UNSDG | ‘Hacking Away at the Silos’ | #computerhacking | #hacking

As resident coordinator in Guinea, it is part of my mission to promote greater cooperation among the United Nations personnel operating in the country. I was excited when headquarters suggested a Leadership Lab focused on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with senior members of the 18 UN agencies, funds and programs working in Guinea. 

Given the multidimensional characteristics of the problems of the 21st century, the UN has decided that business as usual is no longer an option. But then what? Especially at the country level, but also globally, we need to figure out how to become more agile and flexible while concentrating on the needs of the most vulnerable people. For reasons that are historical, and perhaps obvious, specialized UN agencies emerged over time to address different challenges. But it is now clear that we need to work together, and together better, to tackle complex global issues.  

The lab was facilitated by experts from the US-based Presencing Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They helped us look at ways to foster systems thinking and collaborative leadership. We agreed to highlight four main areas for future collaboration:  

Community engagement for SDG localization; UN Strategic support in a time of transition; One Health, an already existing drive to coordinate efforts with a focus on the interrelationships among humans, animals, and the environment; gender-based violence (GBV); and Communication. 

Caption: Participants in the Hackathon event test out new tools while designing prototypes for mobile apps.

Photo: © UN Guinea

Guinea has some of the world`s highest rates of GBV. It also has a youthful population. So, we decided to jumpstart our use of this new methodology by working with young people on that issue. Under the coordination of the UN Guinea Interagency Group on Communication with leadership from two UN agencies (the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner and the UN Population Fund), we decided to invite young Guinean activists and programmers to create potential applications. 

The organization of the event reflected our parallel efforts to collaborate more closely with communities, beneficiaries and other actors on the ground. 

Caption: UN Resident Coordinator in Guinea, Vincent Martin, with SDG Leadership Lab participants.

Photo: © UN Guinea

We worked with government ministries (the Postal, Telecommunications and Digital Economy Ministry and the Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Children and Vulnerable People), Tulip Industries (a Guinean high technology firm), and civil society organizations such as the Diaka Camara Foundation, which organizes media campaigns to raise awareness on GBV issues. The government’s Department of Technologies and Digital Economy provided office space, equipment, and support. Tulip Industries also hosted groups, and employees offered supervision and technical support. 

The hackathon involved over 50 young Guineans, mostly university students between the ages of 22-30. They were divided into five groups for four days of intensive work, producing prototypes for applications. Judges chose three for special recognition, two designed to help individuals confront GBV and one to address the needs of People with Disabilities (PWD). “It was an opportunity to work under pressure, developing an application,” said Mohamed Lamina Camara, a participant. 

Caption: Participants celebrate the end of the Hackathon after four days of intensive work developing their ideas for apps.

Photo: © UN Guinea

The UN awarded each member of the winning groups with computers and mobile phones to help them continue what they started during the hackathon. Subsequent meetings have led to greater collaboration not only within the groups but among them.  

As the first concrete initiative to emerge from the SDG Leadership Lab, the hackathon allowed us to try out our new tools. We applied the notion of “sensing,” a term used by workshop leaders to mean the shifting of the place of perception from the interior to the exterior of one’s (physical) organization to access less visible elements in a system. By sensing and reconnecting with what they called our “source of motivation,” when a small group of changemakers commit to a shared purpose, we could work more closely together and cement our new ideas in practice. 

Guinea was one of 14 counties where UN officials came together for SDG labs last year. The program continues apace. We hope that colleagues elsewhere will reap benefits similar to the ones we are enjoying here. 

This blog was written by Vincent Martin, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Guinea. Editorial support provided by the UN Development Coordination Office.  

For more about the UN’s work in Guinea, please visit: guinea.un.org. To learn more about the results of our work  in this area and beyond, please read the  latest UNSDG Chair Report on DCO.

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