Project Management


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Transforming How the UN Communicates in a Crisis | 11 November 2010

From 1997 to 1999, I led the communications office for the United Nations in the Northeast Asian country of Mongolia. The country was buffeted by two major crises: the economic and social chaos wrought by the transition from the command economy of the previous Communist system, to free markets and democracy – called at the time the largest peacetime economic collapse since WWII – and the Asian Crisis of the late 1990s.

I established the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office (have a look at some of the publications in Google Books), and began to transform how the UN communicated within Mongolia, as well as outside the country. The Office pioneered a structure and strategy that has since been modeled by the UN around the world. The Office was one of the first UN missions to go online and was praised in a global UN survey for having the fourth-best UN website in the world. When the UN won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, it was communications initiatives like the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office which were cited as a major factor in the awarding of the Prize. The Office pioneered online and offline communications, and broke new ground. The country’s first human development report was one such case.

As can be seen, the MHDR eschewed obscure graphics for its cover and instead focused on the story of the Mongolian people during the transition years. It featured case studies telling of the hardships of that time and took a radically new approach to how human development reports were launched in a country. The MHDR was free and was distributed across the country, backed up with an intensive media campaign and road show. The popularity of the MHDR was such that a second run of 10,000 copies was published. Unlike many other reports and publications by international organisations, the MHDR was designed, laid out and published in Mongolia. This was a critical initiative in kick-starting the Mongolian publishing industry, badly hurt by the economic crises. The process of producing the MHDR introduced a modern approach to publishing and media publicity and was the catalyst for a new design movement in Mongolian publishing. Some examples are below:

© David South Consulting 2017

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