2014 - Dutch-funded JPO Jean-Baptiste Baribonekeza from Burundi shares with us his experiences in Senegal just after his assignments completion.
Jean-Baptiste worked first in UNDP Regional Centre for West and Central Africa as a Policy Analyst and then in UNDP Senegal Country office as a Programme Analyst for Governance and Human Rights.
Jean-Baptiste joined UNDP from the UN mission in Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI), where he worked as a UNV Human Rights Officer. In 2007-2008, he was an intern at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva. He thereafter also interned for the Office of the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court (ICC).
What was your motivation in becoming a JPO?
I applied to the JPO Programme because I wanted to continue putting my knowledge and experience to the service of development through the promotion of democratic governance and human rights. I had worked with JPOs before, had read many JPO stories on the JPO Service Centre website and I was impressed by the way this bunch of young professionals were making a difference around the world. I was also motivated by UNDP’s vision for development – human and sustainable; which is epitomized by the organization’s stated focus on the poor, marginalized and vulnerable groups.
So I felt excited about becoming part of this great community, advocating for change and supporting countries and communities to achieve their development goals. I was then a UN Volunteer focusing on the promotion and protection of human rights, so I viewed the JPO assignment as a continuation of my work towards the advancement of human rights for all.
What are your activities as a Policy Analyst?
I started my JPO assignment in June 2011 as a Policy Analyst for Governance and Political economy in the Governance Team of the UNDP Regional Centre for West and Central Africa. There I supported the work of the organization in the sub-region notably through the development of country profiles, outlining the country’s main institutional and governance features for perusal by our Governance Advisors in framing our targeted support to programme countries.
I contributed to the ongoing dialogue on the introduction of political economy analysis, now dubbed Institutional and Context Analysis in UNDP programming, a project that seeks to develop tools for the analysis of ‘power relations’, their interaction with development and how to navigate the ‘enabling environment’ in designing and implementing our development interventions. I supported the organization of high-level policy dialogue and capacity building activities on a variety of governance themes, including anti-corruption, governance assessments, access to justice and the rule of law. I also supported the ECOWAS Court of Justice in the context of its newly acquired human rights mandate.
My specific contributions ranged from drafting concept notes, providing substantive inputs to various reports, policy documents and capacity building tools; providing backstopping to the organization of capacity development events, including technical and logistical support, as well as communication materials and report writing. I also contributed to the unit’s reporting and communication with HQ, donors and other stakeholders.
From a regional perspective to a country focus
I was reassigned to the country office in June 2013. When I joined the office, I provided support to programme management and delivery; supported several governance-related activities; contributed to policy dialogue and programming processes, shared knowledge and lessons learned, and contributed to effective reporting and communication with stakeholders. I contributed to kick-starting and monitoring the Governance for the Attainment of the MDGs Programme – by far the UNDP’s flagship governance programme for Senegal. I contributed to aligning our programme portfolio to the new UNDP Strategic Plan for 2014-2017. I also contributed to ensuring that the UN acts and delivers in a coordinated manner through the work of the Governance Thematic Group, one of the UN Country Team’s coordination and joint programming mechanisms.
Fostering democratization through decentralization
One of the assignments I undertook was the completion of a water project in Louga, that was part of the ART GOLD Programme. The project aims at leveraging decentralized cooperation in support to local economic development and governance and access to basic social services, with a focus on water resource development and management. The project, which was funded through the decentralized cooperation modality, promotes the involvement of all stakeholders, from the Ministry of Local Authorities to the Ministry of Water Management, to donors, to local authorities, decentralized services, grassroots organizations and the concerned communities. The project is a clear example of how UNDP’s support to decentralization promotes democracy and participation. At the same time, the project exemplifies how effective coordination and division of labour among various stakeholders is key to the success of development initiatives.
My working day? Every day is different
There is no typical day in this job. Every day comes with its own beauty, and its lots of chances, issues, successes and failures, challenges and opportunities. I might be in the office busy drafting a concept note for an upcoming activity, and I would receive a call from my government counterpart seeking to follow-up on a request for financial authorization that was sent a few days earlier in the context of a UNDP supported project under national implementation.
I would then contact our finance unit for an update and share with the concerned government department, before I could rush to a meeting with partners out of the office. Likewise, I might start the day sitting on a recruitment panel for project staff, going back to the office to receive a partner for discussion on a new project, and finish my day working on a presentation for another capacity building activity scheduled for the following week or preparing a mission report for a field visit that I just completed.
Sometimes I would stay a bit longer in the office in order to finish up some work. Some other times I would receive an urgent invitation to attend an important meeting and I would have to squeeze this amidst the more regular office work. UNDP is a multitasking and fast-paced environment. One must be prepared to work longer hours when necessary, respond quickly to requests and remain flexible to changes in the agenda.
What is most challenging?
The most challenging aspect of my work was introducing new ideas and new ways of doing things in a context of no major decision-making authority. Questioning ‘conventional wisdom’ is no easy endeavor. Sometimes policy and programme analysis is about looking into what works better and what does not and trying to spearhead innovation, taking into account new trends and emerging issues.
As a Policy Analyst one must be at the cutting-edge of thinking, research and analysis, yet the environment might not be so ripe for change. Technical competence is not enough in order to overcome the challenge. Persistence, sustained advocacy, awareness-raising, consensus and healthy alliance-building, persuasion rather than coercion, are of utmost importance.
What is most fulfilling?
Zooming from a regional perspective to a country focus, and from policy analysis to programme management provided me with the cadre and means to delve further into, and address, development issues at country level. I particularly enjoyed working with colleagues, partners and national counterparts on a range of real-life governance and development issues from support to economic governance reforms and anti-corruption, to the consolidation of democratic governance notably through support to electoral processes and civil society; to the improvement of the quality of public service, to social inclusion, decentralization and local governance.
Overall, working as a JPO with UNDP was an elevating experience at both professional and personal levels. I was able to make a meaningful contribution to the work of UNDP in furthering democratic governance and development. On the run, I learnt a lot on the techniques for policy analysis and the intricacies of programme management, as well as on managing relations and expectations. All in a multicultural environment and its inherent, constant reminder that, despite our immeasurable diversity, we, the peoples of the United Nations, share a common bond – humanity.
What advice would you give to a future JPO?
To serving and future JPOs, I would give the following advice: 1. Try to understand your surroundings, but keep your independent judgment. 2. Work hard, keep focused, but find time to network, socialize and make friends. 3. Use your DTTA, the Mentoring Programme, and all other available learning resources for your professional growth. 4. Take your home leave in order to go back to your roots, renew your ties and reenergize yourself. 5. Do not try to solve the problems you see all at once; development is a process; it might prove more strategic and realistic to adopt an incremental approach.
In all, work well, stay enthusiastic at all times, learn along the process, tell your story, and enjoy the ride!