Photo: ADB

Partnerships with IFIs for Sustained Financial Growth

International Financial Institutions Contribute to a Shifting Business Model while Amplifying UNICC’s Digital Transformation Capabilities

UNICC, as a trusted shared service provider for the UN family and its related organizations, has a growing impact on the mission to address humanitarian crises on a global scale. With an increase in influential partnerships – at over 70 Clients and Partner Organizations –  and a 50-year record of effective digital business solutions delivery, UNICC is redefining how it delivers its services in a changing digital international development landscape.

Notably, opportunities lie ahead in UNICC’s growing number of partnerships with a particular group of institutions named International Financial Institutions (IFIs). IFIs are multilateral, regional and national development banks that fund UN-centric operations on an unparalleled scale around the globe. 

The UNICC Business Relationship Management is pleased and proud to see agreements with almost a dozen IFIs: ADBAfDBCEBIDBIFADIMFOECDOPECFUND and World Bank.

Critical to the mission to propel international cooperation and resources towards achieving the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals, IFIs are a key component in the funding, implementation and delivery of UN family development projects and programs. From the IFI’s 2013 open letter to then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ approach towards multilateralism to the 2030 SDG Agenda, IFIs and UN entities are expanding their partnerships day by day.

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Credit: IMF/Moore
Funding Relationships from the Source

It’s a welcome shift in UNICC’s business model to work with IFIs, who enter the funding process at early stages of humanitarian programme delivery.

UN Agencies (and through them, UNICC) typically enter the project cycles later, closer to and supporting ‘last-mile’ partnerships with NGOs and civil society organizations. In working with IFIs, UNICC can identify and develop opportunities beyond its traditional partnerships with the IT or business units of UN Agencies.

IFIs are involved in funding projects from the beginning, with a wide and deep perspective on programming, with substantial funds and advanced technology at their fingertips, to make the world a better place. 

Prado Nieto, Chief, Business Relationship Management, UNICC
Asian Development Bank

UNICC’s involvement with IFIs began in 2016 with a partnership with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), a global organization dedicated towards providing funding for development projects, $21.5 billion in 2019, to 49 countries in Asia and the Pacific. ADB initially approached UNICC looking for a provider of Disaster Recovery (DR) services, with UNICC providing a resilient backup infrastructure and environmental and security management in UNICC’s Geneva Data Centre. 

Since the original Service Delivery Agreement (SDA) in 2016, UNICC has worked with ADB to provide a number of critical services, granting the bank the title of UNICC’s first IFI ‘Privileged User’ for its influence as one of our top ten Clients.

Expanding the IFI Horizon

Following UNICC’s agreements with ADB, UNICC grew in visibility as I participated in 2019 meeting for IFI CIOs (Chief Information Officer) in Cape Town, South Africa. In the meeting, where more than 12 IFIs were represented by CIOs, we advocated for the potential for collaboration between IFIs and UN Agencies through UNICC’s support. 

We had a very good time, commiserating a little but learning and inspiring each other. I am sure you will all agree that we ought to continue strengthening our collaboration. We all share a similar mission and genuine partnership is what the world needs more. 

Denis Robitaille, the Vice President and Chief Information Officer of the World Bank’s Information and Technology Solution, IFI CIOs Club, Cape Town, September 2019

Even in the two years since the meeting in Cape Town, the progress is palpable. Services that are provided to IFIs include but are not limited to:

  • Disaster Recovery/Resilience
  • AWS Cloud Hosting
  • Data Lake
  • ERP
  • Robotic Process Automation
  • Business Intelligence.

The impact of UNICC’s services for IFIs go beyond the signing of contracts. Since IFIs not only require but also can afford the latest innovative technologies, these partnerships reveal several key areas of growth for the organization. 

Firstly, IFIs have the financial capabilities to outsource solutions from providers in the private sector, leaving UNICC to constantly sharpen and grow in all aspects of service delivery to keep up with competitors. Areas such as cyber security, Big Data, artificial intelligence are several of many solutions required by IFIs that will keep UNICC up to date with cutting-edge technologies. 

Additionally, in providing services and maintaining relationships with IFIs, UNICC will see a vitalization in the internal health of the organization. 

IFIs can help UNICC envision a future of growth and change, whether it’s volume discounts for shared services or an increase in onboarding skilled experts to support new challenges and projects. The partnership with IFIs carries the potential to improve UNICC’s financial health and enhance its digital transformation capabilities to support the missions of its Clients and Partner Organizations.

Photo: Unsplash/heylagostechie

UNICC Participates in Swiss and Italian Career Fairs

UNICC strives to build a dynamic pipeline for its talented workforce, with commitments to gender parity, diversity and inclusiveness. With this goal in mind the organization regularly shares its profile and job opportunities with career fairs in countries where it has offices (Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the United States). UNICC also supports the UN’s Youth 2030, an ambitious system-wide strategy to guide the United Nations and its partners to work meaningfully with and for young people around the world.

With the goal to build visibility and partnerships with academic institutions, UNICC offers internship opportunities for college students in a variety of fields, from all areas of digital business and technology, to enhance their educational experience with professional training and exposure to the organization’s work. Through internships, students can learn from the UNICC community, while UNICC benefits by creating a diverse workforce, expanding the organization’s expertise and reach to the latest theoretical and technical knowledge and staff resources.

Last week, Geneva and Brindisi colleagues met students and graduates interested to learn more about joining the UNICC family. 

ICT Career Days in University of Salento

In Italy, UNICC virtually attended the ICT Career Days organized by the University of Salento on 29 and 30 March. Service Management Assistant Luca Contursi delivered a presentation and together with Service Management Coordinator Angelo De Angelis and HR Assistant Julia Cassista, interviewed students in 15-minute, one-to-one meetings. The team’s goal was to share current and potential internship opportunities in UNICC’s Brindisi, Italy office. To give the students a glimpse of work there, the interviews were conducted in Italian and English. 

While this was the first time UNICC participated in ICT Career Days there, an event focused on students with technical profiles, the partnership between the University of Salento and UNICC has been in place for five years. UNICC has attended previous Career Weeks with a wider scope and hosted several interns from the institution.

Swiss International Career Day

Also on 29 March, UNICC attended for the fifth time the International Career Day (ICD) event organized by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. This fair offers young professionals and students a platform to meet with representatives of international organizations and find out about jobs and career opportunities in the multilateral environment. 

UNICC’s HR and Communications teams worked together to create an attractive virtual booth, a platform with information about the organization, including UNICC’s Working With Us video, available internship and job opportunities and a presentation about UNICC. The UNICC team was ready to answer direct messages from attendees with questions about how to get started in an international organization.

HR Officer Martin Alirol and HR Assistant Isabel Guardeno Exposito hosted two breakout rooms where students could meet the HR team. The third breakout room was hosted by current UNICC interns in different units, including HR’s Gianna Gkramozi and Diego Arista Vinaixa, Laura Reis from Procurement and Finance, and Ha-Young Kwon, interning in Communications. Students also had the opportunity to schedule short one-to-one interviews.

UNICC promotes and facilitates cooperation with academic institutions in many ways. In addition to internships and engaging with students in specific projects such as the recent Global Hackathon: Data for Good, UNICC collaborates with researchers, benefiting from high and deep level of skills in specific areas, co-sponsoring events, and much more.

Photo: UNHCR

UN Agencies Transition to Cloud-based Telephony

​UNICC Supports Clients with State-of-the-Art Voice Solutions

Many United Nations Agencies are transitioning from conventional enterprise telephony systems to cloud-based solutions that allow users to make mobile, landline and international phone calls through Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) connections, with options for modern desk phones and computer ‘soft’ phones, unifying a whole set of communications collaboration tools across the enterprise.

UNICC has been acting as a key enabler for many Partner Organizations who wanted to adopt and modernize their enterprise voice solutions during the challenging times brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gabriel Galati, Head, Digital Workplace Services Unit, UNICC

UNICC has been involved in multiple migrations, implementing customized solutions that take into account each organization’s legacy telephony equipment and infrastructure, current phone carrier, location and local calling plans, organizational cloud strategy, functionality and interoperability requirements as well as current and evolving business needs.

UNICC is currently supporting up to ten UN entities and related organizations in their transitions to cloud telephony, including ADB, ICJ, IFAD, ITC, ITU, OPCW, UN Women, WTO and WFP HQ, with other UNICC Clients in the pipeline.

Our mission is to provide our Clients with the unique experience of making professional phone calls from anywhere at any time. And to do it in a “UN style,” achieving more with less.

Ricardo Pardal, Project Lead, Unified Communications, UNICC

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Microsoft voice system common option for the UN. Credit: Microsoft


The most common options (which can be mixed and matched) include an all-in-the-cloud solution, bringing the organizational phone carrier to the M365 phone system in the cloud or on premises) with different Session Border Controller options to connect to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN Carrier/Telco):

  • Phone system with Calling Plan (all-in-the-cloud solution)
  • Phone system with organizational phone carrier with Direct Routing
  • Phone system with organizational phone carrier via Skype for Business (/Teams) server
  • Enterprise Voice in Skype for Business (/Teams) server with own carrier.

Most UN Agencies chose the Microsoft Teams Direct Routing option through which they follow a gradual transition, integrating first the organization’s telephony equipment and/or third-party provider to the Microsoft Teams telephony solution in the cloud, moving through different stages of coexistence before eventually disposing the old system and embracing a comprehensive, cloud-based telephony implementation.

One of the key benefits of cloud telephony is that it allows to establish the least-cost route on calls. With voice gateways anywhere in the world, Clients can pay local instead of international fares while calling anywhere, anytime. UNICC has gateways in Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the US, but if the Client requires a new gateway, it can be established in the Microsoft Azure Cloud in just two days.

Moreover, with cloud telephony an organization can unify all its communications and collaboration tools, minimizing the number of applications their users need for calling, video meetings, instant messaging, Business Relationship Management and business processes.

Microsoft Teams is a solid solution, with an engine that has been developed and continually improved for over a decade and a modern front-end. But the UNICC Unified Communications team is also equipped to serve Clients who are interested in alternative solutions, for example Clients who prefer or require retain the functionality provided by on premise systems and a blend of traditional (landline) PSTN and VoIP (voice over IP) telephony options.

For instance, UNICC manages legacy Skype for Business and Cisco telephony systems, both on premise and in the cloud, for several Clients. Additionally, the team has in-house experts on Zoom, Polycom and more telephony and voice vendors, to fulfill each organizations’ business requirements, with interoperability between systems always available.

Microsoft Teams, with its voice solutions and other integrative apps is a versatile and powerful platform that can boost productivity and collaboration as no other application before it.

Mihai Petrescu, Operations Lead, Unified Communications, UNICC

UNICC also offers Calling Plan options with no legacy hardware nor provider. Through Microsoft Teams, the Client can call to phone numbers around the world without requiring any deployment or maintenance of on premise equipment. This is a streamlined and cost-efficient solution for Clients that want to skip the coexistence phase and move directly to fully cloud-based telephony. Cloud-based Calling Plans, however, are not available in all countries, making this a challenge for most UN Agencies.

The continuous commitment of the UNICC Unified Communications group, their technical expertise and their Client intimacy has allowed smooth enterprise voice integrations overcoming many challenges brought by the diversity and legacy of Client’s Unified Communications systems.

Gabriel Galati, Head, Digital Workplace Services Unit, UNICC

UNICC’s knowledge of the United Nations ecosystem means that its Unified Communications team can help each organization to obtain the option with best return on investment, whether that means reusing older networks and infrastructure, leveraging Skype for Business or Microsoft Teams licenses already purchased or adopting a brand new Calling Plan scenario.

Heel of the Boot: University of Salento Team Wins Global Challenge on Predicting Refugee Forced Displacement

In February, two professors at the University of Salento received notice of UNICC’s Global Hackathon: Data for Good. As professors at a university proudly supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Antonella Longo, Professor of Data Management & Big Data Management for Decision Making, and Gianluca Elia, Professor of Digital Business, came together to encourage a group of students spanning hundreds of miles, from Italy to Austria, to participate as a data hackathon team.

The students – Enrico Coluccia, Francesco Russo, Riccardo Caro, Giulia Caso, Gianmarco Girardo, Marco Greco and Chiara Rucco – may not have known each other, but they demonstrated a common interest in data science in the context of international humanitarian crises. The students registered as ‘Heel of the Boot,’ referring to the location of Salento University in Italy, and, within several days, successfully constructed the winning solution to the Hackathon challenge on Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement.

The team we created is characterised by an interdisciplinary profile with vertical and complementary skills such as machine learning, data modelling, data visualisation and innovation management. Beyond this, remarkable empathy flew among us: a creative working group was born.

Team Heel of the Boot

UNICC’s Global Hackathon: Data for Good took place on Tuesday, 16 February 2021, with a global audience of UNICC and other UN organizations’ staff members, university representatives and over 140 students. 

Following the introductory remarks from UNICC’s Director Sameer Chauhan and Chief of Digital Business Solutions Ninna Roco, Anusha Dandapani, Chief of Data Analytics, introduced the three challenges of the hackathon: COVID-19 Open Challenge, Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement and the UN75 Visualisation Challenge.

Heel of the Boot chose the Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement challenge and wasted no time in launching their data pipeline. The team began to build their solution by discussing which questions would bear answers that were most pertinent to the challenge. 

Amidst the obstacles of virtual engagement and time restrictions, team members sought the meaning of potential models’ features in regard to the related correlations and trends. It was during this data pre-processing phase, “the most complicated and time consuming in order to avoid the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ effect,” that the team developed a synergy to carry through their time together. 

The different and complementary skills of each team member were precious, and each team members’ comments allowed us to adequately investigate the diverse aspects and issues related to the challenge.

Team Heel of the Boot

Following the selection of the features of their model, Heel of the Boot could integrate data sources into a final data set. With the use of one hot-encoding technique among other efforts to ensure the quality of their data, the team’s final data set consisted of about 300 data entries, each representing a specific year, an origin country and a destination country.

They next analysed their data by adopting various machine learning models for multiple regression, using 80% of the data for training the model and 20% for testing. Through this process, the team chose Random Forest Regressor to illustrate and prioritise a level of interpretability in their findings. In addition, the team came up with supplemental predictive data models and other data analyses to contextualise potential causal outcomes. 

Credit: UNICC

Team Heel of the Boot’s final presentation, which married their models’ findings and background analyses, produced impressive results. Out of various concluding predictions, one most notable findings were predictions of Sudan, Sweden, Afghanistan and Ukraine as the primary countries of origin for refugees by 2024. Their presentation brought questions from the judges on the inclusion of Sweden as an outlier result. To these inquiries, team member Francesco Russo explained that “this seemingly reliable model we built is pointing towards some other influence, apart from the main factor of political instability that is shown in the other examples, that has the power to change the course of future predictions.” 

“If a model only reflects what we already know from the past, then it is not a model.”

Francesco Russo, Team Heel of the Boot

Team Heel of the Boot described their Hackathon experience as a surprising experience for not only the cohesiveness and coherence of a disparate team that yielded impressive results, but also the underlying philosophy in using skills in data for the betterment of lives on an international scale.

The students hope to expand upon their research by incorporating more data to build more sophisticated predictive models in future Hackathons and other educational endeavors.

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This article is part of a series of stories from the first UNICC Global Hackathon: Data for Good that took place in February 2021. The hackathon drew registrations from a total of 140 students from 54 universities located in 13 countries around the globe, all of whom came together to tackle three major UN related challenges: Covid-19 Open Challenge, Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement, and the UN75 Visualisation Challenge. To learn more about this successful event and its wonderful finalists, please refer to this article here.

UNICC Trusted Partnerships Rountable Screenshot of Panellists

UNICC Partners Discuss Trusted Partnerships for Digital Public Solutions

UNICC is commemorating its 50th anniversary and as part of the celebration the organization brought together preeminent partners to discuss the topic of Trusted Partnerships: Catalysts for Creative Digital Public Solutions in a public roundtable. 

In this 23 March event, prominent thought leaders from the UN family and beyond discussed the power of partnerships, guided by questions from moderator Prado Nieto Barrantes, Chief, Business Relationship Management, UNICC. 

The panellists of the Trusted Partnerships roundtable were:

  • Enrica Porcari, CIO and Director of Technology, WFP and Chair of the UNICC Management Committee
  • Hans Baritt, Controller and Director, Division of Financial and Administrative Management, UNHCR
  • Dianne Dain, WHO Innovation, Digital Health and Innovation, WHO
  • Jean-Louis Ecochard, Chief Innovation Officer, NetHope
  • Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC

The participants defined what successful partnerships look like. Enrica Porcari noted some of the key ingredients in the secret sauce of a strong partnership: hard work and patience to build trust, a shared ethos and continuous support. “We look for partners that are there every step of the way, working side by side with WFP, and who are not there just for the spotlight,” she said.

The discussion moved into the evolution of technology partnerships over the last years and the driving factors of this shift. One of the great values of trusted partnerships is that it allows for more resource efficiency. To that end, panellists noted that UN Agencies should collaborate and share solutions, instead of working independently.

Partnership is the art of understanding shared value. In WFP we have a number of partnerships, not many, but the ones that we have are deep, are sustained, are long-term. And definitely UNICC is one of them. 

Enrica Porcari, CIO and Director of Technology, WFP and Chair of the UNICC Management Committee

Participants shared their views on how partnerships encourage and drive more creative solutioning, with specific examples. They also discussed some of the most critical changes that organisations should make now to have robust, resilient and sustainable partnerships to face the future effectively. 

Dianne Dain reminded the audience of the UN Secretary-General’s description of the current global situation: “The world is facing the greatest crisis since the United Nations was created.” Global challenges including the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and many more can’t be solved by any single individual or organisation, but have to be tackled from different angles through partnerships.

Technology and partnerships play a large part in making the dollars go further. We have to partner across Agencies, leveraging and building on institutions like UNICC.

Hans Baritt, Controller and Director, Division of Financial and Administrative Management, UNHCR

Jean-Louis Ecochard offered his view on the value of trusted partnerships and going from the I to the We: “Diversity in partnerships brings creativity and innovation. We need this creativity to design digital solutions to conditions that don’t fit the current technological stack.” 

After half a century, UNICC continues providing shared services to UN entities and related organizations around the world, connecting groups who can come together to collaborate and make impactful digital solutions. 

UNICC depends on its partnerships with Clients and strategic partners, including public and private sector, NGOs, academic institutions and other entities, and appreciates organizations working together for social good, often counting on UNICC, to make the world a better place.

Photo: ITU/Farrell

FICSA and UNICC Team Up for a Brighter Future of Work for UN Staff

Sharing expertise in the digital transformation journey

The Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations (FICSA), representing the views of over 40,000 International Civil Servants through their member staff associations/unions, recently signed an agreement with the United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC).  Sharing expertise and experience in digital transformation journeys, UNICC has been identified as a crucial partner to address FICSA’s work on the digitalisation process, the digital divide and its mandate to ensure staff engagement.

To support building a sustainable framework for the future technology roadmap of the UN system means not only to put staff members at the center of the process, but to make sure that experts are right at the center with us.

Tanya Quinn-Maguire, FICSA President, at the Virtual 74th Annual FICSA Council Plenary where the recommendation for this partnership was adopted.

This exciting partnership allows for more extensive and better-informed staff consultation processes.  The short-term aims and goals of the partnership include:

  • Demystifying issues surrounding enabling technologies among staff members through high-quality education and training as well as expert-led support for staff representatives, so as to empower them to contribute to ongoing discussions on technology and organizational restructuring on behalf of their constituency;
  • Supporting staff members in employing digital tools in sustainable, healthy and proficient ways, in line with the UN Mental Health and Well-being Strategy;
  • Fostering a science-based and human-centered approach to the digital transition within the UN, with FICSA serving as a sounding board for UNICC projects and initiatives;
  • Identifying feasible solutions to address current inequalities in gaining access to and utilising enabling technology, including for those that are disadvantaged due to limited access;
  • Representing FICSA members at high level meetings with well-prepared FICSA positions.

Digitalisation has already begun, and FICSA members need to understand where these developments are heading. FICSA’s long-standing commitment to fact-based staff representation informed the Council’s decision to team up with professionals in digital business and technology at UNICC.

About FICSA

The Federation of International Civil Servants Association (FICSA) was established in 1952. Today, FICSA is a federation of staff associations and unions, which represents close to 40,000 members. FICSA fosters the development of the international civil service in accordance with the principles set forth in the UN Charter and the constitutions of the specialized agencies.

For more information, please reach out to business@unicc.org or ficsa@un.org. For media interviews, contact ficsa@un.org

Photo: UN City Copenhagen

UNFCCC and UNICC Partner to Optimize Digital UN Climate Change Events

Bonn/Geneva 22 March 2021 – The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC) have announced a partnership to develop and deliver a state-of-the-art digital platform for climate change events. The solution will support pre-COP26 events, COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland (1-12 November 2021) and strategic long-term requirements for UNFCCC.

As the climate emergency continues unabated, the need to facilitate global participation and engagement in the multilateral process on climate change remains as vital and urgent as ever. The constraints the COVID‑19 pandemic is posing on large-scale physical conferences, as well as the need to reduce emissions associated with conferences, make it imperative to implement a high-quality, integrated virtual and hybrid meeting solution in order to maximize participation and engagement.

UNFCCC’s digital platforms will be strategically enhanced and matured to ensure an optimal experience for users. This includes a seamless conference management solution with full security and trust, sophisticated data and analytics insights, premium support and sustained adoption and usability for conference and meeting participants.  The new platforms will be complementary to the physical events of the UNFCCC process.

About UNFCCC

The UNFCCC secretariat (UN Climate Change) is the United Nations entity tasked with supporting the global response to the threat of climate change. UNFCCC stands for United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Convention has near universal membership (197 Parties) and is the parent treaty of the 2015 Paris Agreement and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The ultimate objective of the agreements under the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, in a time frame which allows ecosystems to adapt naturally and enables sustainable development.

For more information, please reach out to digital@unicc.org.

UNICC Joins UN OICT as a Winner for 2020 Secretary General Awards

UNICC and UN OICT work together to ensure M365 migration stability

UNICC’s Messaging Engineering Group (MEG), a part of the UNICC Digital Workplace Services unit, joins UN OICT as a winner in the category ‘Facilitating delivery in the time of Covid-19’ out of 99 nominees for the 2020 the UN Secretary-General Awards.

The Secretary-General Awards honor and recognize significant performance of UN Secretariat staff members who transcend in their duties or initiate and implement projects with great impact and innovative potential.

Staff members across the global Secretariat nominated almost 200 remarkable projects from 52 Secretariat entities for the 2020 UN Secretary-General Awards. 

The fact that we were nominated and selected as one of six finalists out of 99 nominees in our category was already a great success! 
Lejla Salihagic-Celjo, Messaging Systems Administrator, OPDM, UNICC

UNICC’s Messaging Engineering Group (MEG) provides dedicated messaging and M365 collaboration services to the UN Secretariat – 58 000 users at the UN headquarters in New York, peacekeeping and political field missions around the world and UN offices away from HQ and regional commissions.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres congratulated all the winners and highlighted the importance of the OICT-led project with participation from UNICC in enabling the UN to communicate globally through virtual events, a “vital tool to carry forward the mission of the United Nations.”

Microsoft 365 Administration during the Pandemic

Together with other UN Office of Information and Communications Technology (OICT) teams and as part of the UN Global Support Center (UNGSC), the MEG team participated in project implementation as technical leads and M365 tenant administrators. In recent years the UN has been modernizing ICT systems to enable the organization to efficiently deliver its mandates. The integration of shared drives, Unite Docs standards and Unite Connections allows UN organizations to move to remote work virtually overnight. 

UN OICT’s strategic approach was driven by cost efficiency, security, mobility and enhancing user experience. This accelerated the move to the Microsoft Cloud and global deployment of the Microsoft 365 suite, which includes Teams, OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint Online.

By March 2020, the UN Secretariat workforce was ideally situated to respond to the rising crisis of COVID-19. The UNGSC partnership with OICT strengthened the capacity of its infrastructure, implemented cyber security controls, migrated all core data to the cloud, and issued job aids, guidelines and online training to the global workforce of 58,000 users.

UN OICT’s support was also fundamental in ensuring business continuity to the General Assembly, Security Council, and inter-governmental bodies to function virtually during the COVID-19 emergency. Through these enhanced capabilities the United Nations now has the capacity to communicate and interact with global society in a way that was never possible before. 

UN Secretariat users can now reach stakeholders from UN Agencies, Funds, Programmes, and every Member State, connecting citizens and spreading the UN’s message more effectively. The role of UN OICT in the wake of COVID-19 has been pivotal in globally supporting the UN Secretariat and helping staff in all duty stations to continue to communicate, collaborate, and deliver crucial mandates. The UN OICT continues to empower users in the new normal, bridging silos and creating a safe and inclusive United Workspace for all.

Challenges

The pandemic brought an onslaught of challenges to everyone. The MEG team faced several challenges, especially their working remotely, balancing 100% teleworking with family responsibilities. This impacted internal team communications and work-life balance for each of its members. Equally, it weighed on service and Client support. Geographically, MEG team members are distributed between Valencia and Brindisi; online communication was already one channel of work between the two locations. However, in the wake of COVID-19, team members in each location lost physical presence with other colleagues in the offices.

The teleworking requirement impacted our Clients around the world, which significantly increased the demand for the service that MEG team provides. For example, the use of MS Teams increased 5 times in just the first 3 months of the pandemic and it continues to grow – when the daily work of our 58000+ users depends on MEG services. There are similar trends for all other services that MEG team provides. 

Lejla Salihagic-Celjo, Messaging Systems Administrator, OPDM, UNICC

Solutions

Improved resources allowed the MEG team to address the increase in the scope of service and demand. It also created a smoother transition for new MEG team members who joined the team and enabled them to integrate quickly. It’s no wonder they were selected finalists for the 2020 Secretary General Awards. 

The team-building skills, focus, and energy that each team member brought in their daily meetings made the team stronger and more able to overcome any unforeseen obstacles. Now the MEG team shares the same goals and the same spirit.

Abraca-Data: A Team of Young Talent, Forged by Chance, Fortified by Data

Several days before the start of the UNICC Global Hackathon: Data for Good, five students from five different universities in India received an email from UNICC informing them they would be participating in the hackathon together as a team. Himanshu Bajpai, Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani; Aanisha Bhattacharyya, Institute of Engineering and Management in Kolkata; Foridur Rahman, Savitribai Phule Pune University in Pune; Swaraj Priyadarshan Dash, Silicon Institute of Technology in Bhubaneswar all registered individually without knowing each other or what to expect. 

Our team consisted of students from India with an enthusiasm for data science… Our participation as a team was entirely a stroke of luck.

Himanshu Bajpai, Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, India 

UNICC’s Global Hackathon: Data for Good launched on Tuesday, 16 February 2021 with an introduction from the organization’s executive leadership to a global audience of UNICC and other UN organizations’ staff members, university representatives and over 140 students. Following the introductory remarks from UNICC’s Director Sameer Chauhan and Chief of Digital Business Solutions Ninna Roco, Anusha Dandapani, Chief of Data Analytics, introduced the three challenges of the hackathon: COVID-19 Open Challenge, Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement, and the UN75 Visualization Challenge. 

Himanshu, Aanisha, Foridur and Swaraj registered under the name Team Abraca-Data and opted for the Covid-19 Open Challenge. The challenge called for measuring the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, identifying key stakeholders in managing the outbreak and forecasting the impact of phased vaccination cycles.  

The team began by breaking apart the segments of the challenge and delegating the analytic workstreams to members of the team: Swaraj focused on government measures implemented in developing countries, Aanisha investigated the global vaccination drive, Foridur observed the socio-economic impact of Covid-19 and Himanshu found trends in overall transmission of the virus. All of the students brought their individual fortes in data analysis, statistics and interpretation to approach their respective areas of research.  

Despite their varying approaches, all students on the team collectively agreed upon one thing: to look for trends not already known. Instead, the students focused on finding new insights, particularly how the Covid-19 virus is transmitted among children, the resulting behavioral changes in societies and patterns in the vaccination drive with other key international factors. They looked into data sets from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Johns Hopkins University, New York Times, The Covid Tracking Project, and UN data sets such as OCHA Coronavirus (Covid-19) Vaccinations, all of them open source. 

They found that the number of children testing positive was actually in regard to the number of cases identified as positive in Italy. The team presented that on average, 1/12 of all positive Covid-19 cases in Italy were children less than 15 years old, effectively marking a correlation between the number of cases among children and the general population that has the potential to guide future policy decisions in the pandemic. 

Credit: UNICC
Credit: UNICC

Additionally, the team presented a word cloud visualisation that was built from various data sets, including the ACAPS COVID-19 Government Measures Dataset which consists of related intel across sources from governments, media, the United Nations and other organisations. By building this visualisation, team members offered insight on shifts in public opinion through the observation of common verbiage, such as “Violence” and “Alcohol” pertaining to individual behavior and “Sanitation” and “Unemployment” related to government response. 

One thing that we were clear about though, was that we won’t try to find trends and patterns that we were already aware of. Instead, we’d try to discover new insights. 

Team Abraca-Data 

The final section of their presentation focused on the global vaccination drive, where they started by looking for correlations between countries that are leading the vaccination drive, such as Israel, Chile, United Kingdom and Serbia, and their ranking in GDP per capita. They also focused on other trends such as data concerning the overall rate of vaccination and the return rate for the second dose for Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines. 

The team’s meticulous research and valuable data insights won them first place in the UNICC Global Hackathon Challenge 1: Covid-19 Open Challenge, where they were competing against four other teams. Furthermore, their award-winning project allowed for the development of their data skills capabilities and provided data-driven insights, addressing two of UNICC’s data strategy goals in alignment with the UN Secretary-General Data Strategy

When recounting their Hackathon experience, Abraca-data members expressed an overwhelming appreciation and an enriching experience. They thanked their mentors, whose dedicated attention and helpful feedback “only motivated us to push harder.”  

Team members aim to continue their collaboration and build upon their research, such as incorporating more data on vaccinations, for future presentations and publication. 

This article is part of a series of stories from the first UNICC Global Hackathon: Data for Good that took place in February 2021. The hackathon drew registrations from a total of 140 students from 54 universities located in 13 countries around the globe, all of whom came together to tackle three major UN related challenges: Covid-19 Open Challenge, Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement, and the UN75 Visualization Challenge. To learn more about this successful event and its wonderful finalists, please refer to this article here.