Photo credit: Paul Arps/Flickr

By Lydia Callies

For many among us, it would be an understatement to say that 2020 has been a turbulent year so far. Some days it can seem unreal that we’re all living through a global pandemic. The news cycle, however, won’t let you forget, as it constantly updates with new stories—both good and bad—of people dealing with coronavirus, and offers guidance on changing social restrictions to limit transmission. Nothing is certain right now. But somehow, as the year goes on, it seems that we’re all settling into an acceptance of this unpredictability. In this acceptance we’re learning how to keep moving, in whatever way that might look in this “new normal.”

I’m saying all of this as I sit in my apartment in Ottawa, writing this first blog about my internship experience working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Cambodia. You could say that this is not where I expected to be right now. The UNDP Cambodia Office is in Phnom Penh, a long way away from here. I feel this distance every day, not just because of the geography, but also because of the time zones which put the days in Phnom Penh a full 11 hours ahead of those in Ottawa. To be honest, it’s not an easy situation. Working remotely with this distance is hard.

Despite the challenges, every morning I’m still excited to log into my UNDP email account to see what the day holds. I’m working on a project to address inclusive and participatory governance in Cambodia. There are five of us on the project team. Though the others are all based in Phnom Penh, I still very much feel included among this group. With our weekly project team meetings, support meetings with my supervisor, calls with various team members, texts, and group chats, we are in constant communication. No one is ever farther than an email, call, or text away.

The project is very new and still in the design phase. I am learning the UNDP’s Programme and Operations Policies and Procedures (POPP). These cover everything you need to know about project management, including programme cycles, project design, implementation, financial management, and monitoring and evaluation. With POPP for guidance, I have been working on two main tasks: identifying points of intervention for the project and developing indicators to assess the project’s achievements. There is lots of room for creativity in both of these areas.

In identifying points of intervention, the goal is to bring in something new. First the specific needs that the project will address are identified, then methods for addressing those needs are determined. For instance, if a need is going to be addressed by training, what kind of value-added does this training have? Is training already available to address this need? If so, are we offering something different—a new perspective, a new tool—or more of the same? How will the training be delivered so that learning is sustainable? These are some questions that need to be considered, among others. In terms of developing indicators, the main task is to understand what exactly the indicator is intended to measure. For instance, when measuring participation, is it enough to just count the number of participants? Or do you want to assess the meaningfulness of the participation—in which case meaningful participation needs to be qualified somehow.

I have been very busy with this work so far. Some days the pace can feel almost chaotic. However, even on those days, I wouldn’t consider trading in this opportunity and I’m excited to see what will come next.