UNTold in action in Bouar, Central African Republic © Michelle Alves de Lima

What’s playing? The UNTold success stories in the field
UNTold brings best practices to life through compelling storytelling coupled with engaging discussions
1 Jul 2024

Within the intricate landscape of United Nations operations in the field, an effort to break down barriers, streamline processes, and maximize resource usage is underway. Aiming at fostering collaboration, promoting innovation and leveraging existing knowledge, an inspiring initiative, UNTold: Behind the Scenes of UN Operations, was created.

Led by the Capacity Development and Operational Training Service (CDOTS) within the UN Secretariat’s Office of Support Operations, Department of Operational Support, UNTold represents a significant shift in how best practices are shared across the UN community, harnessing the power of storytelling and multimedia to showcase replicable initiatives unfolding in various UN settings.

UNTold brings these narratives to life through captivating mini-documentaries, ranging between five to seven minutes. These short videos offer a dynamic portrayal of initiatives that not only make a tangible impact on the ground, but also hold the potential for broader replication and impact.

For example, take the pioneering establishment of the first Women’s Wellness Center within a UN mission, a remarkable endeavor by the UN Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS). Or consider the groundbreaking development of a Virtual Operations Centre, by the UN Global Service Centre (UNGSC) in Brindisi, that uses mixed, augmented, and virtual reality to support operational planning, offer visualization of terrain and maps, and mitigate risks without requiring a physical presence in the field.

Other notable initiatives highlighted by UNTold involves the use of drones to support reforestation efforts in Somalia; a program that encourages field missions to return high-value equipment for refurbishment and reuse in other locations (the 3R Programme); and the possibility of quickly deploying ICT-equipped customized offices that are built in-house using shipping containers (called M-Products). These are just a few of the 18+ projects spotlighted by UNTold.

Adrian Hills, Chief of CDOTS, emphasizes the transformative impact of storytelling and multimedia in spotlighting these initiatives. “By presenting these solutions in an engaging and accessible manner,” he explains, “we help bridge the gap between the field and HQ locations, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the less visible and often unappreciated, support work occurring on the ground.”

Beyond UNSOS and UNGSC, other entities such as the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), and the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) have also shared some of their initiatives through UNTold. An additional key element beyond the video stories themselves, UNTold organizes global virtual discussions in partnership with the #NewWork team within the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, as part of the periodic online “Innovation Day” sessions.

Candace Charbonné, lead of the CDOTS Knowledge Management Team, which produces UNTold, underscores the pivotal role of these discussions in facilitating knowledge exchange and organizational learning. “It is an impossible feat to encapsulate the entirety of a project in a brief video,” she says. “Through these dialogues, we provide a platform for practitioners to delve into the intricacies, sharing insights and challenges.”

At its core, UNTold is about learning from both successes and setbacks. As Charbonné puts it, “The key to moving forward is learning from each other’s solutions to overcome the bureaucracy and challenges of implementing ideas that are, sometimes, new to UN settings.” By leveraging these insights, future projects can gain a head start, saving the organization both time and resources.

Since its inception in August 2021, UNTold has organized 10 global virtual discussions, engaging over 1,600 UN personnel. Integrated into the UN Knowledge Gateway, also managed by CDOTS, the initiative serves as a centralized repository for information on replicable initiatives, streamlining access for those interested in adopting or adapting these practices.

It’s essential to underscore that UNTold accomplishments have been achieved with remarkably limited resources, showcasing its effectiveness even within tight budgetary and human resource constraints. The project’s success stands as a testament to the dedication and collaborative spirit of the DOS team and the various entities it has spotlighted. Each entity has contributed distinct elements, such as travel funding and providing a cameraman, demonstrating the power of collective effort.

In a landscape characterized by complexity and constant change, initiatives such as UNTold serve as a source of inspiration and a space for exchanging ideas, often with solutions that are not resource-intensive or complicated to implement. By harnessing the power of storytelling and multimedia, UNTold not only sheds light on little-known aspects of our field work, but also embodies the agile and responsive ethos advocated in the Secretary-General’s UN 2.0 – Quintet of Change vision. As we navigate the challenges of the 21st century, projects such as UNTold contribute to a rejuvenated United Nations and pave the way for a more resilient and responsive international community. Through the collective efforts of passionate individuals and dedicated teams, the UN is poised to leverage the power of knowledge sharing, driving positive change on a global scale. 

* Michelle Alves de Lima is a Communications, Outreach and Digital Media Specialist in CDOTS, and she leads the UNTold initiative.
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