Blog

Youth and Open Government: How to Improve Engagement?

14 Aug 2017

image A group of students taking part in the “Open Parliament - Voice of Youth” competition. Photo: Daro Sulakauri/UNDP

During my recent internship with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), I was thrilled to discover how far Georgia has moved on the path to Open Government and Open Parliament, and how much promise of stronger democracy these initiatives hold for the Georgian citizen. Georgia joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2011, pledging greater governmental commitments towards transparency and accountability, freedom of information and innovative public services. In 2015, the Parliament of Georgia endorsed a Declaration on Parliamentary Openness and Memorandum with international and non-governmental organizations. By signing these documents, Georgia has become the first country in the South Caucasus to subscribe to the Open Parliament principles.  The European Union, UNDP, USAID and the country’s other international partners have been actively supporting these efforts offering advice and technical assistance to the Georgian Government and Parliament, and creating a space for civil society to step in.     Georgia’s progress was acknowledged in 2017 when the country was chosen to chair the OGP for a one-year period starting from fall 2017. However impressive this story may be, I believe the OGP itself has room for improvement and certain issues still manifest in many countries, including Georgia. One such problem is the  Read More

Raising Women’s Voices in the Parliament

19 Jul 2017

image The Parliament of Georgia. Photo: Vladimer Valishvili/UNDP

As I sit in the corner of the conference room, I glance at a number of women of all ages and of different backgrounds patiently listening to a man discussing his findings on women’s representation in politics. All share one goal in mind: To inspire the freedom for women and men to make decisions liberally and without constraint. There is an enduring problem in Georgia’s mentality regarding women’s presence in the world of politics. In a country that flourishes on innovation and change, it is shocking, offensive even, to learn that women still deal with a level of prejudice hidden amongst both Georgian men and women regarding their will to strive in a political world. According to a recent research done in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the findings showcase similar trains of thoughts from its male and female participants as a similar version of the UNDP study in 2013 – regarding public perception of women in politics – demonstrates politics as being a “dirty” and “rough” playing field that is too intense for women to handle. This proves that the mentality of the public has not developed nor changed, and even women do not have enough faith  Read More

Designing a city for people not cars

13 Jul 2017

image Photo: David Khizanishvili/UNDP

When I walk to the office, I think about cities having their own personalities. I see Batumi as male, smart, well-groomed, and laid-back as if the salt and holiday spirit of the Black Sea have sunk into his system. He appreciates the fusion of the jumble in the old city, the scent of magnolia and coffee around the small cafes, and the sparkling new buildings along the boulevard. He enjoys the buzz of tourists heading to the beach and bicycles riding along the sea-side promenade. But when I turn away from the seaside towards the busy streets, I see the other side of this laid-back man. The mood of the city changes, becomes tense and anxious. The streets look grey and are full of cars and eccentric drivers. Batumi has grown dramatically in recent years, from a relatively small city of 18 km2 in 1990 into a 65 km2 urban conglomerate. It is not only a leading sea resort of Georgia, but plays a critical role in the national economy as a sea and land gate for the country. The price to pay for this rapid growth is one of the highest levels of car concentration in Georgia – around 136  Read More

What may happen if there is more garbage than trees?

12 Jul 2017

image Anastasia Kvashilava, 10, winner of a graphic contest for the Sustainable Development Goals in Georgia

Read this story on Medium. “If there is more garbage than trees, it may cause changes that will be very bad for our planet and all of us,” Anastasia says. She is so dead serious about it that a silly little smile adults always have on the ready for children is fading from my face. Anastasia Kvashilava is only 10 but she already thinks about complicated matters like pollution and waste management. A poster she painted pictures sustainable production and consumption and is the winner of a graphic contest announced by UNDP, and our partners from the government and civil society, in spring 2017 to spread the message about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Georgia. Anastasia’s work stands out in a range of professional photos and expertly-designed posters for its unbeatable sincerity. “There’s a little girl sitting on a heap of waste. It means that when we litter, we do not think about environment and our planet but, at least, we should think about the future and our children”, - she says. Now I feel thrilled enough to ask her, with some caution, if she really thinks about her future children. “No, I don’t,” she says. “But I do think  Read More

Biofuelling Sustainable Development in Georgia

17 Mar 2017

image Temur Matiashvili, a pioneer biomass producer in Georgia. Photo: Vladimer Valishvili/UNDP

Read this story on Medium. Travelling to the region of Kakheti in east Georgia always brings winemaking to one’s mind. The region is famous for its vast vineyards and delicious traditional wines. Indeed, I was interested in vineyards when I visited Kakheti in December 2016, but not as a source of wine but rather a highest quality biomass material.       At a small biomass plant in the village of Manavi, I was impressed to see up-close how biofuels were produced. An untidy mass of vine shoots was sent through a briquetting device to be transformed into small neat blocks that can easily substitute to coal and other fossil fuels. This small enterprise belongs to Temur Matiashvili and Giorgi Zurabishvili, the local residents who consider biomass production a promising business opportunity with environmental benefits. Temur Matiashvili told me that replacing traditional firewood with biofuels was vital for saving Georgia’s forests. Most families in rural areas, as well schools and public offices, still rely on firewood for heating and, regrettably, get it from illegal logging. Illegal logging was one of the reasons behind the increased deforestation in Georgia in the last 20 years. Georgia is rich with hazelnut plantations in the west and vineyards in  Read More

User-Centered Design — New Normal for Georgia’s Public Service?

08 Dec 2016

image Public Service Hall. Tbilisi, Georgia

I noticed a new grocery store next to our office recently. The owner invited me in and explained: “we’ve moved from the street nearby, but it’s not just me selling vegetables and fruits, here’s a cheese vendor who joined from the other street corner, and a butcher from the shop next door, and soon we’ll get home-made stuff, all in one place, sort of a mini one-stop-shop, just like our Public Service Hall”. For those who are not familiar with the Georgian Public Service Hall — it is often compared to Disney Land by visiting public service innovators, fascinated by the concept, physical space and technology allowing to change passport in a day’s time or register property while enjoying cup of coffee in a cafe right in the same building, which for ordinary Georgians has become a new normal, something that can be replicated in a street shop round the corner. Georgia Social Good Summit 2016 #ICAN initiative organized by the Administration of the Government of Georgia, UNDP Human Rights Joint initiative and PSDA Service Lab for co-creating solutions for the safe transport for Persons with Disabilities and awareness raising among wider public led me to thinking that the practice of co-designing public services can also become a new normal for Georgians in not very  Read More

Can operations be innovative? At UNDP Georgia – absolutely!

10 Oct 2016

image UNDP Georgia team

We have experimented a lot in Georgia - especially in operations - seeking ways to provide ever faster and simplified services to all our clients, our programme above all. This is how we help UNDP make an even bigger change in people’s lives. So where did it all start? Long before the ATLAS era – UNDP Georgia launched the Payment Automatization System, allowing for fast bank transfers as early as 2000, when most of the field-based COs took up totwice as much time to do so. This innovation was followed by the Automated Payroll Software – our effort to replicate this success in HR services. We unveiled E-registry software in 2002, which has been efficiently automating office document traffic to this day. With the introduction of ATLAS, opportunities for optimization increased even more – now the new automated systems could be linked directly to the ATLAS global network, which further reduced workload and time required for financial operations (e.g. we developed Bank Task software to ensure automated fast transfers to all UNDP Georgia clients). At the early stages of ATLAS introduction, when project staff had no direct access to ATLAS modules, UNDP Georgia created the ATLAS External Access Module to provide  Read More

Women Belong in Kitchen or How to Campaign for Gender Equality

04 Apr 2016

image Georgian students organise a paintball event in Tbilisi to "delete" gender cliches. March 2014. Photo: David Khizanishvili/UNDP

Back in 2014, a UNDP-driven campaign Change Your Mind shook Georgian society with a heated debate about deep-rooted gender clichés. One morning, people in Georgian cities woke up to discover that main streets and public places were marked with hundreds of stencils which articulated most common gender stereotypes, such as: “Women belong in kitchen,” “Get married and rely on your husband to take care of you,” “A woman can’t make a good leader,” or “Politics is not for women.” In the absence of ready-made explanations about who was behind this and whether the architects of this public display actually agreed with the statements, people had to figure it out themselves and decide what they really thought of gender equality. As a result, the campaign initiated a national debate about gender roles. In 2016, UNDP once again has come to the forefront of a public discussion about gender equality. A campaign #MyRustaveli targets youth and seeks to connect a forward-thinking philosophy of Georgia’s iconic poet of the 12th century, Shota Rustaveli, with the realities of 21st century Georgia struggling to merge democratic transformation with traditional values. #MyRustaveli is still ongoing and it is too early to speak of the results. However, growing public  Read More

Revisiting the Past, Listening to the Future

30 Mar 2016

image Niels Scott, Head of UNDP in Georgia, announces the contest My Rustaveli. Photo: David Khizanishvili/UNDP

This spring, students from all over Georgia will be writing essays on a familiar topic: gender equality, through the eyes of one of the country’s most forward-thinking writers.  What you might not guess is that the writer’s name is Shota Rustaveli, who this year would be celebrating his 850th birthday. UNDP together with the Ministries of Education and Culture are kicking off a campaign #MyRustaveli to empower women in Georgia by encouraging the country to celebrate the philosophies and literary tradition of this famous writer and gem of Georgia’s cultural heritage. A cornerstone of this campaign is a student essay contest that challenges youth to submit their own interpretations of Rustaveli’s writing in exchange for a chance to win fabulous prizes, to be doled out in abundance at an award ceremony in June.  Among the prizes will be an opportunity to work in a short-term paid internship with the Georgian Government and United Nations.   Rustaveli, known by many as “Georgia’s Shakespeare,” is believed by a majority of Georgians to represent the climax of the country’s cultural golden age. In his epic work The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, Rustaveli describes what he sees as some of Georgia’s strongest and most  Read More

Cementing the Grand Experiment: Georgian Civil Service Reform

01 Mar 2016

image Working session in the Innovation Lab of the Public Service Development Bureau of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia. Photo: PSDA

In my home country of the United States, a functional and transparent civil service is something that many take for granted. Many Americans have no idea that, for a great number of countries around the world, efficient and corruption-free civil service is still a far-off goal- something that governments and societies push towards in a daily struggle.  I realized this, perhaps for the first time, at a conference on Civil Service Reform on January 29, 2016 in Tbilisi, Georgia. Looking around at the faces of numerous delegations from around the globe, I was struck by the potency of this issue and its application to the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, including Georgia. Georgia’s journey with civil service reform started with a bang in 2003, with the Rose Revolution and the subsequent sweep to power of a reform-minded government that took dramatic measures to tackle the endemic corruption that had taken root in the country- replacing the entire police force, customs office and tax service and drastically reducing the number of government agencies, among other changes. Those that remained in the civil service were thrown into a whirlwind of innovation and experimentation, as the government sought to shake the sector  Read More