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Learning from experiences of others – Knowledge Management for better results

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Participants who took part in the Experience Capitalization Knowledge Management workshop in Accra, Ghana. Photo, UNDP Nigeria/Lucky Musonda

UNDP is among few large organisations with decades of delivering development solutions to millions across the world. Made up of both the people and processes as well as information systems that drive our actions, it is indeed a complex system. Over the years, UNDP has built its acumen within the UN System, governments and development partners as a trusted institution with the largest mandate to eradicate poverty, strengthen institutional capacity and promote sustainable human development. UNDP prides itself on its presence in nearly 170 countries and territories globally.  

In doing its work, UNDP’s programmes are informed by past experiences and lessons from interventions implemented, wherever the organisation has a footprint, to address emerging issues and new realities– whether in the form of policy support, capacity building, technical advice or knowledge brokering. The issues that define development are unique from country to country and region to region – from climate change to conflicts – the knowledge generated from UNDP’s interventions, when managed efficiently and utilized effectively, has the potential to give the organisation an even more unique character.

Knowledge Management (KM) approaches differ from organisation to organisation. Regardless, a KM process must ensure that there are systems in place that facilitate creation, sharing, utilization and re-creation of knowledge to take place. For example, the FAO online course on Experience Capitalization (EC) as a KM approach states that it is the “systematic, iterative and participatory process through which an experience is analysed and documented. This creates knowledge, which can be shared and used to generate change.” In short, EC is a process by which individuals or organisations learn from each other’s experience(s).

Working together with the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and FAO, UNDP is piloting the use of EC to share knowledge and promote learning for rural development. With participation drawn from different organisations in English-speaking West African countries, UNDP Country Offices in the sub-region with support from our Regional Service Centre for Africa, are now documenting their experiences in supporting rural development through agriculture-related interventions. UNDP is using the opportunity to create and/or document knowledge today that will be the foundation for informing our future design of development solutions to the many challenges the continent’s rural poor face.

For example, since 2012, UNDP in Sierra Leone has been implementing the Youth Employment and Empowerment Programme (YEEP). This Programme is not only boosting food production by making agriculture and agribusiness attractive to youth entrepreneurs, it is also creating employment opportunities for both rural and urban youth who are now earning sustainable livelihoods from agricultural activities. Each year, over 2000 entrepreneurs directly benefit from this initiative. 65 percent of Africa’s labor force is engaged in agriculture related activities, mostly conducted in rural areas. It also accounts for 32 percent of gross domestic product.

Sharing this experience would help transfer valuable knowledge among programme units and bureaus charged with the responsibility of designing youth-targeted interventions especially in the agriculture sector. For example, as Nigeria grapples with youth unemployment, the government has identified agriculture as one of the sectors with the potential to address this challenge – an opportunity already exists for Nigeria to learn from neighbouring Sierra Leone to promote sustainable youth employment opportunities.

Conversely, UNDP Nigeria, through the country’s Agribusiness Supplier Development Programme (ASDP) is conducting an exercise aimed at identifying gaps in the entire agriculture supply chain – these gaps continue to act as bottlenecks in the country’s quest to realise the full potential of its agriculture sector to support economic diversification and provide employment opportunities for youths. With potential to meet the sub-region’s food needs, lack of adequate warehousing and other logistical challenges in Nigeria continue to hinder progress in making crops such as cassava true industrial crops. Sharing Nigeria’s experience will open avenues for learning among participating organisations and individuals.

The character and shape of UNDP is defined by many things – but most importantly, the organisation’s leadership in thinking, innovative design of programme interventions, not forgetting its flexibility in support and strong knowledge links among countries, especially those with similar development challenges. For example, the UNDP supported Policy Dialogue Series dubbed Nkitahodie is providing a platform for stakeholders to discuss key national issues in Ghana. Both government and development partners, as well as academia, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and political parties are coming together to share their ideas and knowledge that continue to shape the country’s policy debates and choices. The success of this initiative lies not in the end-results (alone), but the processes involved – the details in the process are what constitute valuable knowledge useful for others who wish to replicate this initiative in their own countries.

From Sierra Leone to Nigeria and across the continent, UNDP’s potential to be a knowledge institution is vast – across all areas of the organisation’s mandate. The organisation’s combined knowledge stretches hundreds of years – represented through individual expertise from staff, dialogues held with a variety of stakeholders, missions and assessments conducted, reports written, case studies and projects implemented among others. All this knowledge, once systemically recorded (and used) will enhance the organisation’s position as a thought leader.

Effective KM has potential to sustain and expand South-South and triangular cooperation that maximizes mutual benefits. But this is only possible if individuals within the organisation cultivate a culture of sharing experiences and remain open to learning from others’ experiences. It must be emphasized that successful KM does not lie in 21st century technology – it is only an enabler. Knowledge resides in people, hence staff members of the organisation remain key assets in moving KM forward.

The organisation’s ability to draw on knowledge and expertise from all over the continent will be determined by the depth of people’s culture that draws gratification from sharing our experiences with others so that they too can learn from our successes and failures. Additionally, the organisation must seek ways that publicly incentivise individuals and offices that promote knowledge sharing, exchanges and learning.

It is not unimaginable that solutions to many development challenges that countries in Africa continue to face have been identified already. However, the same remain stored in restricted and inaccessible locations like personal computers and human brains. This is costing the organisation a lot of resources. It is not too late to change this. 

UNDP Sierra Leone and UNDP Ghana contributed to this article.

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