I am about to rant.
This blog has - let's face it - been pretty moribund this year and it's time to put it out of its misery, at least in its current form.
The good news is that the ad hoc SDI-East Africa effort, as it was, has been overtaken by events and - in a perfect world, rightfully - been made redundant. How so? Firstly, the work that started in 2007 was possible because certain individuals had enough institutional leeway to get away with it. Many of those individuals have moved to other organization, had their responsibilities shifted, or - as in my own case - found their institutions shifting around them. One key institution seems destined to non-existence, period.
Meanwhile, Kenya got off to a very rocky start to 2008 that focussed many origanizations' attention on life-and-death realities of addressing real humanitarian needs, not indulging in the abstract niceties of data sharing. A lot of institutional momentum was lost. November 2007 saw the SDI-EA showcase exercise for UNGIWG and then.... nothing.
So, now, to SDI-EA 2.0, or Son-of-SDI-EA, of SDI-EA - the Next Generation or whatever we seek to call it. Why will this be better, stronger and faster? Firstly, it seems that its natural institutional home is coming of age. A year ago, NASA and USAID opened negotiations around the notion of a SERVIR-Africa, building on the experiences building SERVIR at CATHALAC in Panama. SERVIR has been described before in this blog and elsewhere in ways that don't need re-hashing here. What is newsworthy is that, just over a week ago, Africa-SERVIR was inaugurated at the Regional Centre or Mapping for Resource Development (RCMRD) in Nairobi. The lights are on, the disks are spinning, the staff are trained. Now, let the apppications begin.
Why is RCMRD a 'natural home' for SDI-EA? Because it has a regional mandate to serve over 15 states. Because it is already a centre of technical excellence. Because it has a long track record - nearly 30 years - of international partnership and support from many OECD countries. because its management 'get' the notion of SDI as a necessary tool for national development in its constituent states, and because they are good neighbours to and collaborators in their host country's efforts to build a Kenyan national SDI. No agency of the UN system based in Nairobi has so many of the right attributes.
Secondly: the institutional context for the UN bodies that kick-started SDI-EA is also changing. Namely, the evolution of a UN SDI that stands to move these types of data and service sharing initiatives out of the realm of well-meaning amateurism into one that programme managers can understand and treat seriously. To whit: the meeting of UNGIWG in Vienna last month saw 31 UN agencies unanimously endorse a statement directed to the highest levels of UN management that SDI is a necessary capability in which the UN must invest.
The text of statement has not appeared on-line yet but the fact that such a variety of interests - headquarters, field operations, humanitarian, food security, disaster relief, environment, nuclear regulation, public health, security and peace keeping - sent such a clear message all the more powerful at a time when UN business is under heavy scrutiny and the demands for reform are strident. Yay. Back that statement up with a clear, deliverable work plan - also agreed at UNGIWG-9 - and it now almost becomes behoving upon UN management and donors as to why such a sensible, noble and widely-agreed recommendation ought not get the funding it needs.
So: SDI-EA can now legitimately be seen as the juxtaposition between delivery a UN-wide joined-up services and a regional-wide clientele leveraged by RCMRD, an example of what I think of as an 'apex network' - the type of hight value single point of contact through which the limited resources of the UN can reach the greatest number of Member States. Let UNEP work across eastern and southern Africa with RCMRD and with UNHCR and FAO and UNIDO and WHO to join up services to focus on issues of environment and health, or climate change and ecosystem management, or the social and environmental dimension of agri-business such biofuels.
Let the applications begin. Roll on SDI-EA 2.0