The Case for Change

The world is changing fast, and with it the demands on the United Nations. The 2030 Agenda calls upon all stakeholders - the UN included - to transform the way they work. The Secretary-General’s reforms require all three pillars of the UN to change the way they do business. Looking at the future, the UN will need continually to adapt its posture and approach to remain relevant in the increasingly volatile environments where it operates. But is the UN system ready for change?

Who we are

UNLOCK is a partnership between the United Nations System Staff College and UNDP’s Management Consulting Team (MCT).
We build on:

  • The College’s 15+ years of training and learning experience
  • MCT’s 10+ years of consulting services and 500+ client engagements
  • A network of change management practitioners from within and outside the UN system.


What we do

UNLOCK is a lab: we focus on those UN staff and entities who are ready for change, and support them by serving as an incubator of ideas and a platform for collaboration across four work streams:

Advisory | we provide change management advisory services to UN entities to support teams and whole organizations on their change processes
Learning | we deliver learning programmes to UN staff at all levels to build capacity to lead, manage and cope with change
Case Studies | we author case studies to share best practices and lessons learnt on driving change and innovation in the UN
Networks | we build and nurture networks of change agents across the UN system to share knowledge and foster collaboration for change.

How we are funded

We are funded through a mix of donor grants and fees from our learning and advisory services. Our donors so far are the Governments of Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the UK and the USA.

What we have achieved so far

  • We helped UN Women, UNV, IFAD, OIOS, UNMIL, UNOSSC and DGACM realign and redefine their strategic vision through advisory services;
  • We helped ISDR, WHO, the UN Controller’s Office and the UNFCCC Secretariat rethink their internal work processes by facilitating team retreats for their senior management;
  • We exposed 36 USGs and ASGs to what it takes to lead change and innovation by hosting, together with the World Economic Forum, the Geneva Leadership Exchange;
  • We built understanding and capacity for change and innovation among more than 500 UN staff at the P3 to D2 level from over 25 entities through our courses on change management, innovation and design thinking;
  • We disseminated best practices and lessons learnt on change and innovation in the UN system by authoring, publishing and disseminating five case studies;
  • We facilitated exchanges and learning among change management experts from across the UN system by creating, hosting and nurturing the UN Change
  • Management Peer Network, a community of practice bringing together colleagues from over 20 UN entities.


What we have in the pipeline

  • Provide change management advisory services to FAO and UNHCR;
  • Publish case studies on UN agencies’ best practices in using change management approaches to drive the diversity & inclusion agenda; the UN Capital Development
  • Fund’s innovative way of working; and how global shared service centres can help drive change in the way the UN does business;
  • Launch, together with the Young UN network, a series of talks/webinars in the main UN duty stations showcasing UN staff at all levels who have effected significant change in their work environment;
  • Build a community of diversity & inclusion practitioners across the UN system and bring them together to reflect on how change management approaches can help drive this agenda in the UN.


Supporting the Secretary-General's Reforms

The Secretary-General has launched far-reaching reform efforts of the UN development system, the peace and security pillar, and management of the UN Secretariat, as well as new strategies to achieve gender parity, end sexual exploitation and abuse, and strengthen counter-terrorism structures.

While the details of the reforms are still being worked out, it is already evident that implementing them will require launching a series of complex change management processes.

Yet there is currently limited professional expertise in change management within the UN system. This risks hampering implementation of the reforms.

UNLOCK has launched a project targeting UN staff who will play a leading role in driving implementation of the Secretary-General’s reforms, that aims to strengthen their capacity to design and implement change management processes to roll out the reforms. 

This will be achieved by:

  1. Strengthening their knowledge and skills with respect to change management, with a particular emphasis on approaches that have worked in the UN context;
  2. Providing them with advisory services on change management as they go about implementing the reforms; and
  3. Building and nurturing a network and a community of practice among these ‘change agents’ to ensure that there is unity of purpose across reform streams and that best practices are shared across the UN system.

By ensuring that UN staff who lead implementation of the reforms are adept at managing change processes, the project will contribute to the successful implementation of the reforms.

Beyond the reforms, the project will build a cadre of UN staff who are adept at managing change – a critical skill that will be increasingly required in the years ahead, as the UN will have continually to adapt its posture and approach to remain relevant in the increasingly volatile environments where it operates.