The countdown to the full implementation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has already begun. Started in 2015, the SDGs are a set of 17 goals which aim to address social and economic development issues around the world by 2030. With only twelve years remaining before full implementation of the SDGs, speculations are on the rise regarding the ability to fully realize all the aspired aims of the SDGs. Many argue that while the SDGs are much improved as compared to the World Health Organization’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), they are still not good enough. Special focus has been directed toward SDG 16, looking into how governments will be able to realize “peace, justice and strong institutions” and fulfill their commitments to building effective, accountable and inclusive organizations. SDG 16 was described as being the most ambitious and yet the most challenging goal of the 17 total SDGs.
The United Nations’ organizations are working hard to incentivize countries around the globe to keep the SDGs in mind and work toward their implementation. Within that context, the United Nations Public Service Forum and Awards Ceremony was held in Marrakech, Morocco from June 21 to June 23, 2018. The Forum was titled: “Transforming Governance for Realizing the Sustainable Development Goals” and was organized jointly by the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the Kingdom of Morocco. Over the duration of the conference, more than 750 international participants discussed good practices, strategies and challenges to achieve the SDGs.
What inspired me the most was that on the June 23, in celebration of the UN Public Service Day, awards were given out to eight programs and initiatives from eight different countries in recognition of their excellence and innovation in realizing the SDGs and fulfilling the principle of leaving no one behind. These awards are basically one significant way of highlighting successful initiatives and pilot projects that lead the way toward the partial realization of SDG 16. I thought it is useful here to share a glimpse of what those winning initiatives are and to try to figure out lessons Egypt can learn from the awardees. The awards were divided into three main categories.
Category One focused on “reaching the poorest and most vulnerable through inclusive services and partnerships” and in that category the two winners were from Indonesia and Austria. In Indonesia, the award was given to the “Initiative for Reducing Malaria” whereby—through collaboration between local government, nonprofits and the private sector—a program was implemented to raise awareness about malaria, educate villagers, and repack malaria medicine in a more-friendly format and thus significantly reduce malaria morbidity rates in twelve piloted villages.
In Austria, the award was bestowed on the “Initiative for Talents Development Among Migrants.” In this program, the city of Trofaicach, together with a private company, established a boarding school for under-age migrants to provide them with skills training, in addition to regular schooling and orientation about Austrian culture, so as to be able to find jobs easily upon graduation and fill a real need in the Austrian market for skilled labor.
Category Two called for “making institutions inclusive and ensuring participation in decision making” and in this category there were three winners from South Korea, Colombia and Spain. In South Korea, the award was given to the “Initiative for Transparent Tax Administration,” where in one South Korean province an online fiscal information system was established that disclosed all budgetary revenues and expenditures to the public in real time. This enabled citizens to check government-based financial operations via the website, resulting in improved efficiency and was the reason the Finance law was changed to require all local governments do the same and disclose their expenditures and revenues on a daily basis.
Meanwhile in Colombia, the award was given to the “Initiative for Building Peace Among Rivals” where, in the city of Manizales, a number of public and private entities cooperated and managed to improve the city’s security situation through implementing an initiative targeting youth in conflict prone districts. Once the youth had been targeted, the project worked to engaging them in dialogue with members of rival gangs and helped them with education and job opportunities.
Finally, in Spain, the award was given to the “Initiative for Citizen Participation” where in Madrid, an online platform was established to receive citizens’ views, proposals and suggestions for the improvement of public services. The aim has reportedly succeeded in making the city more transparent and inclusive for its citizenry.
Category Three of the awards recognized the promotion of, “gender responsive public services to achieve the SDGs” and in that category the winners came from Kenya, Thailand, and Switzerland. In Kenya, the “Initiative for Promoting Gender Responsive Public Service” was awarded because of the country’s success in integrating women and youth issues in the agricultural value chain of 47 counties across Kenya.
In Thailand, the winning initiative was for low cost “Visual Inspection and treatment of Cancer Patients in Remote Areas.” Through collaboration between the Thai Health Ministry and technical experts, a pilot project was implemented that succeeded in controlling and treating cervical cancer at low cost in rural and remote areas where originally services were lacking.
Finally, in Switzerland, there was recognition for the “Initiative for Advancing Gender Equal Pay (SAGE).” This is a nationwide initiative by the Swiss public sector to ensure conformance with gender equal pay that has changed public discourse nationwide about the issue. Despite the high level of development in Switzerland, there has continued to be cases of inequitable pay to women across sectors.
Learnables for Egypt
Rewarding excellence and innovation in public service is in itself an important message. The practice was implemented several years ago in Egypt by Former Minister of Administrative Reform Ahmed Darwish, following the Emirati model of having secret assessors visit public organizations and rate the public organizations’ services. The best organizations studied by Darwish’s assessors used to be feted at the Cairo Opera House in a jovial ceremony. Just this week, it was announced that the excellence awards in public service will be resumed, and a conference was jointly organized by the Egyptian Ministry of Planning, Monitoring and Administrative Reform and the Emirati government. Hopefully, we are witnessing a celebration of excellence in public service once more.
Using the term ‘public service’ is also an important message and reminder to all employees that they are there to serve the public and not to control the populace or antagonize them.
Employing innovative methods to solve problems and provide improved service to citizens were key features in all the winning initiatives at the 2018 United Nations Public Service Awards. Information technology was vital in Madrid and in South Korea through the online platforms used, whether to receive citizens’ feedback in the former or to relay information about expenditures and revenues in the latter. Both initiatives led to reduced corruption and enhanced efficiency. However, innovation is not limited to using new technology. In the case of Colombia, the innovative solution focused on engaging rivals in a dialogue through providing jobs and education as incentives, and thus managed to solve deeply entrenched problems.
Cooperation between government, civil society and the private sector was also a repeated feature in most of the initiatives. The private sector sometimes is more adept in using updated technology—or has different technical solutions—such as in Austria or in Indonesia. Meanwhile, nonprofits and civil society organizations have greater outreach powers and more enhanced communication skills with citizens especially in marginalized communities, such as was the case in the cancer treatment program in Thailand.
Coming up with win-win solutions was also a key feature at the 2018 United Nations Public Service Awards. In Austria, both migrants and the Austrian nation benefited from the initiative, whereby trained migrants managed to find decent jobs and at the same time filled a vacancy in the Austrian job market.
Adopting a true willingness to improve on the quality of life of citizens means to engage them in the decision-making process, provide them with better services, and ensure that equity, transparency and inclusiveness are what matters. These are the attributes which distinguish these eight success stories and provide us with multiple lessons for the Egyptian experience.
Laila El Baradei is professor of public administration in the Department of Public Policy and Administration at the American University in Cairo. On Twitter: @Egyptianwoman.
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