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

Emergency Services for All

29 Oct 2015

image The 112 operators are answering emergency calls from people with hearing and speech impairments March 2015. Photo: Vladimer Valisvhili/UNDP

Earlier this year, Koka Mumladze, who is deaf from early childhood, watched another driver crash into his parked car on the street. Unable to contact the police using a traditional voice call, and unsure of what to do, he made a video call to a friend and asked for help: “I told him I needed a sign language interpreter on the scene. But he said I didn’t need one – I could use a new service to make an emergency call myself.” Today, sign language interpreters are on hand at the emergency hotline112 to accept video calls and SMS messages from those who cannot hear and speak. Koka’s first experience with the hotline proved successful: a police officer was dispatched and the perpetrator caught before he could get away. “It felt so empowering to be able to call the police myself,” Koka told me. “Today, I feel safe traveling by myself for work, even in rural areas. I can always call 112 and get help.” Koka’s story is one of many I have heard since attending the launch of the new 112 emergency services in March. At the event, which was one of my first experiences as a UNDP intern, I  Read More

How Georgia is Reforming Mental Healthcare

14 Aug 2015

image Psychiatric hospital in Tbilisi. Photo: Melissa Stonehill/UNDP

Visiting a psychiatric clinic is a special experience that can leave a lasting impression. I had such an opportunity in July 2015 when I came to a psychiatric hospital in Tbilisi to meet the doctors and experts taking part in designing a national reform of mental healthcare in Georgia, largely supported by UNDP, the Government of Sweden and civil society organizations. The first thing I noticed was the hospital’s size. The huge concrete building looked left over from the Soviet era, and even after entering seemed more like an administrative center than a hospital housing more than 150 patients. Dr. Eka Chkonia, however, looked young, energetic and eager to turn things around. She told me that the ongoing reforms sought to address numerous problems inherited from the Soviet healthcare system, when those with psychiatric disorders were often hidden from a society and left in the care of huge institutions. “Even in the 90s, we still had old-fashioned psychiatric hospitals focused on chronic patients only, with no room for acute stress cases. We are changing that now. For example, this hospital has a specific ward for acute patients. We also work to integrate mental health services into general hospitals across the country,”  Read More

A Few Points of Advice to Future UN Interns

11 Aug 2015

image Exploring Georgia

Interning at the UNDP office in Georgia was my first experience with the organization beyond what most hopeful future UN interns have: a firm grasp on the use of UN statistics for academic papers and the almost obligatory years in Model United Nations where one learns not so much about the true functioning of the UN, but rather, one million plus ways to extend metaphors to death and to consistently refer to yourself in the third person (Example: Person One - “The resolution is like Swiss cheese… full of holes.” Person Two - “This delegate objects to the respectable delegates claims that this resolution is like Swiss cheese, rather, like a fine cheddar, it will only get better with age.”). Needless to say, walking in the first day and getting handed a packet of project outlines complete with five letter acronyms for everything was a bit overwhelming. And, like with most things, it took a few days to start to get a grasp of the office culture. If any future or aspiring UN interns are reading this blog post here are some words of advice from a current intern: 1. Come in willing to learn. There is no way you can  Read More

On the Path to Open Parliament

30 Jul 2015

image Signing a Declaration on Parliamentary Openness and Memorandum with international and non-governmental organizations. From right to left: Davit Usupashvili, Chairperson of the Georgian Parliament, and Shombi Sharp, Deputy Head of UNDP in Georgia. Photo: Parliament of Georgia

Georgia adopts an ambitious Parliament Openness Action Plan.   It all started in Brussels, back in November 2013, when Julia Keutgen of UNDP told me about the increasing global support to making the world’s parliaments more open and about the recent experience of the Chilean Congress. Julia wondered if Georgia would be interested in joining the Open Parliament initiative and using this huge opportunity to boost democratic reforms through the highest levels of transparency. My reaction was immediately positive. I knew that chances for an openness breakthrough in Georgia were extremely high as our legislative organ, under the leadership of its Chair, Davit Usupashvili, has perhaps never been as open and keen to promote responsiveness and accountability as it is today. When back in Tbilisi, I discussed the idea with my colleague, Sophie Guruli, who leads a UNDP’s project with the Parliament of Georgia. Sophie seemed to be taken away with the idea as much as I was, and together we started pondering about ways to make it happen. Our partnership with the Georgian non-governmental organization – Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), came in useful as they were already involved in the Open Government Partnership with the Georgian  Read More