New building of the National Assembly building, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Dispatch from the United Nations Development Programme in Cambodia: Misha Goforth’s third blog from the virtual field

Photo credit: Sorn Seang Heng/flickr

By Misha Goforth, MIPP

I’ve been working with UNDP Cambodia for about 3 months now and it’s hard to believe I am halfway through my posting already. So, as I write my final blog for the dispatch series, I want to talk a bit more broadly about development work and what I’ve learned while working with UNDP.

I’m currently in the middle of the busiest time for the results-based management unit as we work to capture and report on results from 2021 and compile information for planning in 2022. At the same time, work is beginning to report on results from the 5-year country programme which ends in 2023. The thing that’s struck me most in this process has been seeing what has been accomplished and learned in the context of the global pandemic. Like everything else in the world, the pandemic has changed the way that development work is done – sometimes offering new partnerships and innovation in programme delivery, but sometimes offering extreme challenges and new pressures.

Despite immense challenges to programme delivery – such as lockdown-induced limitations on face-to-face field work, stretched capacity of public institution partners, increasing and changing needs of vulnerable populations, etc. – the dedication and resiliency of both the UNDP programme teams and partner organizations meant that support was still delivered to beneficiaries and results were still achieved.

New partnerships have been formed and strengthened throughout the pandemic as government organizations sought support to build resiliency and capacity in the health sector, and local organizations of people with disabilities sought a platform for their voices to be integrated in the drafting of new policies in the wake of the pandemic. Additionally, the pandemic created an argument for increased social protection assistance to vulnerable populations both at the height of the pandemic and as a strategy for the country to re-build and support the economy in the post-pandemic era. In these cases, UNDP was able to provide support in several forms to lift the goals and priorities of different partners and communities.

Another opportunity that came from the challenges of the pandemic was born out of the need for programming to become highly adaptive, in terms of design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Typically, development programming is planned long in advance based on a theory of change that is based on evidence and can be tested and proven through the life of the programme. In the context of the global pandemic however, the needs and priorities of partners and beneficiaries are fast changing and can change overnight. In this case, traditional methods of programme design proved a bit too rigid to allow a programme to be as responsive as it needed to be. Therefore, an adaptive programme was launched through a flexible investment fund that can provide resources to existing and new initiatives that are able to answer needs as they arise during the pandemic and build-back period. This investment fund is still ongoing and will continue into 2024 to support rebuilding efforts in Cambodia.

There is no question that the challenges and fall outs from the pandemic will stay with us for a long time. And though ‘thinking on the bright side’ can be a bit draining while we are still very much in the midst of the pandemic, taking stock of achievements and demonstrations of resilience can help us to remember that brighter days are coming if we are able to leverage the learning we’ve gained during these challenging times.

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