annual report

Focus Area III:
Innovate and respond
to changing contexts

We leveraged our expertise to enable UN staff and partners to display an ability to think and work differently to respond and adapt to changing contexts.

COVID-19 presented real uncertainties in 2020. Accordingly, the College decided to develop initiatives to address uncertainty, cope with change, and promote innovative ways of working. Newly developed and re-designed learning interventions provided an opportunity for staff and partners to think differently and develop foresight techniques to better anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to changing contexts.

rose to the challenge to:

In strengthening the collective capacities of UN system entities and partners, we remained true to our mission – ensuring that we support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, the sustaining peace resolutions and management reform.

rose to the challenge to:

Build future-fit leaders

With UN staff and partner organizations working remotely, extensive training was needed to help promote new mindsets, behaviours and skillsets to rapidly adapt and adjust to deliver amidst a changing context. A range of timely knowledge and learning programmes like “Helping Teams Navigate Uncertainty" were designed to help team leaders build resilience and manage and structure teams remotely. Participant feedback showed that this learning offering was a great help in the early stages of the pandemic. As time passed, it allowed managers to reflect on, and identify the changes that were beneficial and that needed to be maintained.

The “UN Leaders for Sustainable Development Mastermind Group” , sponsored by the Federal Republic of Germany, was launched in June 2020 to provide a safe environment to ideate, discuss and reflect on leadership contributions and solutions to the design, development and implementation of sustainable development pathways. Going forward, the Mastermind Group will serve as an incubator for multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration.

The College also contributed to strengthening a culture of shared leadership within UN Country Teams by rolling out a UNCT Dream Team Leadership Initiative for the UN Country Team in Jordan. The training brought together the heads of agencies of the UN in Jordan, and created a safe space to strengthen the team, foster collaboration and discuss the collective value proposition of the United Nations in Jordan.

Through the “Virtual Dialogue Series for Deputy Special Representatives of the Secretary General” , senior UN leaders from peace operations were provided with a space to exchange context-specific experiences on the changing environments they were working on, and how the effectiveness of their missions had been affected by the growing polarization of the international system at the global and regional level. Participants used the series to explore how best peace operations can support member states in building back better after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The College’s “Digital Leadership Series” delivered three strategic programmes: the “Executive Leadership in Times of Crisis- Human Dimension” , the “Executive Leadership in Times of Crisis – Business Dimension" and “Leading for the Future” . In the first programme, senior leaders devised solutions to the human dimensions – trust, shared values and ethics – of what leadership responses should look like in the face of the unfolding crisis. The second programme allowed for a deep dive into the leadership that UN senior leaders are called to demonstrate in the new realities presented by remote work. Topics included leading and caring for a global workforce, e-diplomacy and adaptive leadership for a new digital reality. The final programme 'Leading for the Future' , examined critical dimensions like resource mobilization and partnership building – particularly in the light of the constraints presented by COVID-19. The programme concluded by taking stock of the current realities and how best to position the United Nations going forward.

An enabling environment is important for establishing evaluation functions that allow leaders to plan for the future. To support the UN’s work in evaluation, the College developed the “Evaluation Dialogue Sessions” for senior leaders. This webinar-based learning programme provided a forum for senior managers at UN Secretariat entities to reflect on how to enable and promote evaluation as a tool to improve performance, innovation and renewal in a post-pandemic world.

The respective offerings were uniquely positioned to help leaders deal with the immense pressures brought about by the pandemic. Each learning and knowledge product defined how to respond and adapt, while setting the tone, direction and priorities at an organization-wide and system level.

Robust evidence of the success of our initiatives came as the College saw peers lean on each other to cultivate and enhance their vantage point; problem solve and identify pragmatic solutions to difficulties or questions faced; build peer support networks to help each other through real work and life challenges, and interact with leading experts to gain insights and inspiration on how to tackle the various leadership challenges at the height of the pandemic.

Beyond 2020, the College is confident that the investment in knowledge-based and learning activities driven by high-quality learning methodologies and highly qualified professionals will continue to give leaders the ability to foster and sustain agile workforces.


UN Mastermind Groups

"Good reflections on situational leadership – from directive to delegatory – depending on situational complexity vis-à-vis team competence and comfort."

- Rosemary Kalapurakal, Deputy Director at the United Nations Development Coordination Office

rose to the challenge to:

rose to the challenge to:

Fast track digital learning

The COVID-19 pandemic eliminated face-to-face training, leaving only synchronous and asynchronous online learning. To meet emerging training and learning needs, the College launched the “Blue Line” , a global learning hub designed by the UN, for the UN. Blue Line has been instrumental for unifying and standardizing the learning culture that is essential for elevating the leadership and management potential of the UN system. The more than 40 curated online modules on leadership, management, innovation and sustainable development have proven beneficial for all who are interested in self-directed learning to hone new skills or master existing ones. The rapid uptake by 9,790 users in 2020 unequivocally demonstrated the need for this learning solution.


The E-Management Certificate Programme offered under The Blue Line

“I enjoyed the quality and ease of use of the online platform. I found the Human Resources modules extremely useful for everyday life, not only professionally but also personally. I would recommend it to every UN staff member.”

- Masha Meyer, Administrative Specialist at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

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Through vibrant virtual peer exchanges, UNSSC advanced dialogue on the importance of integrating conflict analysis into established procedures, understanding conflict indicators, articulating good practices and quality criteria to conduct conflict analyses

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Fuel transformational change

To fuel system-wide change, the College offered learning and knowledge products on designing and managing organizational change. "Introduction to Change Management” was enhanced to have a focus on the mindset and skills needed for change leaders to develop change management strategies amidst the pandemic. Participants gained essential knowledge to help them rapidly apply change management principles to their work. This was particularly impactful in 2020, as people’s priorities and ways of working shifted.

UNSSC’s UN Lab for Organizational Change and Knowledge (UNLOCK) was originally created to promote a culture of change and innovation across the UN system. Through UNLOCK, the College succeeded in increasing support for strengthening the UN system's capability to undertake reform efforts and drive change. Insightful webinars sought to explore the changing world of work, as affected by the pandemic. The webinars received groups of UN change practitioners who are part of the UNLOCK network and who have successfully led complex change processes in UN system organizations.

In line with the objective to accelerate change, the College developed a case study on “Change Agent Networks in the UN System” to advance knowledge on the ways through which UN entities can develop and use change agent networks to drive successful initiatives. In 2020, “Change management advisory services” were focused on supporting UN entities with the assessment, review and implementation of various change programmes stemming from UN reform.

The UNSSC-Mckinsey “Leadership Culture Assessment” tool further fueled UNSSC’s actions to support leaders to influence organizational culture change and to foster the kind of culture envisioned in the UN System Leadership Framework. The tool supports the narrowing of the gap between the current and the desired leadership cultures, revealing key opportunities for leadership development, effectiveness and efficiency at all levels. This was an important intervention as UN agencies, funds and programmes sought to change and develop unified approaches to leadership.

Learning was also advanced through programmes like the “Assistant FAO Representative Leadership Development Initiative, Building Capacity for Change 2020 Edition” , a leadership development initiative for staff of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) staff who are responsible for managing the office and overseeing country programmes. At a time characterized by rapid change, the offering contributed to new knowledge on agile leadership approaches, emotional intelligence and skills in leading virtual teams.

Change management capacity and capability building continued to support all levels of staff – G to ASG-levels – including Resident Coordinators and UN country team members in creating awareness, understanding and knowledge of how to apply change management principles within their areas of work.

Promote dialogue for Innovation

The UN Innovation Toolkit is a digital platform geared to fostering innovation across the United Nations. To spur system-wide change rooted in innovation, the College developed a set of UN “Innovation Toolkit” events alongside different UN entities. Through these mainstreaming events, UN staff from across the system came together to gain insights on how to contextualize and bring innovation to unprecedented levels – levels that would allow us to meet the challenges of our time.

rose to the challenge to:

rose to the challenge to:

Invest in gender transformative learning

Diverse and innovative thinking is needed to create new initiatives that help to transform societies, environments and economies to create a sustainable post-pandemic world. Central to this vision are women thinkers and leaders.

In 2020, the need to advance women’s contributions spurred the College to develop learning initiatives that strengthen women’s leadership capacities, unlock their potential and emphasize a gender perspective in reporting.

To this end the flagship “Leadership Women and the UN” converted into an online format. The programme gave participants a unique opportunity to explore different leadership approaches, the gender and cultural dimensions of leadership, the dynamics of power, influence and negotiation, as well as deeper personal-professional coherence and self-awareness to develop a set of skills for transformative and charismatic leadership by women.

The “Training of Trainers on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” for women educators at the Princess Nourah University in Saudi Arabia, proved equally beneficial. Women educators took part in interactive workshops and peer-to-peer learning on topics such as sustainable development, the role of the private sector in implementing the 2030 Agenda, and the role of women leaders in driving efforts in achieving a sustainable future. The College played a significant role in strengthening knowledge and capacities around sustainable development topics to empower women to act and think differently about their contributions during and after the pandemic.

UNSSC’s “Integrating Human Rights and Gender into the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UNOHRLLS)” strengthened the skills of UNOHRLLS staff in incorporating relevant human rights and gender dimensions into reporting. The College’s customized learning initiative contributed to the shared goal of the UN system to systematically include gender aspects and human rights considerations into all its activities.


Leadership Women and the UN

“The training programme really provided insights into new dimensions of leadership. This will make anyone in a leadership position think critically about their current performance and role and learn how to make it more successful by taking into account future demands and strategies necessary for change.”

- Mahym Orazmuhammedova, Chief of Mission at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Belarus