World • 17 November, 2020

UNDP is guided by the national development priorities

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The Covid-19 pandemics have changed the world that we know. It has severely affected the national health, and country’s economy, and its population. How countries are tackling this crisis? How Kazahstan is dealing with pandemics? In order to know the answers to this question, we had an interview with Yakup Beris, UNDP Resident Representative in Kazakhstan.

What are the priorities for UNDP in the country?

Our work in Kazakhstan is first and foremost guided by the national development priorities, but of course we have a specific angle: we are guided by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its main principle of “leaving no one behind” with  special attention on vulnerabilities, on not being affected negatively by shocks and providing people new opportunities through dedicated activities in many development areas -- stretching from protecting the rights of people with disabilities to preserving biodiversity. The concept of human development is at the centre of all we do.

It is important to note that we focus on opportunities, not just challenges or problems. We believe that opportunities can drive new ways of looking into issues and can provide a new generation of solutions to the problems or complex issues.

In terms of our approach to challenges and problems, we prefer to view them in an integrated way (not in silos or by sectors), through whole-of-government solutions and whole-of-society approaches, where the issue often stems from a lack of coordination among government agencies and among different groups in society.  By bringing them together solutions emerge that would have not been possible before.  

We focus on how we solve the issues, not only ‘’what’’ (as the request is always “what”). For us the “how” question is important. Of course, there are defined areas of work, but how we work in them makes UNDP different and unique. What makes UNDP a valuable partner to the government is our assistance with bridging actors, leveraging resources, convening different parties and facilitating joint action, where then through the perspective of integration, issues that are considered normally by one sector or another, we link to economy and all kinds of other issues.

We saw many examples of success, when we approached the development issues in this way, rather than through sectors or topics. Our mandate around being an integrator for the SDGs allows us to think, help, assist and mobilize resources and technical assistance across the sectors, which usually allows us to be able to push the boundaries for transformative action. We always look not for the large, nor the highest amount, but our quest is for transformative action. Sometimes it’s not about the finances, but about the action, sometimes it’s about the will that requires convening different actors together. The approach lies in the “how”.  

What are the main areas of cooperation between UNDP and the Government of Kazakhstan? What is being implemented?

 Our partnership with the government is guided by a number of key strategic documents, including the National Strategy “Kazakhstan 2050”, the Global Agenda 2030, and of course the Country Programme – our strategic document, identifying the priority areas of our cooperation with the Government of Kazakhstan and other national and international development partners working in the country.  

Since its initial presence in Kazakhstan UNDP has been supporting key reform processes in the country, including public administration reforms, especially through civil service reforms, judicial and police reforms, social policies with a focus on disabilities and gender equality, climate resilience, natural resource sustainability and low-carbon growth.

UNDP has also been introducing innovative financing instruments in support of the private sector investments in sustainable development, such as the carbon offsetting, energy efficiency subsidies, green loan guarantee schemes and others. UNDP has tested modalities of supporting the implementation of the programmes financed by the international financial institutions. This role is important for having a comprehensive financing strategy that brings public and private resources together for sustainable development in the country.

Thanks to its well established regional and global networks and expertise, UNDP has been supporting Kazakhstan in its contribution towards regional and international cooperation. Examples of such initiatives vary from setting up the International Disaster Risk Reduction Centre in Almaty, supporting the UN Pavilion at EXPO-2017, organizing international and regional thematic events to promote Kazakhstan’s role in global sustainable development agenda and hosting the Astana Civil Service Hub to leading regional initiatives on prevention of violent extremism.

Also, since 2011, UNDP has been providing expert assistance to lay the grounds for a national system of Official Development Assistance (and its prospective Agency known as “KAZAID”). These also include concrete joint initiatives with the MFA and other donors to support Afghanistan, as well as countries of Central Asia and Africa. All of these constitute a good basis for assisting Kazakhstan in operationalizing the Almaty UN SDG Centre that President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced last year.

We continue being committed to providing assistance to Kazakhstan in realizing the country’s national priorities: the search for a new model of economic growth and increased productivity; boosting the business environment and scaling-up new technologies across sectors; improving institutional performance and effectiveness of key state and sectoral programmes and budgets; modernizing law enforcement and judicial systems; improving the quality of education and health care; and supporting regional economic development, especially in remote areas.

Based on our long-standing partnership and cooperation with the Government of Kazakhstan, and building upon our past successful initiatives, we have developed our new programme for 2021-2025.  Within our new Country Programme for 2021-2025, the work of UNDP will cut across the national priorities, supporting the government in sustaining its growth trajectory by diversifying the economy, modernizing public institutions, reducing inequalities and sustainably managing natural resources.

What kind of support has UNDP provided to Kazakhstan Government related to the COVID-19 pandemic response?

 The COVID-19 pandemic not only affected the national health in an unprecedented way, but it has also had a serious impact for the country’s economy and its population, exposing pre-existing inequalities among vulnerable groups such as women, persons with disabilities, the unemployed and self-employed. A high-risk environment for an economic downturn persists.

To reduce vulnerabilities and build capacities to tackle crises, both in the short- and long-term UNDP has developed its COVID response offer to help decision-makers make the choices that not only enable recovery, but that accelerate action towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Having adopted a global approach that we call “Build Forward Better”, we have implemented a number of initiatives in Kazakhstan. 

 We have provided informed analysis and expert support in revisiting the National Strategic Development Plan 2025, ensuring its alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals.

To inform post-crisis recovery actions in the country, we conducted a Socioeconomic Impact Assessment of COVID-19 on those left behind. Our vision is that the results of the survey will help the government improve the effectiveness of its response.

To create employment opportunities for at-risk youth most hit by the crisis, we launched a three-month subsidized youth apprenticeship programme accompanied by soft-skills trainings and mentorship support. As of today, 150 vulnerable youth of Nur-Sultan and Almaty cities and the Karaganda region successfully completed the programme.

To strengthen the government capacity to deliver services while working remotely, we launched a series of trainings to upgrade digital and other critical skills of public personnel. One thousand specialists and middle managers of various state bodies completed the trainings between June and August 2020, including around 400 civil servants with disabilities.

We also delivered the equipment for treatment of infectious waste (autoclave) and containers for safe waste collection to the Nur-Sultan City Centre of Phthisiopulmonology, and conducted trainings for 122 critical staff of hospitals on safe procedures for medical waste treatment.

Following the government request UNDP will also deliver ambulances as part of the overall support to the government and people of Kazakhstan.

Lastly, we should mention our integration efforts of sustainable and carbon-neutral principles into the recovery path of Kazakhstan, through actions on clean and renewable energy, accelerating decarbonization of the economy and protecting the natural wealth of the country. 

How do you assess Kazakhstan's efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that its reach is truly global and goes beyond any particular country. It requires both global collaboration and very systemic efforts at the national level. It has not been easy, and the results of many ongoing efforts are yet to be seen. While Kazakhstan has demonstrated commitment and awareness of the vulnerable early enough, it also managed to identify the weaknesses and address them appropriately.

In short, the COVID-19 pandemic caught all countries around the world quite unprepared, regardless their level of development. The situation in Kazakhstan has been no different – we experienced a shock, and not just in the form of a health crisis but also a socio-economic one. Giving such complexity, the way to address its negative impacts is through a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach.

Of course, just like in any other country that has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have too seen some vulnerabilities and weaknesses that need addressing. However, these have been clearly and transparently acknowledged by the country’s leadership, alongside with crisis response systems being put in place, and institutions and policies set to address the pandemic-related issues. In short, despite the complex settings we are in and the challenging implications the pandemic has had on the country and the people, we can see that Kazakhstan is on the right path, putting together the tools, systems, institutions and policies to address them. UNDP always stands by the government’s side to support them.

Digitization is high on the agenda currently. The government had even adopted a programme called “Digital Kazakhstan”. How does UNDP assess the implementation of this programme? What kind of support does UNDP provide to Kazakhstan in this area?

 Digitalization is rightfully being emphasized and is of a high importance. It has proven to be embedded in any response, but it can also be a source of inequality. We are therefore in an active discussion with the government on how to best support their digitization efforts, through the Digital Kazakhstan programme, trying to make sure it does not create any new inequalities, such as in access to skills, etc. We envision digitalization as a human development opportunity where it is accessible to all, including the most vulnerable, especially in the remote localities, and as a creator of new opportunities for skills and business development.

From the public administration standpoint, digitalisation offers a way to reconfigure and strengthen the resilience of government institutions where, as we have seen during COVID-19, adaptability and flexibility are core when responding to immediate shocks, but not only that. Digitalization stands at the core of public service delivery and offers new ways of reaching the most vulnerable. For business community, MSMEs in particular, digitalization offers an entirely new way of looking at opportunities and customer acquisition.

Digital Kazakhstan is a great foundation, a needed holistic approach, but we are moving from strategy to implementation -- a phase which is uncovering a number of opportunities for collaboration between us and the government. At the moment, UNDP holds regular talks with the government on some of the key services and the level of digitalization in those areas, such as social services, education, health or how digitizing presents an opportunity for skills advancement.

 Investments in digitalization will be necessary. We have been able to mobilize some of our own resources (financial and technical) and we are hoping for an ongoing dialogue with the government and other development partners to eventually leverage larger investments.

 In your opinion, what other problems in Kazakhstan would deserve UNDP’s attention?

 I would like to mention that we give a lot of attention to the transition to a “green economy” and work closely with the government on this. Green Economy for us, as UNDP, is both the economy and the environment: it is about jobs, businesses, it is about offering new opportunities to the vulnerable groups, to small enterprises. It is also an opportunity to attract new investments to the country. So, the focus here is well grounded. Green economy is a way of transforming environmental matters from being a cost matter to being an opportunity for investment into the country’s economy and contributing to its sustainable economic growth. Considering the importance of what I just mentioned, green economy truly is a matter of attention for the entire government, and not just one or two line ministries, as it stimulates economic diversification, attracts new investments, creates jobs and new ventures. Green growth is undeniably the right opportunity for Kazakhstan to sustain its growth and to grow in a sustainable manner. 

 As a second point of our focus, I would mention the Kazakhstan’s massive territory. Given the specific challenges that large territory brings we see an integrated approach to local development to be a critical element of providing new opportunities to those in the remote areas, whether they are in farming or other businesses, whether they are large families, men or women, etc. but who are generally more vulnerable to shocks because of the distance.

Local development is therefore an area that deserves a label of importance when it comes to UNDP’s attention. Besides working with the central government in addressing the previously stated issues, we see opportunities to work directly with akimats, a lower level of government, helping to address their specific needs.

We believe that sustainable development through green growth and local development -- where integrated approaches can facilitate new ways of thinking into stimulating value chains, jobs, small businesses at the local level--  can support vulnerable groups in a different way than today; and not just through social assistance, but also through opportunities for doing business and creating jobs, and through value chains.

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