As the primary provider of education, basic health care, relief and social services, and more to millions of Palestine refugees, UNRWA is constantly adapting to best fulfill our mandate, honouring the trust and investments placed in us by the international community.
The modernization of UNRWA has been underway for years. The Agency is always striving to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our operations, seizing opportunities and mitigating risks and challenges.
In 2021, UNRWA began a full-scale digital transformation process that will modernize the Agency, ensuring that Palestine refugees receive quality services as we continue to fulfill our mandate as set forth by the UN General Assembly. From modern education to effective health care, to improved data that informs the way we deliver humanitarian assistance and relief and social services, to ensuring that all infrastructure-related work is environmentally friendly, going digital means updating and refining operations for the well-being of Palestine refugees. Critically, these efforts are taking place within the context of the unique challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and ever-growing resource challenges.
Achieving this vision will be made possible by a comprehensive modernization and digital transformation strategy. The strategy provides an overarching framework that will not only create coherence on the implementation of various ongoing digital initiatives across the Agency but will also provide a strong foundation and clear direction for future endeavors.
The Agency’s digital transformation strategy is being developed under a unique set of circumstances. In addition to creating human hardships and operational constraints, the COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated resource challenges that have grown ever more acute in recent years, forcing UNRWA to push efficiency gains to the limit, while exploring innovative funding sources.
Since 2015 in particular, under intense funding pressures, all parts of the Agency have been scrutinized for opportunities to increase efficiency and reduce costs. Measures implemented have resulted in over US$ 500 million in cost reduction. These efforts have had a significant, and at times detrimental, impact on our ability to deliver services across core mandated areas.
MODERNIZING SERVICE DELIVERY
In the past decade, the three core UNRWA programme areas of education, health, and relief and social services have undergone major modernization. Service delivery is being streamlined through ongoing digital transformation, significantly enhancing the quality and accessibility of services for Palestine refugees, as well as the reliability, accuracy and privacy of refugee registration data.
As the provider of primary health care to more than 3.4 million people, UNRWA is constantly innovating. Most UNRWA health centres are currently paperless, managing some 9 million visits a year! With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine was implemented at UNRWA health centres to keep communities safe. Telemedicine reduces patient flow in the health care facilities while maintaining the provision of quality health care. UNRWA doctors can give patients health advice, make diagnoses, issue medications or make an appointment with a health care provider at a health centre.
Developing quality health care services also happens online. In 2009, the UNRWA e-Health electronic health records system was launched. e-Health has proven to be an essential tool for providing cost-effective, patient-centered equitable, fair and sustainable health care services. The system is integrated with World Health Organization systems, giving UNRWA doctors the access to the very latest diagnostic information.
The e-Health system has also been a launching pad for mobile health (m-Health) applications. Early in 2017, UNRWA released the Maternal and Child Health app. In 2020, another mobile app, Your Health, was launched in Jordan to be used by patients with non-communicable diseases. Both applications have an Arabic-language interface and enable users to access their electronic health records in the e-Health system, notify them about appointments and medications, and provide rich health education content targeting users by health status. The next step for the e-Health system will be to build disaster recovery into the platform.
Education is both a human right and a pathway to success. Our approach to providing quality, inclusive remote education in times of crisis, including conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic, is through a holistic approach that is renowned in the region and beyond.
Through our Education in Emergencies (EiE) programme, UNRWA helps to ensure that our students across Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank can continue to access their right to quality, inclusive and equitable education, even in times of crisis and conflict. When schools transitioned to distance learning with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, EiE was expanded to meet the needs of all UNRWA students.
In response to those needs and the broader push to modernization, the UNRWA digital learning platform was launched in April 2021, aimed at supporting Palestine refugee student education during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Prioritizing safety, accessibility and quality, the digital platform provides students, parents and teachers with a safe and easy way to access remote learning materials and supports review processes to ensure high quality content and alignment with UN values and UNRWA education objectives.
As UNRWA continues to digitally transform, our aim is to give our students a head start in the 21st century. With improving educational technology and increasing digital literacy at the core of our strategy, UNRWA aims to expand device access for both remote and in-school learning; expand access to internet connectivity, both in school and at home to ensure all students can benefit from online learning materials; ensure access to improved learning resources through the advanced, interactive digital learning platform; and develop staff capacities for teachers and other education staff on how to make use of digital learning approaches and student digital literacy.
Relief and Social Services
To support the Agency’s mission of helping Palestine refugees achieve their full human development potential and a decent standard of living, the UNRWA Relief and Social Services (RSS) programme provides a range of direct and indirect social protection services.
In the social service programme, a reform to strengthen social service interventions through professionalizing our social workforce is underway. The social work reform aims to provide a family-based approach to support beneficiaries, helping strengthen their psychosocial resilience and social inclusion.
In order to support case management through the family-based approach to case work, the UNRWA Relief and Social Services Department has partnered with UNICEF to use the Primero software for case management needs. Primero is a secure database for case management of social work and protection cases. This database is being rolled out in all fields with social workers receiving training on this platform through the collaboration with UNICEF.
Maintaining, updating and preserving Palestine refugee records is another critical aspect of RSS. In 2020, UNRWA launched a secure and user-friendly online registration application which can be used by refugees to update their registration information and submit proof documents without having to approach UNRWA offices in person. The Agency is now working towards further modernizing our Refugee Registration Information System and developing a fully integrated registration portal that will allow refugees to directly access their records and download electronic family registration cards and individual service cards.
MODERNIZING ORGANIZATIONAL PROCESSES AND STRUCTURES
Under new executive leadership, UNRWA is modernizing organizational processes and structures, from human resource and broader management practices to fiduciary transparency, strategy communications, ethics, conduct and discipline, conflict resolution and more. Restructuring and new strategies are improving effectiveness and productivity across the Agency, ensuring that UNRWA is well-positioned to maximize opportunities in the digital sphere and approach securing resources in an innovative manner.
MODERNIZING LEADERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT
As an active and proud member of the UN family, the UNRWA approach to modernization is informed by the broader UN agenda. As an agency whose work spans the humanitarian and development spectrum, UNRWA has embraced the principles and practice of the Triple Nexus, improving linkages between its humanitarian, development and peace actions. It is also fully aligned with the Secretary-General’s 2017 reform agenda, notably its development system and management tracks and their emphasis on accountable leadership, transparency, improved business processes and risk management.
In 2020, UNRWA established an executive committee mechanism to allow for quicker and more accountable decision-making. Management structures, practices and culture have been revamped to make decision-making more accountable, inclusive, transparent and effective, building on best practices from other UN agencies and focused on the following priority management initiatives.
THE PATH AHEAD: 2021 INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE AND THE UNRWA 2023-2028 STRATEGIC PLAN
At the 2021 international conference co-hosted by Jordan and Sweden, member states are expected to agree to a funding level for UNRWA and to commit to providing predictable financial resources against this level. This funding stability is essential to enable UNRWA to deliver its mandate and roll out its modernization plans.
The strategic blueprint to be presented at the international conference, which we hope will form the basis of sustainable funding agreement, is the forerunner of the UNRWA strategic plan for 2023-2028, which will be developed by mid-2022. The ambition and compelling modernization solutions in the blueprint will be articulated in detail in the strategic plan, which will be the subject of consultations with key UNRWA stakeholders and published in 2022.
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