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CASE STUDY 7: UNOSSC + UNDP | 2007 – 2016

Expertise: Innovation, innovators, human development, South-South development, United Nations, policy and policy innovation, South-South cooperation, South-South trade, global trends, strategy, online content, global memes, Internet, mobile phones, information technology, global South, resilience strategies, crisis response. 

Locations: London, UK and New York, U.S.A. 2007 to 2016

Consultant, Editor, Writer: David South

Click here to view images for this case study: CASE STUDY 7: UNOSSC + UNDP | 2007 – 2016 Images

Abstract 

Since the start of 2007, global international development and media consultancy David South Consulting (DSC)/David South International (DSI) has been working with the UNDP-associated United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) (formerly the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation) to raise the profile of South-South cooperation and the global South in global development through its innovators, as well as influencing the switch to an innovation-led approach to how development is delivered at the United Nations and at the country level. Based in London, UK and with a design studio in Reykjavik, Iceland, DSC/DSI did this with two highly influential media: the monthly e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions, and its sister magazine Southern Innovator. 

About

With the global economic crisis unfolding in 2007, we asked “what would inspire people?” What is going on in the global South that would improve human development under these circumstances and make people more resilient?

In 2007, discussing the global South, or solutions from the South, had a far lower profile in international development, the media and with the general public. Being one of the first sources to regularly chronicle the 21st-century world emerging from the crisis, the two publications (e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions and its sister magazine Southern Innovator) were able to open up a space for greater coverage of the global South, while drawing attention to a new generation of development innovators. 

“Great economic and business reporting! Very helpful for us.” Africa RenewalAfrica Section, Strategic Communications Division, United Nations Department of Public Information

“I just went over your June newsletter. It’s very well done and far reaching. Congratulations!” Violette Ruppanner, Director, 3D -> Trade – Human Rights – Equitable Economy, Geneva, Switzerland

“Just to let you know I enjoyed the newsletter a lot – it was interesting to learn about things going on that I would never otherwise find out about, and also the listing of future conferences and events proved very useful.” IanSanderson, Deloitte, Geneva, Switzerland

“Congratulations on another great newsletter that’s packed with fascinating information! I really enjoy getting it each month.” Whitney Harrelson, Making Cents, Washington D.C.

By adopting a strategy to exploit developments in online and digital media (and the space opened up by the global economic crisis), the reach of the e-newsletter and magazine was far greater than would have been possible just a year prior, back in 2006. This proved useful for reaching the growing number of people in the global South who were being digitally connected either through mobile phones or the Internet, or both. 

The e-newsletter was not only distributed every month to subscribers, it was also simultaneously posted online in many platforms to reach as wide an audience as possible. It was kept simple in its design so as to be easy to access by readers with low bandwidth or high data costs. It exploited new online services to reach an as wide as possible audience.

As an example, the arrival of ‘crowd-powered’ media in 2007 allowed for posting of stories to a global audience to test responses and reactions in real time. An experiment from 2008 to 2010 on the innovative Vancouver, Canada-based NowPublic platform proved very effective in developing the right tone for the stories. Many of these stories have been cited in publications and online (please see below for citations).

With 201 Development Challenges, South-South Solutions stories posted on the NowPublic platform, a total of 336,289 views by 2012 had occurred, according to the NowPublic counter. 

Various websites offering publishing and archiving services (Scribd for example) meant it was easy to access the stories from any place, device or platform, bypassing firewalls and censors – a very serious concern in many countries of the global South. And social media such as Twitter made it easy to spread the word to the right people. 

The two publications proved influential on a number of fronts, being early to draw attention to the following: the rising use of mobile phones and information technology in development, the world becoming an urban place, innovative food solutions including the nascent insect food sector (now a big thing), altering perspectives on what is possible in Africa, the use of data science to innovate development, and tracking the growing number of technology hubs and the fast-growing start-up culture in the global South. The publications were cited for shaping the new strategic direction adopted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (the UN’s leading development organisation) and its first youth strategy, and the development of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As the world’s first global innovator magazine, Southern Innovator’s design had to be appropriate for a diverse audience. It has drawn praise for being both “beautiful” and “inspiring”, while its use of sharp, modern graphic design and infographics inspired others in the UN to up their game when it comes to design. 

Today, there are many sources for sharing stories on solutions from the global South; in fact, it could be called ‘cool’. South-South cooperation and innovation have now become the key methodology for the UN’s delivery of its programmes and projects. In 2015, China pledged US $2 billion to “support South-South cooperation” and called for the international community to “deepen South-South and tripartite cooperation”. In development parlance, they have been “Mainstreaming South-South and Triangular Cooperation” in their plans.

The current policy vogue for innovation in developing and developed countries can trace its roots back to some of the early work done by these two publications (and which was further amplified by the annual Global South-South Development Expo, which often would feature innovators from the two publications, spreading the innovation message around the world). Both publications had set out to inspire and “champion a global 21st century innovator culture”. And they have done this, as can be seen from concrete evidence and anecdotal responses from individuals and organizations alike.

Crucial to success has been integrity. As was disclosed in arrests made by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in October 2015, a news service claiming to be associated with the United Nations (South-South News) had not followed either the letter or the spirit of the UN’s Global Compact. It had received substantial funding from a Macau casino owner featured in a 2010 investigation by International Risk Ltd., which found he “is characterized in the media as a ‘Macau Crime Lord’ and a kingpin of the international slave prostitution trade”. To date, a number of his co-conspirators have been found guilty of various charges and sentenced. He was convicted 28 July 2017 on six counts “for his role in a scheme to bribe United Nations ambassadors to obtain support to build a conference center in Macau that would host, among other events, the annual United Nations Global South-South Development Expo“. He used the news service as a “conduit for bribery and money laundering” at the United Nations, according to the FBI, something admitted to by the various co-conspirators in court and under oath. Read more on this case here: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-un-corruption-idUSKCN0XH2DL. And the conviction here: Chairman of a Macau Real Estate Development Company Convicted on All Counts for Role in Scheme to Bribe United Nations Ambassadors to Build a Multi-Billion Dollar Conference Center

The case of South-South News points to the dangers of cutting corners and the importance of approach and methodology; to not just mouth support for the UN Global Compact but to embrace its letter and spirit as well. As can be seen from this particular case, the reputational damage can be severe if the wrong strategy is pursued. Clients need to be very aware of whom they are working with and conduct due diligence for service provider credentials and also investigate the credentials of potential donors and funders. 

Southern Innovator needed to be true to its ethos of championing genuine innovation that improves human development in the global South. It had to be free to pursue its search without interference. 

To avoid censorship and interference, its editorial operations were based in London, UK and its design studio was based in Reykjavik, Iceland (a high-ranking country in the World Press Freedom rankings and a former top place holder in the UNDP Human Development Index). Using a women-led design studio, it developed a design vision that could communicate across borders using clear graphic design and high-quality images. For example, when it launched in 2011, infographics were rare in development publications and at the UN; now they are commonplace. It also tried to be as a ‘green’ as possible. The studio was powered on 100 per cent renewable energy (in particular, geothermal energy); the hard copy of the magazine is printed on paper from renewable forests. 

To date, five issues of Southern Innovator have been published on key themes identified by the United Nations: mobile phones and information technology, youth and entrepreneurship, agribusiness and food security, cities and urbanization and waste and recycling.

All of the issues collate and explain the trends, innovations and innovators for a large, global audience spanning many countries and regions.

Timeline 

2007: David South Consulting begins work on the e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions for the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation at the United Nations.

2008: Reader response experiment begins with crowd-powered news website NowPublic. Initial proposal for the development of book or magazine on innovation. Awarded grant for Cuba study tour by BSHF. 

2009: Adjust e-newsletter content based on reader responses. Begin posting content on Twitter platform.

2010: Begin development of initial concepts for innovator magazine and assemble creative team with Icelandic graphic designer and illustrator Solveig Rolfsdottir and graphic designer Eva Hronn Gudnadottir. 

2011: Attend Global South-South Development Expo in Rome, Italy. Launch first issue of Southern Innovator magazine on mobile phones and information technology. It is called “a terrific tour de force of what is interesting, cutting edge and relevant in the global mobile/ICT space…”. Launch www.southerninnovator.org website and social media including Twitter account @SouthSouth1. 

2012: Attend Global South-South Development Expo in Vienna, Austria. Launch issues 2 (youth and entrepreneurship) and 3 (agribusiness and food security) of Southern Innovator magazine. Called a “Beautiful, inspiring magazine from UNDP on South-South innovation.”

2013: Attend Global South-South Development Expo in Nairobi, Kenya. Launch issue 4 of Southern Innovator magazine (cities and urbanization). Called “fantastic, great content and a beautiful design!” and “Always inspiring.”. 

2014: Attend Global South-South Development Expo in Washington, D.C., U.S.A. Launch issue 5 of Southern Innovator magazine (waste and recycling). The Twitter account @SouthSouth1 called “ one of the best sources out there for news and info on #solutions to #SouthSouth challenges.” Final issues of e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions published.  

Testimonials 

“The e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions proved to be a timely and prescient resource on the fast-changing global South, tracking the rise of an innovator culture driven by the rapid adoption of mobile phones and information technology … 

“In 2010, work began on the development of the world’s first magazine dedicated to the 21st-century innovator culture of the global South. My goal was to create a magazine that would reach across countries and cultures, meet the UN’s standards, and inspire action. Southern Innovator was the result. Mr. [David] South played a vital role in the magazine’s development from its early conception, through its various design prototypes, to its final global launch and distribution.  

“Both the e-newsletter and magazine raised the profile of South-South cooperation and have been cited by readers for inspiring innovators, academics, policy makers and development practitioners in the United Nations and beyond.  

“I highly recommend Mr. [David] South as a thoughtful, insightful, analytical, creative and very amicable person who has the unique ability to not only grasp complex problems but also to formulate a vision and strategy that gets things done. … ”  Cosmas Gitta, Former Assistant Director, Policy and United Nations Affairs at United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) in UNDP 

“I think you [David South] and the designer [Solveig Rolfsdottir] do great work and I enjoy Southern Innovator very much!” Ines Tofalo, Programme Specialist, United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation

Southern Innovator Issue 5 

“@SouthSouth1 is one of the best sources out there for news and info on #solutions to #SouthSouth challenges.” Adam Rogers, Assistant Director, Regional Representative, Europe, United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) 

“Btw, I really enjoyed reading them, impressive work & a great resource. Looking forward to Issue 6. My best wishes to you & your team at SI.” 

“… great magazine, nice design.” 

Southern Innovator Issue 4 

“I liked your latest Southern innovator! Always inspiring.” Joana Breidenbach, betterplace.org, Berlin, Germany 

“The magazine looks fantastic, great content and a beautiful design!” 

Southern Innovator Issue 2 

“Thank you David – Your insight into the issues facing us a[s] [a] “global Village” is made real in the detail of your article – 10 out of 10 from the moladi team.” Moladi, South Africa (http://www.moladi.net/index.htm

Southern Innovator Issue 1 

“What a tremendous magazine your team has produced! It’s a terrific tour de force of what is interesting, cutting edge and relevant in the global mobile/ICT space… Really looking forward to what you produce in issues #2 and #3. This is great, engaging, relevant and topical stuff.” Rose Shuman, Founder & CEO, Open Mind and Question Box 

“Looks great. Congratulations. It’s Brill’s Content for the 21st century!” Conan Tobias, Managing Editor, Canadian Business 

What they are saying about SI on Twitter: From @CapacityPlus Nice job RT @ActevisCGroup: RT @UNDP: Great looking informative @SouthSouth1 mag on South-South Innovation; @UNDP Great looking informative @SouthSouth1 mag on South-South Innovation; @JeannineLemaire Graphically beautiful & informative @UNDP Southern Innovator mag on South-South Innov.  

And on Pinterest:

Peggy Lee • 1 year ago

“Beautiful, inspiring magazine from UNDP on South-South innovation. Heart is pumping adrenaline and admiration just reading it”

Impact 

Micro 

  • developed content for highly influential UN e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions from 2007 to 2014. The monthly briefing is distributed across the UN and to subscribers
  • developed and launched world’s first global innovator magazine for the United Nations, Southern Innovator
  • contacted and networked with innovators around the world to raise the profile of their work
  • attended global events to champion power of 21st century global innovator culture. Visited United Nations agency headquarters around the world to share the innovator message and distribute the publications
  • cited as a key resource on trends in the global South 

Macro

  • significantly raised profile of global South innovators and 21st century global innovator culture
  • cited as contributor to new strategic plans for UNDP and its switch to an innovation and South-South focus

Citations 

Autonomous Systems in the Intelligence Community: Many Possibilities and Challenges by Jenny R. Holzer, PhD, and Franklin L. Moses, PhD, Studies in Intelligence Vol 59, No. 1 (Extracts, March 2015) 

Beyond Gated Communities edited by Samer Bagaeen and Ola Uduku (Routledge: 2015)

Chile in Transition: Prospects and Challenges for Latin America’s Forerunner of Development by Roland Benedikter and Katja Siepmann (Springer: 2015) 

Decoding the Brand DNA: A Design Methodology Applied to Favela Fashion by Magali Olhats, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina Florianopolis, 2012 

Edible Insects and the Future of Food: A Foresight Scenario Exercise on Entomophagy and Global Food Security by Dominic Glover and Alexandra Sexton, Institute of Development Studies, King’s College London, Evidence Report No 149, September 2015 

High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation Seventeenth Session: Framework of operational guidelines on United Nations support to South-South and triangular cooperation: Note by the Secretary-General22-25 May 2012, New York 

Innovation Africa: Emerging Hubs of Excellence edited by Olugbenga Adesida, Geci Karuri-Sebina and João Resende-Santos (Emerald Group Publishing: 2016) 

New Directions in Children’s and Adolescents’ Information Behavior Research edited by Dania Bilal and Jamshid Beheshti (Emerald Group Publishing: 2014) 

Propagating Gender Struggles Through Nollywood: Towards a Transformative Approach by Nita Byack George Iruobe, Geonita Initiative for Women and Child Development, 17 July 2015

Recasting ‘truisms’ of low carbon technology cooperation through innovation systems: insights from the developing world by Alexandra Mallett, Innovation and Development, 5:2, 297-311, DOI: 10.1080/2157930X.2015.1049851, Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2015

A Sociological Approach to Health Determinants by Toni Schofield (Cambridge University Press: 2015)  

Strategic Framework of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation, 2014-2017Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Office for Project Services, 27 to 31 January 2014, New York

Wearing Your Map on Your Sleeve: Practices of Identification in the Creation and Consumption of Philippine Map T-shirts by Pamela Gloria Cajilig, paper presented at the 6th Global Conference (2014): Fashion: Exploring Critical Issues, Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom, 15th to 18th September 2014

Youth Empowered as Catalysts for Sustainable Human Development: UNDP Youth Strategy 2014-2017United Nations Development Programme, Bureau for Development Policy

DSC web address in green_mini (1)

© David South Consulting 2017

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Mongolia Looks to Become Asian IT Leader

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

A Mongolian information technology company founded by a woman has shown a way to thrive in the country’s often-chaotic economic environment. With the global economic crisis moving into its third year, Intec’s strategies to survive and thrive offer lessons for other IT start-ups in the South.

While the global economy’s prospects are still uncertain, on the positive side, many believe the best place to be is in emerging economies like Mongolia, with some foreseeing healthy growth for the next 20 to 30 years. Mongolia’s information technology entrepreneurs are looking to prove this is the case. The country has made great strides in improving e-government – jumping from 82nd place to 53rd in the UN e-government survey 2010 (http://www2.unpan.org/egovkb/global_reports/10report.htm) – and is now aiming to become an Asian software and IT services outsourcing powerhouse.

A Northeast Asian nation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongolia) sandwiched between Russia and fast-growing China, Mongolia grapples with the combination of a large territory, a small population (2,641,216) and limited transport infrastructure connecting it to its neighbours. Historically, it is a nomadic nation with a strong animal herding tradition. But during the Communist period, it industrialized and became more urban. After the collapse of Communism at the beginning of the 1990s, the country experienced a terrible economic and social crisis, with rapidly rising poverty rates and high unemployment.

Despite its infrastructure obstacles, Mongolia has been able to develop a lively information technology sector, often with the assistance of the United Nations. During the late 1990s, as the internet revolution exploded, the UN led on supporting infrastructure, skills development, innovation and legislation.

Information technology consulting and services company Intec (www.itconsulting.mn) , founded in 2004, has been able to thrive through the global economy’s ups and downs by identifying an under-serviced niche as a consulting, research and training company. Intec now has five full-time staff and works with a broad network of Mongolian and international consultants.

As is often the case with new businesses, Intec initially found that many doors were closed to start-up enterprises.

“The major challenges which I faced were to make people understand about the consulting services,” said Intec’s founder, Lkhagvasuren Ariunaa. “The consulting services concept was new to Mongolia and Mongolians at that time and not many organizations were willing to work with consulting services. The international and donor organizations were keen to work with consulting services companies; however, they were requiring companies to have a list of successfully implemented projects, which was difficult for a new starter like Intec.

“For example, registering with the Asian Development Bank consulting services database required companies to be operational for at least three years. So, we got registered with ADB consulting services database only in 2008. Meanwhile, personal connections and communication skills helped to find jobs and opportunities for Intec.”

Ariunaa had worked for the Soros Foundation (http://www.soros.org/) but it closed its offices in Mongolia in 2004. Faced with unemployment, Ariunaa went about seeing what she could do next: a dilemma many people face in today’s economy.

“It took me about eight months to develop a business plan and directions of operation of the company. I started in a big room at the national information technology park building with one table, chair and computer.

“It has been quite challenging years for bringing a company to the market and finding niches for us. We have franchised the Indian Aptech WorldWide Training center (http://www.aptech-worldwide.com) in Mongolia – may be one of the few franchising businesses in Mongolia. Currently that center is now a separate entity/company and it has over 20 plus faculty staff and over 300 students.”

Ariunaa had been active in the sector for over 10 years, but while knowing many of the players and organizations, she spent time researching what niche Intec could fill in the marketplace.

“Looking at the ICT market, there were quite a number of internet service providers, mobile phone operators, a few companies started developing software applications, and services etc. However, there were only two to three consulting companies in the ICT sector which to my knowledge at that time were providing consulting services, and still there was a room for Intec.”

Intec then focused on three areas: consulting services, training and skills, and research. Intec found they were pioneering a new concept in Mongolia.

Intec’s first contract was a job with the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin in the United States to organize a three week course for American students to learn about the digital divide in Mongolia. But the global economic crisis hit Mongolia hard in 2009.

“It was challenging to survive and continue working the same way,” Ariunaa said. “There were few ICT-related jobs in Mongolia at that time, and one of our major clients left Mongolia and we had to find other clients in the market.

“One of the ways of approaching this was that we were not asking for fees, instead we would have a barter agreement – we will deliver them services and they will provide some services for us. For the company itself, we needed to find ways of financing and covering costs for renting of premises, paying salaries for staff on time, paying taxes and other expenses.”

The environment in Mongolia is being helped by the Information and Communications Technology and Post Authority (ICTPA) of Mongolia (http://www.ictpa.gov.mn) , which has been driving forward an e-Mongolia master plan. With 16 objectives, it ambitiously seeks to place Mongolia in the top five of Asian IT nations, competing with South Korea, Singapore, Japan and China.

Ariunaa believes Mongolia has many competitive advantages. “Mongolia is known for a high-literacy rate and math-oriented training and education, and ICT specialists are targeting to become a software outsourcing country for other countries. Another advantage of Mongolians is that they can easily learn other languages: we are fluent in Russian, English, Japanese, Korean, German and we believe that with these two major advantages, we will be able to do a good job with outsourcing of software development.”

While men still dominate the ICT sector in Mongolia, Ariunaa has not found being a woman a disadvantage. “In Mongolia, as gender specialists say, there is a reverse gender situation. Women are educated, well-recognized and well-respected. There were situations, when I was the only women participant in the meeting with about 20 men. But I never felt somewhat discriminated or mis-treated and I think that’s the overall situation towards gender in Mongolia.”

Intec’s success working with Aptech WorldWide Training’s franchising contract brought many advantages for a start-up. “It’s a faster way to do things, and you don’t have to re-invent the wheel.”

As a Mongolian company, Intec has found it best to play to its local strengths. “National companies have knowledge, expertise and experience of local situations, know players and understand about legal, regulatory matters. … partnership or cooperation are one of the means of cooperating with big global players.”

Intec’s success is also down to Ariunaa’s enthusiasm: “It’s fun and I love doing it – just usually do not have enough time!”

Resources

1)  Advice on starting a business and succeeding in tough economic times. Website:http://www.businesslink.gov.uk/bdotg/action/layer?topicId=1073858805

2) Changing Dynamics of Global Computer Software and Services Industry: Implications for Developing Countries: A report from UNCTAD on how computer software can become the most internationally dispersed high-tech industry. Website:http://www.unctad.org/templates/webflyer.asp?docid=1913&intitemid=2529&lang=1

3) Afrinnovator: Is about telling the stories of African start-ups, African innovation, African made technology, African tech entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs. Their mission is to ‘Put Africa on the Map’ by covering these kinds of stories from all over Africa. As their website says, “if we don’t tell our own story, who will tell it for us?” Website:http://afrinnovator.com

4) TechMasai: Pan-African start-up news and reviews. Website: www.techmasai.com

5) Ger Magazine Project: Mongolia’s first online magazine pioneered communicating on the web. Website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ger_magazine

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Launched in 1997 in a major crisis, the UN Mongolia Development Portal (www.un-mongolia.mn) became the country’s largest online bilingual publisher and an award-winning pioneer of web content. It proved Mongolia had the potential to innovate in digital.
Story featured in the UN E-Government Knowledgebase and E-Government Survey in Media.