Before starting my internship, I did some extensive research on UNOPS and found myself confused and perplexed regarding the work they do, and how they do it. Furthermore, I was confused about the relationship between UNOPS and The United Nations (UN). UNOPS is inextricably connected to the United Nations as they dub themselves the “operational arm,” of the United Nations, fulfilling expertise in infrastructure, project management, procurement, and human resources. (UNOPS, 2017). UNOPS is also a part of a system informally named the, “UN Family,” which exemplifies their relationship with the United Nations and all the various sectors (UN, 2017).
Despite the relationship between both organizations, UNOPS is starkly different from the United Nations based on that fact that they are a self-financing organization, and they cover direct and indirect costs by charging a fee on each project supported. This fee is often co-funded by bilateral (governments) or multilateral organizations (international organizations such as the World Bank or UN), and the beneficiary government. For example, UNOPS is currently implementing a project to construct Seawalls and Drainages to increase the resilience of coastal zones in Tanzania (UNOPS, 2017). This project is funded by The United Nations Environment Program and The Government of the United Republic of Tanzania. Some examples of donors to UNOPS projects include the European Union, African Development Bank, The World Bank, UNICEF, USAID, and more. Beyond multilateral organizations, governments such as the UK (also known as the Department for International Development), France, Sweden or Germany also utilize the services of UNOPS as part of their foreign aid policies. The fee process can increase ownership and empowerment in a project for the country, as the beneficiary government often contributes to the price. As shown, there are various actors and stakeholders in which UNOPS partners with to deliver projects due to their self-financing mandate.
The office that I am an interning with is called the Partnership Development Office (PDO). UNOPS believes that the ambitious targets of the Sustainable Development Goals require the prioritization of SDG 17 which aims to, “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development,” (UN, 2017). Therefore, UNOPS seeks to increase the success and validity of the SDG’s by entering into a range of partnership agreements through PDO. These partnerships allow for new development engagements and increase the capacity of UNOPS to deliver projects. The purpose of the Partnership Development Office is to increase and build on Global Partnerships with beneficiaries and donors so that The Nairobi Office for UNOPS can continue to deliver their expertise in countries, specifically in East Africa.
So far in my internship, I have had the opportunity to edit and create project proposals for donors, build fact sheets which display the partnership between UNOPS and the donors, and research donors to see what sectors of development they are investing in. I have also been able to sit in on meetings with partners such as the EU and World Bank, and I have created partnership portfolios for these donors regarding their various engagements with UNOPS. The project proposals I have worked on are often very interdisciplinary, and no project is the same. Since UNOPS has expertise in infrastructure, project management, procurement, human resources, and financial management, the project opportunities are almost endless. As shown in the broad range of tasks and projects, every aspect of partnership building is different, exemplifying that every day in the office is unique and brings a new set of challenges. Those working in my office also echo this sentiment, stating that one cannot get bored of their position when the job changes daily.
In the last 7 weeks of interning for PDO at UNOPS, I have recognized that partnership and collaboration are extremely vital for the success of sustainable development, but it is not an easy process. When building partnerships at UNOPS, one must recognize and tend to the needs of the beneficiary government, the various donors, the project management team, and other UNOPS personnel to build collaboration and lay a foundation for the success of the project. Before a project even begins, there is a large amount of work that goes into building the foundation of agreement and partnership through proposals, project frameworks, signed agreements and many meetings with stakeholders. This preliminary partnership building, continual relationship growth throughout the project, and post-project evaluation discussions with partners are executed and supervised by PDO. This exemplifies that the partnership process is often long, complicated and filled with many different voices. Despite this, the process is extremely significant for SDG 17 and for the long-term success of projects. When a project is implemented in a way that allows the voices of all stakeholders to be heard, the project will exhibit transparency and accountability for all involved, especially the beneficiary.
It has only been over a month since I started with UNOPS, and I am starting to grasp vocational skills relating to development that are vital, but more importantly, I am learning copious amounts of information about what it takes to facilitate collaboration and participation in large-scale, international development. I am so thankful to UNOPS and Queen Elizabeth Scholars for this opportunity that I have been given to learn and grow at a rate that I did not know was possible.
United Nations. (2017). Funds, Programmes, Specialized Agencies and Others. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/sections/about-un/funds-programmes-specialized-agencies-and-others/.
United Nations Office for Project Services. (2017). Mission. Vision. Purpose. Retrieved from https://www.unops.org/about/our-story/mission-vision-purpose.