UN Network makes ripples in the 2019 SUN Global Gathering in Nepal

UN Network makes ripples in the 2019 SUN Global Gathering in Nepal

Intensity, camaraderie, growth and good will. Four words that come to mind to describe the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement’s 4-day flagship event on Nourishing Planets and Nourishing People, held in early November. The Yak and Yeti Hotel in Kathmandu was transformed into a nutrition learning laboratory, with each SUN country, each SUN network and each participant bringing their views and insights to the table. Many constituencies, including the UN [Nutrition] Network (UNN), capitalized on the presence of colleagues and held internal workshops at the margins of the main event. Below is a glimpse at UNN’s engagement in the 2019 SUN Global Gathering, running the gamut from thematic workshops to Global Village attractions, including a compelling TED talk.

David Nabarro & Purnima Kashyap

From the opening ceremony to the final proceedings, the United Nations left its mark. Members of UN senior leadership tuned into the discussions, such as the Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, who duals as the Head of the SUN Lead Group and spoke about the stunting reductions achieved since the SUN Movement came to light in 2010. Her positivism and warmth reverberated as she reminded the 1000-plus participants that, “we are all part of united efforts facing humanity survival.” In addition, video messages were projected from the  UN Deputy Secretary-General, Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, and the WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, affirming their commitment to what the Movement stands for.

The UNN Secretariat helped get the parallel workshops, a popular feature in the agenda, off the ground, organizing a captivating session devoted to pathways for addressing the triple burden of malnutrition. Moderated by Mr. Victor Aguayo, Global Chief of the UNICEF Nutrition Programme, the workshop centred around three government speakers from Costa Rica (Ms. Cecilia Gamboa), Kenya (Ms. Gladys Mugambi) and the Philippines (Hon. Dr. Azucena Dayanghirang) as well as international experts from the UN constituency, providing time for other participants to bring their perspectives in breakout sessions that were moderated by UNN-REACH facilitators. Participants walked away having heard about a broad range of strategies from effective fiscal policy through the taxation of sweetened beverages and private sector-supported awareness campaigns in the Philippines to policy levers and community education centres in Costa Rica, where forms of undernutrition have declined dramatically. Kenya’s SUN Government Focal Point, Ms. Mugambi, spoke to the role of regulatory and M&E frameworks and guidelines, using the fortification example and encouraging participants to explore establishing alliances to create bridges and pool know-how. Dr. Patrizia Fracassi, from FAO pointed out that rising overweight and obesity levels are a wake-up call - for countries and the nutrition community alike - to better understand what people eat in order to address malnutrition in all its forms, including where they co-exist. Others indicated that efforts to address overweight and obesity are nascent, and that in various countries, the emphasis remains on undernutrition. Greater efforts are needed to sensitize leaders, communities and parents on the consequences of overweight and obesity as well as to share good practices and generate evidence to inform action at all levels.

UNN-organized workshop

UN expertise was prominently featured in other parallel workshops, such as on food systems, where Ms. Anna Lartey, Director of the Nutrition and Food Systems Division at FAO and member of the SUN Executive Committee (ExCom), kicked off discussions on Making food systems work for healthy diets. The role of data in decision-making was also unpacked in a different parallel workshop about the SUN Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning (MEAL) system, where Niger presented its experience using the UNN mapping tool initially developed through UNN-REACH. “The mapping provides a basis for political dialogue on nutrition” says Dr. Aboubacar Mahamadou, Coordinator of the Nutrition Unit under the High-Commissioner to the 3N Initiative (Nigeriens feed Nigeriens), having encompassed eight sectors/ministries. The Niger story stands out for two main reasons. First, it is one of the few countries that have conducted two rounds of mapping (in 2014 and 2019), the latter funded by the EU-FAO FIRST programme with financial contributions also received from the SUN Movement Secretariat (SMS), testament to their backing. Secondly, Niger is the first country to link the exercise to the National Information Platform for Nutrition (NIPN). The presenter noted that the mapping visuals and intervention coverage data, also integrated into the country’s MEAL dashboard, are helping actors employ a person-centred approach to nutrition scale-up. As a result, the mapping has informed the prioritization and delivery of a package of interventions with proven impact in the new national multi-sectoral nutrition plan for 2020-2022. It has also strengthened national capacity in data management and analysis across sectors, crucial to multi-sectoral/stakeholder coordination. In addition to being a source of data, the mapping is helping to promote mutual accountability and serving as an entry point to catalyse action at the sub-national level.

Contributions were also made to the Joint Network Session to promote increased collaboration among the networks, a topic of much interest within the SUN circle. UN Network Director/Global Coordinator, Dr. Purnima Kashyap, seized the occasion to highlight recent achievements, touching upon encouraging trends, such as UNN’s increasing collaboration with other networks, especially the Civil Society Network (92 percent of SUN countries) and the SUN Government Focal Points (85% percent of SUN countries), as revealed through the 2019 UNN reporting exercise. UNN-REACH facilitators, among the Chad delegation, spoke about the country’s 8-network arrangement, each operational at the sub-national level and guided by annual workplans that are reinforced by a joint-network workplan, one of the many multi-stakeholder processes facilitated by UNN-REACH. The Chad International UNN-REACH Facilitator, Mohamed Cheikh Levrac, who has championed joint action on nutrition over the years, was recognized for his remarkable efforts during the SUN S/Heroes Reception that unfolded in the Global Village later that week. When introducing ‘Cheikh’, as he is known to his colleagues to whom he dedicated his distinction, the SUN Coordinator, Ms. Gerda Verburg, told the crowd that “she hopes Mohamed never retires.”

All three case studies (Cambodia, Chad and Tanzania) from the Joint Network Session depicted how these endeavours go beyond work in capital cities and support action at the sub-national level, with UNN being a key player in each case. The decentralized milestones in Chad and Tanzania have greatly benefitted from technical and financial assistance from UNN’s intensive support arm, REACH, from the establishment and progressive strengthening of regional nutrition committees (both) to awareness-raising and resource mobilization (Chad) and annual Joint Multi-sectoral Nutrition Reviews (Tanzania). The latter galvanizes nutrition actors from national and sub-national levels, who come together to take stock of progress on the national nutrition plan and share good practices, a process first initiated in August 2014 by the Government in collaboration with UNN-REACH and other partners. The impact of UNN-REACH was reiterated during the groupwork as a success factor for inter-network collaboration, praising its neutral facilitation and ability to provide evidence through its tools for advocacy.

Burkina Faso stand, Global Village

UNN also got heads turning at the Global Village, where participants were able to pick-up copies of seminal resources from multiple UN entities through the UNN stand. Among the publications in high demand, was the UNN Secretariat’s newly released, Tales Be Told, profiling inspirational country success stories about collective nutrition action. The storybook was debuted during the SUN GG week, capturing the attention of many members of the nutrition community from country to global level. UN colleagues also supported the preparation of country-specific stands that made for a bustling marketplace.

Other highlights from the Global Village included a TED talk delivered by Sierra Leone’s Minister of State, Hon. Francess Piagie Alghali, who expanded on the value of UNN-REACH support in placing nutrition high on the political agenda. She explained how “the facilitator is embedded in the SUN Secretariat in Sierra Leone, working with staff in the secretariat to build capacity so that they can learn-by-doing, and so that at the end of the day, there is sustainability, there’s continuity.” She was also candid in saying that the visual outputs of UNN tools, starting with the Multi-sectoral Nutrition Overview, were used to ensure that nutrition was included in the political manifestos leading up to the general elections in 2018 as well as to sensitize parliamentarians and sway their votes on related legislation, including the Food & Feed Safety Bill enacted in December 2017. She went on to describe how, more recently, the mapping exercise has been utilized to identify where coverage needs to be increased or decreased, optimizing the use of resources.    

Sierra Leone Delegation, IA and UNN

Rewarding it was, including for the Irish Aid representative, Mr. Ben Siddle, who posed questions to the Minister, to hear those kinds of comments directly from influential members of government. The words struck a chord, particularly given that the country-owned, country-driven flavour of SUN are “the strength and secret of the Movement” as stated by the SUN Coordinator during the opening ceremony. At this critical time in SUN history, it became clear to those who partook in the 2019 Global Gathering, including members of the SUN ExCom, that the UN is core to SUN. It facilitates the creation of other networks and joint network collaboration at the country level; supports government, leveraging UN leadership such as United Nations Resident Coordinators (UNRCs) and the UN’s technical capacity; and brings action-oriented tools that are hailed as an essential component to the Movement. The challenge will be how to step-up its efforts in order to meet the growing demand for UNN services, including those of UNN-REACH.  Engaged UNRCs will be vital not just for fostering increased convergence within the UN family, but also for elevating the nutrition agenda to the highest possible level through partnerships and framing nutrition as a human rights issue.

Read this report to learn more about how UNN engaged in the 2019 SUN Global Gathering.  

Photo credits: UNN Secretariat/Sarah Cruz