rapidly expanding network, creating excellent job opportunities for local people with outstanding skills and talent to contribute to a new, better future.

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