Cristina Santiago is Section Chief, Mindanao Section, in the JICA Philippines Office. She recently attended GDI’s annual conference, “Challenge Accepted: Delivering Services in Fragile, Conflict-affected and Transitional Environments” in Tunis, Tunisia, and shared her impressions with the GDI team in this interview article.
What did you hope to gain from attending GDI’s Annual Conference?
I have always longed to visit the African continent for as far as I can remember. This dream came true when the JICA Philippine Office was selected as one of three JICA overseas offices to attend GDI's conference in Tunis. To be honest, the first thing I had to do was Google GDI. But the theme of the conference – “Challenge Accepted: Delivering Services in Fragile, Conflict-affected and Transitional Environments” – immediately resonated with me. While JICA has been supporting projects in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao (CAAM) for more than two decades, JICA is currently engaged in the formulation and implementation of projects in the newly-created Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). The Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) will govern the BARMM until 2022, as it transitions to the Bangsamoro Government. So I knew that the participation of the Philippines Office in this conference would be appropriate and timely.
What lessons stood out for you at the conference?
I noted, for one thing, the diversity of the conference, but also some similarities across the contexts represented by various attendees. It brought together practitioners from different parts of the world to exchange knowledge on various service delivery challenges in conflict-affected and transitional environments. A diverse group of practitioners coming from the Middle East, North Africa, North and Latin America, and Asia in the conference shared similar implementation or delivery challenges, but in their local contexts.
An example is the high security risk challenge in accessing project locations, or the challenges posed by having to work with and take into account a variety of different interests. There were also some similarities in the kinds of delivery know-how that came up, such as the need to engage with the community and promote project ownership, as well as flexibility in project planning and implementation, and the importance of relationship and trust building. Essentially, the conference provided a good platform for practitioners to share their tacit knowledge and turn it into explicit knowledge for the practitioners to share.
How did you find the themes of the conference connecting to your own work?
Based on my seven-year experience as practitioner in the CAAM, the relationships built with and the trust and confidence earned from project partners in conflict areas led to the success of JICA projects. However, with the implementation of a new project, JICA is currently facing a different delivery challenge: how to design our project activities aligned with project partners in the middle of a transition process. As JICA is fully committed to the Bangsamoro transition process, JICA will find ways to deliver despite the challenges at hand.
It was certainly useful, though, to be able to use a Delivery Lab session, a platform for collective brainstorming on actionable solutions to address challenges in implementation, to gather suggestions for how to tackle these challenges. Our team from the Philippines, led by Dr. Miyoko Taniguchi, Senior Advisor on Peacebuilding, presented a case study on “Peace and Development in Conflict-affected Areas in Mindanao in Transition Context.” The presentation included: (i) the background of JICA’s Peace and Development Program in Mindanao; (ii) the long history of the Mindanao peace process; (iii) the complex relationship of and dynamics within the central, regional, provincial/municipality levels as well as the grass-root level. After we presented delivery challenges, participants shared their experiences and suggestions.
It can be said, then, that GDI’s mission to connect practitioners around the world to share practical experiences on overcoming difficult delivery challenges was achieved.