Speaking with ‘One Voice’ strengthens UN advocacy and communications

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comms_storyHa Noi, June 10 2010 - The launch of UNDP’s regional Human Development Report (HDR) for Asia Pacific in early March 2009 in Hanoi was an example of how the One UN Communications Team has facilitated a stronger and more coherent UN voice on key development challenges in Viet Nam.

The HDR focused on important issues for Viet Nam that relate to the work of multiple UN agencies: gender equality and economic power, political decision-making and legal rights. To ensure that the expertise and views of relevant agencies were included, the Communications Team coordinated a joint UN approach for the national press launch: an interagency panel consisting of heads of agencies from UNDP, UNFPA, UNIFEM (part of UN Women) and ILO, along with the UN Resident Coordinator and the UN Gender Advisor, shared their views and answered questions from more than 40 media representatives.

This approach strengthened the focus on the issues, with the UN providing a clear multi-dimensional perspective on gender in Viet Nam and representatives of each participating agency providing their unique insights.

“While we have seen before that we can truly advocate together around an issue rather than as individual agencies,” said the Resident Coordinator, “I don't think I've seen it done so effectively nor the UN speak with such a clear and coherent voice from so many critical perspectives.”

The launch received extensive media covered: it was included in prime time news reports on several national television channels; was highlighted in national radio broadcasts; and more than 20 news articles were published, including in the National Assembly’s newspaper, the Communist Party’s online edition, and on the front page of one of the most popular national newspapers. The press launch was part of a week-long series of activities supported by the UN, or with UN participation, to celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8). Throughout the week the UN’s key messages on gender – stop violence against women, value girls and boys equally, support women’s economic contributions, and make women and men equal partners in decision-making – were shared via discussions, speeches, press releases, and other public information materials.

A unique reform initiative
The Communications Team that facilitated this joint launch was established in late 2006 as part of the ‘Delivering as One’ process in Viet Nam. The aim was to better integrate and coordinate communication work across UN agencies and ensure the UN “speaks with one voice” on a range of key development challenges and policy issues.  The initiative was taken to create an inter-agency team made up of communication specialists from UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNAIDS and UNV. The team now follows a common workplan and sits together in the same office to support the UN-wide advocacy and communication agenda, the internal and external communication needs of the One UN Initiative, and the agency specific communication needs of the five participating organizations.

Since it was established, the One UN Communications Team has brought a strong common advocacy voice and a clear UN position on issues of relevance for Viet Nam such as the economic crisis, food security, domestic violence, road safety, health insurance, and avian and human influenza (A/H1N1), among others.  Better collaboration and more centralized communication capacity have strengthened the UN’s ability to influence these critical policy issues.  

To support the increasing internal communication needs under the One UN Initiative, the team has also developed new communication tools and services, including an internal news bulletin on the One UN Initiative and a One UN Intranet linking all UN staff in Viet Nam electronically for the first time.

Climate change
The challenge of climate change is another example of how the communications team has facilitated a stronger and more coherent UN voice. Climate change has been a priority issue for the UN in Viet Nam for years as Viet Nam is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the effects of climate change. In support of Viet Nam’s preparations for the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP 15), the One UN Communications Team supported an integrated UN-wide voice on this key issue.

In addition to setting up media interviews with UN experts and the Resident Coordinator, the communications team worked closely with the UN Country Team in 2009 to develop and launch a UN policy discussion paper on climate change in Viet Nam. A comprehensive set of messages based on the perspectives of all relevant UN agencies was presented to the Government and key stakeholders, positioning the UN as an expert and key partner in addressing this challenge. This followed earlier joint work such as the launch of the UNDP Human Development Report in 2007 on climate change, which involved multiple UN agencies jointly presenting the findings and recommendations. And on World Environment Day 2009, the team organized a media roundtable on climate change and its effects which helped raise the understanding and awareness of the media and the public.

Child survival
In 2008 the communications team took advantage of a series of separately planned events in Viet Nam to gather different UN organizations around one advocacy initiative to promote the child survival agenda in Viet Nam. Linking these individual initiatives as one package proved much more powerful, building on strong UN messaging on child survival issues, and linking sanitation, nutrition and health service delivery with the need to push the child survival agenda in Viet Nam. This also resulted in greater media coverage and a more coherent and comprehensive UN position. A strong UN partnership, under the leadership of the Resident Coordinator, with UNICEF and WHO in the lead, expanded to a larger partnership group including international NGOs such as Save the Children and the Asian Development Bank.