“Building a conducive environment for collaboration is key” — Interview with Peter Lundberg, UN Resident Coordinator in Montenegro
The ILO asked the new RC about the UN response to the COVID-19, the ILO's assistance to the country and how he sees his role after 4 months in the position.
ILO: The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Montenegro hard. How has the UN helped the country?
Peter Lundberg: Indeed, Montenegro turned to be the worst hit economy in all of Europe. The health and socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic deepened the existing structural weaknesses. The already vulnerable groups are affected the hardest, and new groups face the risk of being left behind.
Under the emerging circumstances, we in the UN team swiftly redirected our programmes and activities towards supporting the country’s COVID-19 response. We wanted to help the country cushion the crisis impact and ensure bouncing back better, with particular focus on vulnerable groups. A minimum of 7.64 Mio USD was channeled to COVID-19 response, including 5.96 Mio USD of new funds, primarily to support the health system through procurement of medical equipment (110 ventilators, 10 X-ray devices, PCR kits). We reached 206,000 people through crisis communication and community engagement. Most of our support went to specific vulnerable groups including children, women, victims of violence, migrants and asylum seekers. In addition to evidence collection in the areas of health and social protection, the UN in Montenegro conducted comprehensive analyses on the economic impact of the crisis, in order to inform the country’s long-term response and recovery.
The recent UNCT Progress Report 2020 shows that the immediate UN support to the country clearly indicated the strength of partnerships. Our agile support to the country has been designed along the UN Socio-Economic Response Plan to COVID-19 for Montenegro , to ensure maximum effect in critical areas, including a) health, b) social protection and services, c) economic response and recovery aimed at protecting jobs, Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and informal sector workers, d) macroeconomic response and e) social cohesion and community resilience.
The COVID-19 crisis is a painful reminder of the importance of joint action and a clear indicator that the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development is more important than ever. It is maybe best illustrated by the words of the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who said last year that “the world is only as strong as the weakest health system in our interconnected world”.
What do you expect from the ILO in addressing the socio-economic impact of the pandemic? Apart from dealing with the pandemic, what else do you expect from the ILO as part of the UN community?
We have witnessed how national economies throughout the world have suffered a hard hit by the pandemic and Montenegro is no exception to this with the increase of unemployment, lack of job security and increase of poverty. Only in the 3rd quarter of 2020, according to ILO findings, Montenegro saw a 8% decrease of employment rate in comparison with the same period of 2019, which means a loss of over 38,000 jobs.
This is where the UN family comes in with its convening power and comparative advantages. The specialized agencies and programmes cover all the necessary aspects of sustainable development. By joining our forces we can make a difference, and the ILO is a valuable partner in our team.
As an agency specialized in decent work, the ILO provided essential data on the impact of COVID-19 on many aspects of labour. I also need to single out their contribution to our joint UN programme Activate!, funded by the Joint SDG Fund, which seeks to support NEETs (youth neither in employment, education nor in training).
The ILO in Montenegro provides system-wide support to the country to strengthen social dialogue and labour legislation reform. The ILO project on the digitalization of the services of the Employment Agency of Montenegro is ongoing. The support to improve the labour market position of vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities and LGBTQ persons, the work on the social protection system, collecting valuable data on safety and health at work, as well as on the formalization of informal employment are all extremely important contributions of the ILO that will improve the lives of workers in Montenegro. I am convinced that the ILO is among those who can truly help lead the way, not only towards decent work for more people, but also towards joint approaches and coordinated efforts.
Under the UN reform, the UN Resident Coordinator plays quite an important role in coordinating and representing all UN agencies in a country. How will you interpret this role?
I see my role as UN Resident Coordinator more as a facilitator and convenor rather than a front leader. I believe that my role - similar to how I see the UN Country Teams’ role in-country - is to lead from behind. I want to create a conducive environment for collaboration, where UN agencies can come together and build joint strategies to support national partners, primarily governments, but also civil societies, marginalized groups and the private sector in a given country. If we as the UN are good at working together then we have a real chance to influence others to work in true partnerships. I believe this is easier at this point in time because many of us realized by now that integrated partnerships are no longer a luxury but an absolute necessity for true and sustainable impact.
What did you do before arriving to Montenegro?
I come from a humanitarian background mostly, having worked more than two decades for the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). Before joining the UN family in Montenegro, I worked for my Government (of Sweden) on sustainable development in North Africa and in the Middle East as a head of regional development cooperation at the Swedish embassy in Amman.
My first mission with the UN was in Northeast Nigeria, where I worked for one and a half year as the UN Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator on the Lake Chad Crisis. I also worked with the Red Cross family.