Universalia note for CAIDP contribution to UNGC

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Over the course of its 38 years of international development experience, Universalia has worked to promote organizational learning and performance across hundreds of projects that touch on all areas of sustainable development. 1We therefore took the onset of the SDGs in 2015 as an opportunity to reflect on our history, and on the opportunities to contribute to the goals as a firm going forward. Universalia has since taken action on three fronts to leverage its expertise, partner with others, and make a difference.

Internally, Universalia has since 2015 re-organized itself into four practices aligned both with specific goals, and with the cross-cutting, indivisible and holistic spirit of the 2030 Agenda. We now strive to promote excellence and accountability in the areas of (a) organizational and partnership evaluation (SDG 1-12, 17), (b) environment, security and conflict transformation (SDGs 6, 13-16), (c) peace-building and humanitarian operations (SDG 16), and (d) performance measurement (cross-cutting). Universalia’s staff also began an internal reflection process on its own environmental and social practices, working for example on offsetting the carbon emissions of its travels.

Externally, we identified two capacity gaps in stakeholders’ abilities to respond to the SDGs, and are working to generate and disseminate new approaches to these challenges. The first area regards the need to build “SDG-ready” national Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) systems which empower countries to monitor disparities, gain feedback, and serve (all) their citizens. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), SDG follow-up and review is voluntary, country-led, and applies to all countries – not just developing ones. To accompany these efforts, Universalia in 2017 developed a guidance note for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on building country-led M&E systems in the SDG era, including a tool to assess national “SDG-readiness.” Based on this research, we recently delivered an “M&E for the SDGs” workshop to 27 participants of the Executive Education series of McGill University’s Institute for the Study of International Development. Universalia also continues to develop SDG monitoring tools with various organizations, such as an M&E system for the Disability Rights Fund and the International Disability Alliance to enable national and regional, disability-sensitive SDG monitoring, and an M&E system for the Ottawa-based Forum of Federations which integrates global indicators for SDGs 16 & 17.

The second SDG capacity gap identified by Universalia relates to the need for a better understanding of the performance of inter-organizational partnerships. In a world that increasingly relies on multi-stakeholder coordination to leverage funds and scale impact, the evaluation of collaboration remains a diffuse methodological field. Responding to the demands of its clients, Universalia has built on its experience with organizational assessment to propose new tools to map, assess and strengthen inter-organizational relationships in SDG era. It has shared its ongoing work at various conferences, including those of the Canadian Evaluation Society, the International Development Evaluation Association, and the American Evaluation Association. At the latter, Universalia organized a panel discussion on evaluating partnerships with representatives from the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

1 Universalia Management Group Ltd. is a Montréal-based management consultancy firm with 38 years of experience advising local and global organizations on how to measure and strengthen the impact of their educational, developmental and humanitarian work. Our clients range from governments in the global North and South, to multilateral development agencies and development banks, philanthropic foundations, NGOs, and private corporations. Find out more at www.universalia.com.