Digitalizing development cooperation

When the pandemic struck, putting an end to travel to member countries, a digital solution was paramount for both the UPU’s Development Cooperation Directorate (DCDEV) and members to remain on track with their capacity building objectives. The unit turned a challenge into an opportunity, boosting participation through innovative working methods.

As the end of the cycle approached, DCDEV required a solution that would accommodate follow-up missions, closeout workshops and seminars with the possibility for simultaneous interpretation, said Pooran Parampath, Training Expert for the UPU, who led the implementation of an online training solution.

Within four months, the UPU had researched online solutions used in other UN agencies, selected the platform that could be implemented in the most regions with the fewest technological requirements, piloted the product, and implemented it, gaining two unexpected benefits: cost savings and greater reach.

“This tool allowed us to adjust our training processes and to effectively manage all sub-processes online,” he said, which included event creation, participant management, interpreter management and session recordings.

This solution therefore enabled us to continue to provide training to our members in a seamless manner irrespective of their physical location and the language that they speak.”
Quick adaptations

There were several challenges to overcome with the transition to the new process.

“In a face-to-face classroom environment, it is easier to have open discussion through higher levels of active participation, less distractions and the general comfort level compared to online modalities,” he said.

The UPU had to find ways to simulate these experiences and create an environment online that promoted meaningful interaction and contribution.

“We had icebreakers and introductions, made full use of the chat feature, breakout group discussions, as well as short coffee breaks,” Parampath said. “Of course, we also enabled sharing of presentations, had dedicated Q&A segments, and utilized short videos to break up the sessions and keep them interesting.”

Still, the transition to the online platform wasn’t always easy. Some users resisted, he said. But as with much of life affected by the pandemic, participants adapted and, with feedback they provided, they helped to shape the trainings into a more user-friendly experience.

For instance, when participants requested a multi-window view for speakers, it was quickly prioritized, tested, and implemented, Parampath said.

“We were astonished at how quickly we were able to modify our internal processes to ensure continuity of our training initiatives and in a manner that did not adversely affect our project milestones,” he said.

Improved results

With programs moved online, the UPU completed more than 40 training activities in Europe and CIS, Arab, Latin America and Africa regions, he said.

Not only were the missions and trainings completed, but more people were also able to participate.
Since the only requirement for participation was access to a steady internet connection, in many cases, training reached 20 to 60% more participants than in-person interventions.

“Where previously we were able to provide fellowships to one or two participants per country because of our budgetary constraints,” Parampath said. “With this solution, entire work teams were able to attend and benefit with minimal impact on the existing budget.”

For example, in 2018, the UPU was able to offer fellowships to 31 participants for the closeout workshop of the UPU Operational Readiness for E-commerce Arab program held onsite in Tunisia. In 2020, using the online platform, the workshop accommodated 52 trainees, which was an increase of approximately 40%. Similar results were seen in other regions, as well.

Additionally, the training solution allowed DCDEV to benefit from cost savings and do more with its allocated budget.

“We were able to shorten the planning time for activities, as some sub-processes were no longer needed,” Parampath said. “Overall, we saved money and time while implementing our planned activities.”

This was evidenced in DCDEV’s Interregional Capacity Building Project for Postal Security.

One KPI was to train 45 security personnel from designated operators (DOs), via workshops and distance learning, to carry out security reviews within DOs in their regions. In 2019 and early 2020, this was accomplished with both onsite and distance modalities. Then, during the pandemic, it was able to continue utilizing the online solution.

The achievement of this KPI then boosted the outcome achievements in other KPIs, he said, namely by creating a pool of well-trained regional security experts in Latin America and the Caribbean. This brought much-needed self-sustainability to the security review process in these regions, he said. It also boosted the achievement of pilot security audits from two to four in the Latin America and Caribbean regions.

Lessons learned

Parampath said the process taught the team several valuable lessons should the pandemic’s path allow for more in-person training.

“The first thing we have learnt is that no online solution will 100 per cent replace face-to-face training,” Parampath emphasized. “Having said that, there are lessons that we have learnt, and these can be taken forward in a hybrid model for the benefit of our members: the importance of creating an enabling online environment so that participants almost forget about the tools and feel comfortable enough to interact and discuss as if they were face-to-face.”

Yet the online solution was invaluable. It allowed the UPU to continue to train its members and to effectively sustain the momentum that it worked hard to build before the pandemic.

“Without it,” he said, “all activities would have been halted, which would have had negative implications for the beneficiary countries involved in different capacity building projects.”

This article first appeared in the Spring 2022 edition of Union Postale magazine.