Interview with Yolanda Valle-Neff. UNESCO – a successful knowledge broker in the region
Interview conducted by the International Sava River Basin Commission (ISRBC) with Yolanda Valle-Neff, Director of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, Venice (Italy), for the Sava NewsFlash Bulletin n°12.
South-Eastern Europe is really an interesting part of the world, having a lot of natural and cultural resources that can be leveraged for its sustainable development. We expect that SEE will recover soon and continue to grow as it has in the past.
ISRBC offers UNESCO an incredibly meaningful ground for making progress and also a unique opportunity to better and directly address the needs of policy-makers in the region. This cooperation for us is a flagship activity.
UNESCO funded specific projects to protect biodiversity of the Sava river basin. What do they do and how do they work in a time of economic crisis, we asked Yolanda Valle-Neff, Director of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Culture and Science in Europe, headquartered in Venice, Italy.
How did the present economic crisis affect the UN goals to achieve sustainable development by broadening the availability of a high-quality education?
The economic crisis indeed poses significant risks to depriving millions of children, particularly those in the world’s poorest countries, of a high-quality education. In the global effort to achieve Education for All by 2015, the financing of education is a key issue for governments and donors. Reliable and comparable statistics on the sources and uses of funding are still needed to improve education planning, management and resource mobilization. UNESCO is addressing these challenges through timely research, evidence-based policy advice, and knowledge sharing.
In South-Eastern Europe, your organization is making efforts to incorporate science and culture into the development strategies of the member countries. How is the response of the countries?
UNESCO is the only UN Agency to have a global network of national cooperating bodies known as National Commissions which are set up by their respective governments and play a significant role in liaising with partners, coordinating activities and promoting UNESCO’s visibility at the country level. Due to the close working relationship we have with the National Commissions in this region, and in particular, in SEE countries, UNESCO is able to take advantage of this special relationship to ensure that our efforts to incorporate science and culture into the development strategies of our Member States are in line with the vision of the Governments and vice-versa, which significantly increases the likelihood of these strategies being adopted and pursued. We are pleased to have had very positive responses so far to our efforts from our Member States in SEE.
You are also cooperating with the countries of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus region. What way do you cooperate with them?
As the Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, our Office interacts will all of the countries in the European region, with a special focus on those of South-East Europe. Therefore we regularly invite representatives from Member States in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus subregions to participate in various events and activities at a regional level, ranging from our work with transboundary Biosphere Reserves and river basins to organizing regional meetings on culture and history. We also seek to incorporate the various UNESCO Chairs, Institutes and Regional Centers in these subregions as partners in our activities whenever we can.
Your communication strategy does not target the wide public primarily, it is rather oriented toward narrower, specific groups. Which are these groups, actually?
True, the written outputs or reports of the meetings and trainings that UNESCO supports are often geared towards experts and policy-makers with the aim of advancing and sharing industry-specific information, as we see the role of UNESCO as that of a knowledge broker for the region in the areas of Science and Culture. However, our Office website (www.unesco.org/venice) is indeed geared towards the general public with the goal of keeping everyone, from Government leaders to everyday citizens, informed about what we are up to. Our website was viewed nearly 150,000 times in 2012, not including the over 165,000 views of videos on our Office YouTube page, such as the H2Ooooh! cartoons which, developed by children, for children, share ideas for wise water use. We also take advantage of special events, like the Venice Biennale, to open our Office premises to the public and showcase some of the many interesting activities we are working on in the region. On average, we host over 20 events per year.
Connecting the science (i.e. knowledge owners) and policy (i.e. decision makers) is challenging in many countries. How can this challenge be dealt with?
As just mentioned, making this connection between science (or culture) and policy is a big part of UNESCO's work as a knowledge broker in the region. One of the ways we address this challenge is to bring these people who come from very different circles – one usually academic, the other political – together in the same forum to discuss. We have done this many times with great success, be it as an Advisory Board member of PSI Connect, an EC FP7 funded project that aimed to bridge the science-policy gap in the field of water management and climate change through which we organized (in cooperation with ISRBC) an important capacity-building in 2011, or through the annual regional meetings of government experts on Intangible Cultural Heritage that serve as a regional platforms for sharing knowledge and good practices.
Why are the projects related to sediment management and preservation (like the one which is currently being implemented in the Sava river basin) so important for UNESCO?
After having worked towards better stakeholder involvement in integrated water resources management in the Sava River Basin for the last few years, UNESCO welcomed the request of the ISRBC to help develop a scientific basis for a better management of sediments in such a transboundary context. Sediment management is an essential component of river basin management, both for its qualitative (i.e. pollution transport and accumulation, maintenance of wetlands in river corridor and estuaries) and quantitative (i.e. sedimentation/erosion of river beds and its interactions with navigation and flood control) dimensions. Our work with the SEDIBAL project supports a core group of experts from Sava countries to establish a first sediment balance at the basin level, which will provide the basis for a first Sediment Management Plan for the entire Sava River Basin. The implementation of this project is, in turn, offering UNESCO a unique opportunity to gain experience and refine its capacity-building tools that could then be disseminated in many other parts of the world.
How do you find the cooperation with the Sava Commission so far?
With relatively modest amounts of funding complement by the continuous involvement of UNESCO and its network of experts through its International Hydrological Programme (IHP), together we have developed during the last 6 years a very fruitful cooperation with ISRBC. Our Member States greatly appreciate UNESCO's involvement and support to the fundamental processes within the Sava River basin, such as stakeholder involvement in the elaboration of the 1st transboundary River Basin Management Plan as well as with Sediment Management issues, thus contributing to water policy formulation in the Sava Basin. That could not be better result for an International Programme: playing a fundamental knowledge-brokering role in the region. ISRBC offers UNESCO an incredibly meaningful ground for making progress and also a unique opportunity to better and directly address the needs of policy-makers in the region. This cooperation for us is a flagship activity.
What are, in your opinion, perspectives of South-Eastern Europe (SEE)?
SEE is really an interesting part of the world, having a lot of natural and cultural resources that can be leveraged for its sustainable development. Some of these resources could be interpreted as barriers to development, such as the high cultural diversity of the region – but in this time of economic crisis UNESCO notes that it is these very same resources that have enabled the societies of the region to be resilient to the various crises it faces, whether financial, natural disasters, etc. We expect that SEE will recover soon and continue to grow as it has in the past. I look forward to continue to working with our partners in this important region, and in particular, with the Sava Commission. (Marko Barišić)
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