Weekly Update: 9 March – On Mission in South Africa

Monday 5 March

We had an all day retreat with DGG advisors ands spent quite a bit of the time discussing the links between DG and sustainable human development. We did not close the discussion which is still ongoing. It was also agreed to hold all day advisors meetings every quarter.

Wednesday 7 March

Spent most of the day traveling. Arrived in Johannesburg around 8am and managed to get to the hotel in Pretoria at 10. Had lunch with UNDP staff to quickly catch up. Met the RR for almost two hours to discuss the e-skills project and its relevance to UNDP within the broader support we are providing to the government in the country. My impression is that the CO is seriously reconsidering its support for the project as it seems quite specialized and seemingly unrelated to other UNDP programmes. It was also hinted at the meeting that support for the project within UNDP is not as strong as before. Talks of mainstreaming  are also taking place. In the meanwile, both UNDAF and CPDs for 2013-2017 are being finalized with the government. Will ICTD be there?

As I see it,  the spin given to e-skills by the Department of Communications is indeed sectoral with  strong emphasis on skills (only) and academic research and support. Consider the emphasis on skills.  I rather have something like a National ICT capacity development programme which overcomes both the “techie” emphasis placed on the “e”  part and at the same time goes beyond skills. Instead, it centers on the national human capabilities that are needed in any country to achieve its own development agendas and targets. No ministry or public institution can afford to ignore such approach. This will made the programme cross-cutting and closely linked to the current national development plan and priorities, as well as ongoing programmes.

But can UNDP trigger such change at this stage in the game? One way to start doing this is to create a high-level policy board for both the project and the e-SI (e-skills institute). Such board can bring together all key players within government (DPSA, Rural development, Home affairs, GITOC, Thusong telecenters, health and education, etc.) that are involved in bring public services, creating jobs and fosteting ICTs in the country. UNDP could facilitate this process as well as help move the high-level discussions from sectoral e-skills to cross-thematic capacity development via ICT diffusion and use. The policy board can also be helpful in establishing a cooperation framework between public institutions to operate  more effectively at the local and provincial level -and piggyback on ongoing GIF efforts.

The same strategy can also work for the running and management of the  e-skills nodes/hubs (5 already deployed, 4 more to come). But in this case the involvement of local and provincial governments will be not only required but necessary -once some sort of central framework has been agreed in principle by the policy board. Some of the hubs are facing daunting challenges, one being the existence of several ICT public access or service centers which communities already use and to which e-skills cannot formally join in seamless fashion.

In addition, e-SI also needs both policy and operational support for its own operations. UNDP ZA is already thinking of creating a PMU within e-SI. My suggestion was to also bring some  solid policy expertise within it to strengthen the approach mentioned above.

I also suggested to UNDP ZA to “connect the dots” inside the house by also making “e-skills” a cross-cutting issue relevant to most it not all UNDP programmes. This is apparently not happening at the moment.

Thursday 8 March

The e-skills workshop started promptly at 9am. Saw many familiar faces from both national government and hub representatives I met before.

This time around e-SI brought in Monterrey’s Technology Institute (Mexico) to run and manage the sessions. I did not know that the MTIs is supporting both e-learning centers and social incubators not only in Mexico but also in the US and other countries (see http://www.itesm.edu/wps/wcm/connect/ITESM/Tecnologico+de+Monterrey/English/Social+Development). They have over 3,000 learning centers (close to 20 in the US for Mexican immigrants) which reach over 300,000 (or 100 persons per center, not very impressive if seen this way and we keep in mind the fixed operational costs required to sustain each center!).   According to the presenter, the only thing that MTI contributes are the e-learning courses. All other stuff (equipment, location, connectivity, etc.) is secured via partnerships with the private sector and others.  HOW is this accomplished is perhaps due to the nature of MTI within the Mexican context.

MTI does have expertise in  curriculum development and instructional design for e-learning courses. The workshop used their methodology throughout. One thing that was really missing was the “customization” of the methodology to the current level of development of the e-skills programme. So for example, many of the questions proposed by MTI did not take into account the specific context of e-SI or the many issues the provincial nodes/hubs are facing at the moment.

Why MTI? A South African delegation visited Monterrey over a year ago and was impressed by the work they do on “e-skills”. MTI is now seen a a close partner for the overall implementation of e-skills in the country.

Friday 9 March

The second day of the workshop focused exclusively on curriculum development, a topic which I did not find that fascinating. While in the sessions,  I received via email a document depicting UNDP’s support to DPSA (Department of Public Service and Administration). The document is here:  SA-DPSA-UNDP-Technical-Support-Repositioning. I was surprised to see here a full section on e-governance and ICTs that, one the one hand ,does not really depict the work UNDP can do in these areas; and on the other, it has no links whatsoever to the e-skills programme. On the latter, DPSA can in the least  benefit from any sort of capacity development efforts to reposition itself and improve public service delivery. We certainly need to connect the dots inside UNDP!

Cheers, Raúl



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