Meet a 2015er: Miroslav Polzer

“We should have local communities organize themselves and mobilize resources for their interests and the global community should provide additional funding for those local projects that are relevant to these SDGs. It’s called ‘catalytic funding.'” —  Dr. Miroslav Polzer

This is the eight installment of our “Meet A 2015-er” series that profiles the women and men who are helping to shape the Sustainable Development Goals and Climate Change negotiations as they take form later this year.

Today, we hear from Dr. Miroslav Polzer who is the Secretary General of the International Association for the Advancement of Innovative Approaches to Global Challenges (IAAI).

Tell us about IAAI and your role in the SDG negotiations.

We are a [UN] accredited NGO based in Austria. The name of our organization is already a mission statement in a way. We are working towards innovating the way the UN system operates and how it engages young people. We develop new…information and communication technology tools that connect young with the UN goals.

We really look at how to organize information about what’s going on locally to connect that with the global goals. [We also look at] how to establish feedback loops and entry points for young people in local communities so they can document how what they are doing is a contribution to the post-2015 goals. That’s really the knowledge management challenge we have.

How does the UN engage youth now and why change it? Or are young being engaged at all?

I would say that the UN leadership is very much committed…full-heartedly doing everything they can to get young people engaged. But, there are so many institutional and structural barriers that make it impossible for say a young person in a western African country to meaningfully engage.

Dr. Polzer speaking at the 2012 UN Youth Assembly
Dr. Polzer speaking at the 2012 UN Youth Assembly

What are some of those barriers? What does meaningful engagement look like?

Some things are basic, like people who don’t have internet access. They don’t have opportunities to travel…or quality education. Meaningfully participating in UN processes requires that people are knowledgeable about these processes and where the entry points are, but all of these…work in favor of civil society in the U.S. So, if you ask for accreditation [for an NGO] you should have a track record of having attended some conferences or somehow spoken on these topics. If you are a civil society organization in New York, it is super easy to get access to the building…you just look what events are being held and send an RSVP. There are so many young people dreaming about their positive impact on the world, but they are located somewhere disadvantaged.

So is just providing internet access going to make a huge change for these young people?

It will but if it’s just clicktivism, no. After the tenth global survey, you’re disappointed!  It’s not just about expressing their preferences, but documenting what they are contributing to the post-2015 goals. It’s also about receiving financial rewards and social recognition.

How is IAAI working to make entry points into the UN more accessible?

We are working to set up a network of Global Change and Youth ICT centers as local level entry points for young people to get connected with all these global programs, goals, knowledge flows, and financial resources.

We are planning for them to be internet hubs as well, with access to technology. Next week we are meeting with officials from Ghana to set up a pilot network there. In the long run, probably three or fours, these centers will also be a place for blended financing.

Financing is certainly a hot topic at the UN this year and not talked about nearly enough. Can you explain “blended financing?” Why is there a need for innovation?

Aid is a dead end! Development assistance has often caused more problems than it’s solved.

Right now, most global financing is for broad, national projects and the success rate for getting funding for local projects is very low, especially in Africa. [Blended financing] is basically [the idea] that public, private, international, national, and local sources of funding should all be brought together. This is because certain local action can be seen as added-value. Like, planting a tree. It has local value because it creates a good micro-climate…and it has global value because it helps biodiversity. These types of [projects] and components of them can be financed by different sources of funding, not just local sources or global funding.

We should have local communities organize themselves and mobilize resources for their interests and the global community should provide additional funding for those local projects that are relevant to these SDGs. It’s called catalytic funding.

We really need to split up funding to go towards these micro-activities to achieve these goals.

It sounds like blended financing would allow for funding knowledge sharing as well, allowing local experts to engage as well.

Yes! It’s really about engaging as many people as possible. Having 10 or 20 local people and experts to evaluate a program is more relevant for the community than if you ask an expert that sits thousands of kilometers away who is not as familiar with the circumstances.

Once we get the Centers set up, people can act in a very decentralized way, but sharing the same knowledge and operating platform around the world. The Centers can be innovation labs for this kind of blended financing, allowing local access to national and global financial resources where young people can submit proposals for projects.

Will blended financing be formalized in the Financing For Development (FfD) agreement to be signed in Addis Ababa this July? Or does it even need to be for it to work?

It will certainly be discussed but it’s not necessary that it is in a particular document. It will have to demonstrate its ability in practice. I expect there will be many attempts [to get it right], but it will be an open innovation process too. Whatever will be most effective in terms of lowest transaction costs and highest success rate in terms of achieving goals, this will be implemented.

It needs to work in the logic of social micro-entrepreneurs and it needs to be simple enough that people understand it. It’s not a political decision because people will see that combining flows of money is more cost-efficient.

This sounds like a huge undertaking to shift development financing flows so much. Is it really doable?

Yes, but it will take time and it needs to be an open innovation process with full transparency. The key element is that people will trust that it will work in action.