SDG Leadership Labs: Leading Transformative Change in the United Nations
How do we mobilize the world’s political forces to address the Three Divides on a scale and timeframe that can restore our planet and secure wellbeing for everyone? The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer a pathway. But to achieve these goals, the UN has acknowledged that a very different approach to leadership and collaboration will be required, within and across UN agencies.
“The SDG Leadership Lab…was deeply refreshing and inspiring. Like the best kinds of learning experience, it gave me a powerful combination of fresh ideas and tools with opportunities to reflect and deepen my commitment to some ‘knowledge’ that I was already holding.” — SDG Leadership Lab Participant
In 2018, the Presencing Institute worked with the Un Secretary General’s Office through the Development Coordination Office (UN-DCO) to test approaches to developing these new leadership capabilities, working with Country Teams and the new Resident Coordinators to build understanding and skills in the practical applications of systems thinking, innovation, and transformative leadership. The program, ‘SDG Leadership Lab’, was piloted in Cambodia and Uganda. Each pilot was structured around the methods of Theory U and adapted to the particular context and needs of each Country Team.
The Uganda Pilot brought together the leaders of the 20 UN agencies working in Uganda. Over two workshops, and coaching calls in between, the team applied a range of PI tools — the iceberg framework, 3-D mapping and Sensing Journeys — to understand the deeper context for their work and used case clinics and 4-D mapping to identify where the greatest leverage points in the system lay. The Lab resulted in four prototypes that focused on the internal ways of working across agencies, identifying concrete steps to working more powerfully as ‘One UN’.
The Cambodia Pilot brought together 43 leaders from 14 agencies in a series of webinars and workshops. The prototyping experience and sensing journeys resulted in a decision by the team to focus on the critical issue of youth engagement in Cambodia. A key element of the Cambodia process was the Youth-Led Collaborative Venture Lab, which brought together UN leaders with Cambodian youth representatives to surface collaborative and innovative way of working on shared challenges, cross-pollinate ideas and insights about current youth projects underway, generate a roadmap and agreed milestones for the coming twelve months, and create new partnerships across sectors and agencies.
This focus then resulted in five prototypes for youth engagement, including a proposed monitoring and evaluation system for tracking budget allocations for youth, a prize for inclusive social business, and an internship program for young leaders.
An exploration was conducted into envisioning and creating UN Cambodia’s culture by discussing how the shift from current to future culture needs to occur through behaviours and habits, and how breakout innovation could be fostered by seeing with fresh eyes, and applying of the five practices of:
- Sharing power
- Prioritising relationships
- Leveraging diversity
- Legitimising all ways of knowing
- Prototyping early and often
“The Lab helped us to get out of the old sectoral, siloed approaches we have been used to implementing for so long. I believe this leadership journey can certainly guide us to work closely together with new tools to do more adaptive development, which is not so natural, as we are used to doing things in a certain way. We should address the complex problems that our systems have created, instead of solving just symptoms, thus providing more integrated and effective solutions to the challenges of the SDGs.” — SDG Leadership Lab Participant
For further information, we’d like to bring your attention to four blog posts that have been published about SDG Lab initiative.
- Five ways to transform development, by RC Cambodia and ARR UNDP
We also cannot do it alone. Across our institutions we must work together. Too many barriers exist across UN agencies and between development partners.
- Designing our future by and with youth, by UN Volunteer
This journey we’ve embarked on has included youth from the beginning stages of the process of creating and shaping its initiatives, rather than simply designing programs for them.
- My Journey in the SDG Leadership Lab, by FAO
This collective leadership journey is a reminder that we must be mindful that no single agency has the capacity to address any key problem of the 2030 Agenda.
- Moving beyond the silos for sustainable development in Cambodia, by UN Women
I will be taking forward an idea with a combination of people that have not previously or typically worked together.