UNICEF and UNDP in Montenegro: Putting innovation in the center

What does the future hold for Montenegro, with its trajectory from being influenced by conflict and sanctions in the 90s to becoming an upper middle income country on a rapid paced EU integration process in 2014? Undoubtedly, social cohesion and economic development in 21st century Montenegro will be increasingly dependent on innovation.

UNDP and UNICEF in Montenegro have jointly committed to harness the spirit of innovation to support government and civil society in driving through reforms for development and human rights. But “the spirit of innovation” cannot be developed through a matrix or an online UN learning programme. Rather it requires a shift in mindset, and indeed values and modelling leadership that embraces what global innovation experts identify as the key pre-requisites for innovation: collaboration across sectors and change in organizational cultures, empowering staff and rewarding proactive approach, open sourcing, curiosity and creativity, grit and willingness and ability to fail and be wrong. It also requires a shift from a culture of carefully planned risk-averse projects to agile and adaptable trial and error interventions and learning while doing.

UNDP Montenegro has started following the logic of social innovation approach: scan what is out there, start with a few cheap prototypes, see what is working and scale up as quickly as you can.

The conscious decision to embark on the path of innovation led to tangible results. For instance, we are now creating a new hybrid system of governance where citizen reporters, equipped with mobile apps, scan the country for instances of informal economy, feeding competent authorities with real time data. The force of civic activism amounted to over 1400 reports and over 440.000 EUR of generated public income, half of which was allocated to community projects identified by the citizens themselves.

In UNICEF Montenegro, behavioural insights have been used to develop alternative ways of recruiting foster parents as part of an effort to eradicate the devastating practice of placing young children in institutional care. New technologies and innovative partnerships between actors, the drama school and educationalists to provide audiobook format textbooks for children with visual impairment – replacing the prohibitively expensive braille books and enabling children to learn within their own communities and not to be ghettoized in special schools.

Montenegro. UNICEF with partners and volunteers. Photo credit: UNICEF Montenegro
Innovative work for children with disabilities – first audio textbook was produced in Montenegro. UNICEF with partners and volunteers. Photo credit: UNICEF Montenegro

Bringing together these experiences Montenegro hosted the first ever global UNDP meeting on innovation resulting in the Budva Declaration setting out key principles on innovation for the organization globally. Creative design and participation of top-notch innovators (Nesta, Edgeryders, UK Government Nudge Unit, Mind Lab, Future GovUK, UNICEF to name just few) attracted more than 60 colleagues from 29 countries and 16 country offices.

Yet we agreed this is only the beginning, so in April UNICEF and UNDP, along with colleagues from UNHCR and in collaboration with leading global innovations foundation NESTA UK, we organized a joint retreat to map out a strategy and framework for mainstreaming innovation principles in all aspects of the work of our offices.

Rastislav Vrbensky and Benjamin Perks. Credit: UNDP 2014
Rastislav Vrbensky and Benjamin Perks. Credit: UNDP 2014

After two days of running through human rights and development gaps and possible solutions through the lens of the toolkit, a common language was developed on innovation and will serve as a departure point to further mainstream a culture of innovation throughout the UNICEF and UNDP offices in Montenegro.

Promoting motivation and creativity is a key component of both our efforts to deliver results in Montenegro, but also for the future ability of our organisations and new generations of our staff to harness innovation for global development and human rights fulfillment.

Written by:

Benjamin Perks, UNICEF Representative, Montenegro
Rastislav Vrbensky, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative to Montenegro

This is a snapshot of Ben and Rastislav’s story on the UNDP website, you can read more about the cooperation and the pilots in the full article here



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Innovative work for children with disabilities – First audio textbook produced in Montenegro

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