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

With a little help from Innovative Service Lab

22 Jul 2015

image Creating creative solutions to revive the National Science Library of Georgia. Photo: Melissa Stonehill/UNDP

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old,”- that’s how Peter Drucker, acclaimed philosopher on business and management summed up both the solution and barrier to innovative thinking.  I know as much as anybody that getting rid of comfortable routines is a hard task. Luckily if you are a Georgian government entity in need of revamping your public services the Innovative Service Lab is here to help get you out of those ruts.  One ongoing project is the revitalization of the National Scientific Library of Georgia, currently housed in Georgia’s first building constructed primarily as a library in 1970.  At first glance the space has the feel of a typical soviet-era environment. The library has the largest foreign collection of scientific literature and had been a meeting point of scholars, students and science-minded people in general. But with poor infrastructure and outdated interiors, the library has room for improvement before it can become a truly modern space.  The concept of the library is changing worldwide driven not only by library management, but ordinary people, who would want to see it transformed into a hub for information sharing, collaboration and team work. It is in this spirit that  Read More

Filming Around Georgia

21 Jul 2015

image A new kindergarten under construction in Tsilkani, the settlement for the displaced. Photo: Salvatore Costa/UNDP

An eye opening experience into how UNDP touches the lives of Georgians for the better.   On my forth day in Georgia, when I was not yet over my last dregs of jet lag from my international flight, I found myself in a settlement for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) only a short drive outside of Tbilisi. I was working with the UNDP’s communications office to create a film about local governance in the regions of Georgia. It was an eye opening experience. After my first few days in Georgia, when friends back home in Colorado asked me about my new summer home, my descriptions were somewhat uninspired. One European city is much like the others: you can travel by public transit quickly and cheaply, you can go get a meal at McDonald’s, even in summer people are wearing a lot more black than Americans tend to wear, there never seems to be enough parking, and you can go shopping at international fast fashion stores like Zara or H&M. Beyond the unique qualities of Georgian cuisine and the architecture in Old Tbilisi, nothing about the city particularly stood out to me. Standing there in the Internally Displaced Person (IDP) settlement, all  Read More

Forming a Community around Gender Equality

17 Jul 2015

image Celebrating Gender Equality Awards 2015. Photo: Vladimer Valishvili/UNDP

On Monday July 6th 2015, the fourth national Gender Equality Awards took place in the capital city of Tbilisi, in a bright conference space in Rooms Hotel. As I walked into the packed event the feeling among the attendants was electric. It almost seemed that you could taste the forward march of gender equality in Georgia through the sheer perseverance of spirit of the people in the room. In attendance were prominent business leaders and entrepreneurs committed to advancing gender equality in Georgian workplaces, and top Georgian politicians, including for the President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili.  My modest Georgian was not enough to understand most of the speeches, but the impassioned voices of those at the event transcended any language barrier.  Shombi Sharp, the Deputy Head of UNDP Georgia, summed up the general sentiment of the evening concisely with his remarks that “the message [regarding the importance of gender equality] is very clear. If women and girls, who represent half of every countries possible human potential are not provided that ability to achieve their aspirations free from discrimination, free from violence, free from other aspects that limit full gender equality then development in all of its aspects will be impeded.”  To  Read More

View of the Flood: Lessons from Tbilisi / Shombi Sharp

19 Jun 2015

image Volunteers in Tbilisi queue in lines to help their capital hit by a major flash flood on 13 June. Young people stand up to their knees in mud to clean a destroyed zoo, squares and roads. 17 June 2015. Photo: David Khizanishvili/UNDP

It’s hard to believe all that has happened in the few days since I, like so many here, marvelled at the torrential rain coming down in those first evening hours the night of June 13. I drove home from a dinner a few hours later through streets beginning to flood even a bit higher up in the Vere valley. Little did I know that just below devastation was already underway as a major flash flood tore through Tbilisi, the picturesque capital city of Georgia.  Four short days after the disaster, as friends and loved ones are laid to rest, the people of Tbilisi are visibly gripped by a powerful mix of emotions. The overwhelming feelings of shock, loss and devastation, are confronted by an equally potent, almost unprecedented, sense of solidarity and pride as residents of all sorts stand literally shoulder to shoulder, willing their city back to life and extending helping hands to those who have suffered.  This impressing show of civic activism emerged almost immediately, spontaneously, in the early hours after the shocking extent of destruction became evident, buoying the already heroic efforts of emergency first responders. A strength and unity of Georgian society revealed itself as people of  Read More

A Letter from a Riverside Village / Omar Marukashvili

27 May 2015

image The gabion protects village Shakvetili from the Ilto River flash floods. May 2015. Photo: UNDP

I was born and spent all my life in Shakhvetili, a beautiful village in Kakheti - Georgia’s richest agriculture region. Situated alongside Ilto River, Shakhvetili was a paradise for farmers. I recall vast land terraces alongside river banks. Farmers used to grow crops and cattle used to graze there. All was green and productive. But now half of it is gone. Seasonal floods and flash floods have washed away farmland, and therefore future of the local population. Year by year our village was losing its natural flood-resistance; steady and uncontrollable deforestation and changing climatic conditions are to blame here. During heavy rain seasons, no one was safe. Floods and flash floods not only caused serious threat to farm lands, crops and property, lives of the residents of the village Shakhvetili were in danger too. To prevent the flood damage and bring security to the population to some extent, flood resistant walls are being constructed along Ilto River since 2012. The gabions are large metal boxes filled with stone or gravel for flood regulation and protection of runoff waters. The largest – 120 metres long gabion was erected by the local organization “Kakheti” in partnership with local authorizes and with assistance from  Read More

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