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Interview with Reza Ardakanian

September 2011


Dr Reza Ardakanian is the Director of the UN-Water Decade Programme on Capacity Development (UNW-DPC). We ask him about achievements and activities related to strengthening capacity building worldwide.



What are the challenges facing UN-Water in strengthening capacity building worldwide?

Capacity building is a top priority for UN-Water, and we work hard to better coordinate and add coherence to all members' and partners' water-related capacity development activities… but there is always a need for improvement! Globally all the financial, natural and human resources needed to solve our water and sanitation problems exist; now the challenge is to get these resources to the right places and people at the right time. This means transferring the knowledge, financial resources and available technology in a targeted and effective manner. At the same time, the water community needs to improve already existing knowledge and capacities such as its social learning tools and web 2.0, which present excellent opportunities to create sustainable, adjustable and self-tailored platforms for learning.

It has become increasingly clear that meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other global targets related to water and sanitation means employing a broad range of financial, social, organizational and human resources. From our perspective, the first step in improving coordination and prioritization of UN-Water members and partners is getting a clearer overview of their current activities as they develop the capacities of individuals and institutions worldwide. We have already received requests from several individual Task Forces to map, report on and present their activities –processes that all fall under our mandate. However, creating a system that continuously maps all the activities of UN-Water members and partners would require significantly more investment in time and capital, or a directive for individual members to keep it updated themselves.

Despite these challenges, UNW- DPC has taken active steps towards building a cohesive and effective structure through the release of the UN-Water Activity Information System Plus, which includes eTraining modules; by coordinating UN-Water activities; and by experimenting with Web 2.0 technology. Although we still face the challenge of harmonizing common platforms across the various member organizations, we believe we have been successful at the work we have undertaken so far and received very positive feedback.

The UNW-DPC Office partners with several agencies to promote capacity building. Can you share any success stories or key learnings from specific projects stemming from these partnerships?

To date, UNW-DPC has joined forces with more than a dozen individual UN-Water members and partners on nearly 90 different activities all over the world, including implementing training workshops and seminars, producing publications, and creating tools for mapping and analysis of capacity development needs.

Some of our most successful joint projects to date have been in the area of water efficiency, including our numerous regional and international activities on water loss reduction in urban areas and our series of training workshops on the use of the Food and Agriculture Organization's AquaCrop software - a crop model that simulates the yield response to water of several herbaceous crops. For the latter, we partnered with the FAO to help them disseminate this proprietary software, and repeated their five-day training module in five different regions of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In each case, we used the 'Training-of-Trainers' methodology to educate 147 participants from 58 countries, who then went on to train others in the use of the system. 43% of those trainees were from academia, 32% from national research institutes, 15% from ministries or government agencies, 7% from international development organizations, 2% from private companies and 1% from NGOs.

Six months after the last workshop, we invited these participants to present case studies on their use of the software in new areas or on new crops, and to discuss their experiences in training others. The best cases were then presented at the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID)'s Asian regional conference held in Indonesia in October 2010. Of the 19 participants that attended, we learned that 16 of them had gone on to train 120 other people, an increase of ten-fold! That, for us, was a real success, as we believe that online guides and training tools like these, coupled with on-site 'training of trainers' and regular post-training feedback, are ideal methods of educating individuals on a global scale in a way that can be improved and repeated in multiple regions.

Another example of our success was our participation in the IFAT Entsorga Trade Fair for Water and Sanitation in Munich in September 2010. Public awareness and reporting results of our activities with and for UN-Water are a main component of UNW-DPC's work, particularly during our first 3-year Work Plan. At IFAT, the UN-Water Center, a UN-Water seminar on institutional capacity development, and a press conference brought ten UN-Water members together under a common visual identity and attracted over 5,000 international visitors, who took home almost 10,000 pieces of UN-Water material. As the only United Nations presence at the trade fair, our booth was a real conduit for reaching new audiences, including that of the private sector – which I believe should be a real goal for UN-Water. In fact, we learned through our IFAT feedback that most of these visitors were hearing about UN-Water for the first time. IFAT also marked our first foray into the use of short videos to explain and advertise our activities, another tool that we believe is very effective in disseminating information, creating a favorable impression of the organization, and garnering interest from the general public.

The UNW-DPC program is now in its fourth year - what 'growing pains' have you experienced, and how will you improve efforts over the next few years in the hopes of achieving the Millennium Development Goals?

During our first few years, UNW-DPC concentrated mainly on increasing awareness and acceptance of our programme, and growing the scale of the capacity development activities of UN-Water members and partners. I think that given our small office, which houses about ten people, we did a good job of creating individual activities with as many UN-Water members and partners as possible and gaining their trust and respect through good working relationships. Now in our second phase of work, we have an opportunity to prioritize and concentrate more on activities that add value to all of UN-Water, support THE organization and participation of UN-Water in relevant events like IFAT, which occurs again in May 2012. We've already had around two-dozen UN-Water members and programmes express their interest in the Fair, so we are already growing in strength and numbers!


Reza Ardakanian

Last update:07 Oct 2014