Now that we had some time to reflect on the wrapup meeting in Cairo, I believe the time has come to put Future Makers to rest, and reflect on what comes next. This is, of course, a matter that can only be settled by a deep discussion, and the most important voices in that discussion are going to be UNDP’s. My contribution in this post is to risk an interpretation of my own, to shake up some thoughts in my own head and, hopefully, in yours. Happy to discuss further if you want.
The Future Makers model leans on three partners, like a tripod on three legs:
UNDP. The FM model requires for UNDP to involve local government into common projects. Of course, to do this UNDP must have something that local politicians and civil servants want: prestige, funding or a combination of the two.
Local government. FM has a rather sophisticated understanding of local government (the Boss, the Guardian, the Heavy Lifter). It boils down to having “intrapreneurial” elements in local administrations, that can be empowered by interacting with local communities on one side and UNDP on the other.
Communities of smart, capable, independent people.
It seems to me that in all three of our prototypes at least one of the legs was missing or weak.
UNDP did not really forge any new partnership. the Georgia CO already head a healthy collaboration with Rustavi, on the backdrop of an important decentralization reform. Armenia’s struggles on to involve the Yerevan municipality, with the deputy mayor not always returning the calls of the UN Deputy Representative. Egypt had to fall back on Terous and its pre-existing protocol with the Sohag governorate, after failing to get a grip on Hurghada.
Local goverrnments have been a weak link in every prototype. Nowhere, that I could see, we had the full team of Boss, Guardian and Heavy Lifter. The Guardian was missing in Georgia (I was hoping in the PSDA Innovation Lab, but no: Rustavi was asking Maia for help with the legal framework. The Heavy Lifter was missing both from Armenia and from Egypt.
Communities were elusive, but we were expecting that. In Georgia, we know Tbilisi is very active, but the project was not in Tbilisi. In Egypt, we knew Cairo was very active, and “good stuff” was found in Hurghada too, but we could not do the project in those cities. Communities did form in Georgia and Armenia (somewhat) and Egypt (much more), but they tend to be less skilled and confident than those in Tbilisi or Cairo.
All in all, I would not recommend that Future Makers be scaled up on the basis of what I heard at that meeting. At least, not without some more due diligence, or some narrower focus. This is because it is so difficult to put together a winning alliance, and especially the local governments seem incredibly weak. I would still commend it as a strategy (someone sees an opportunity in a certain city and runs with it): it is a great tool when and where the time comes for it but I am skeptical that it can become the tool.
What I see – as we discussed extensively with @elami5 and @mao – is a dramatic weakness of local government. They need more people who can break through the veil of bureaucracy and act as a contact surface with civil society. They need more people who have the drive and the administrative skills to “make it happen”, bringing government to act as the enabler of civil society, not just as its regulator.
Building capacity in this direction could be the legacy of Future Makers.