A tale of three innovative projects

From using circus performances to spread messages about water and hygiene in Nicaragua, to helping the Gambia produce locally made cheese for the first time, UNOPS brings an innovative approach to the projects we manage.

UNOPS project managers are always looking for better ways of doing things. During the third week of the She Builds campaign, She Builds Innovation, we highlight three different projects at UNOPS.

Yolanda's story - Circus for Life

In the face of numerous challenges in a water and sanitation programme in Nicaragua, UNOPS Project Manager Yolanda Paredes-Gaitan looked for innovative solutions. Funded and developed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the programme, implemented in 260 schools and five communities, helped reduce the incidence of diseases attributable to the lack of water and sanitation while raising health awareness. Yolanda discusses the importance of water solutions for women in the community and how they overcame their challenges.

"One of my favourite scenes from the circus involves a young girl working with her mother when she realizes how difficult her daily tasks are without reliable sources of water.

"The programme had a large target audience – from children as young as four years old to middle-aged adults. We wanted to raise awareness of water issues among all of them, to share with them the importance of being guardians of the 'cuencas', which is a Spanish term we use to describe the water source, or heart of the water system. But targeting such different groups is challenging, as we wanted to find a way to speak to everyone on their own terms. We were also faced with confronting the traditional gender roles that existed within the community. 

"Together, we came up with the idea of 'El Circo del agua - the Water Circus.' We thought this would be a unique way to speak to all of our audience members, while at the same time raising awareness and ideas about gender equality, sustainability, and water and sanitation.

Watch the Circus for Life video.

"The circus, while still poking fun and being enjoyable to watch, expressed the importance of issues of water and sanitation. Working with the theatre company, we ensured that the main character in the play was a young girl, so that we could also address issues of gender, specifically how water solutions have a direct impact on the daily activities of women in the community."

Read the whole story of the Circus for Life here.

Making cheese in the Gambia

In the Gambia it is commonly perceived that the demand for milk and other dairy products cannot be met by local supplies, meaning the country relies on imports. While the Gambia has the capacity to produce dairy products, large volumes of milk were being wasted due to its short shelf life, which in turn limited the production of other dairy products such as cheese.

To address this problem, UNOPS through a regional livestock programme in West Africa (PROGEBE), and with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), helped the community establish a way of producing cheese locally for the first time.

One of the project’s key objectives was to establish different innovation platforms at project sites, working with the local community to assess their opportunities and constraints to determine where innovations could be introduced and strengthened.

Making cheese was identified as a way of reducing losses associated with spoilage, and providing employment and income for community members. A small-scale dairy, powered by solar panels, was constructed for the local women to manage.

Members of the community were trained in hygiene, production processes and the steps required for making various types of cheese, including flavouring and preservation. The soft cheese, which did not require long curing time, was served the day after the training. It was the first time many of the participants had tasted cheese, and they enjoyed the end product.

There are now 67 women in the association that manages the dairy, which has employed five women to work full-time in milk collection and processing, as well as security guards. The women's organization has developed a business plan, opened a bank account and has an encouraging income.

The broader regional programme is funded by GEF, implemented by the United Nations Development Programme and executed by UNOPS. The African Development Bank is also co-financing the project.

Learning by phone

The Afghanistan Democratic Policing Project, funded by the Government of the Netherlands, aims to increase police capacity to serve and protect people, as well as empower Afghan civil society to hold police accountable.

To address the problem of illiteracy among women in the Afghan police, female students were provided with mobile phones equipped with interactive literacy software. The software programme follows the national adult literacy curriculum and compensates for inadequate teaching time, instructor shortages, and other barriers to in‐class learning. Increasing the literacy of the female police officers means they can perform their duties more efficiently and better their chances of career development.

After taking the literacy training, a policewoman in Herat Traffic Department, is now able to read and write down the plate numbers of vehicles. Two other female police officers can now tell documents apart from each other and write the names of suspects.

The impact of these positive benefits is wide-reaching. If female police officers can read, they are no longer limited in the roles they can perform. For example, female police officers who were once limited to duties such as conducting body search, now have the opportunity to join other departments including traffic, security or criminal investigation.

Learning this important skill has created new possibilities for female Afghan police to perform more advanced roles, while promoting workplace equality more broadly.


UNOPS in focus