Globally Expertise Made Locally Relevant

Supporting South Africa to meet its developmental responsibilities, and when and where appropriate to meet its regional and global responsibilities; including peace and security, is one of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) core aims. UNDP works in close cooperation with public and private sectors to achieve its goals of improving the lives of South Africans, building resilient societies and empowered nations.

“Our work is not isolated from the work of the other United Nations agencies but has to be complimentary and needs to be fully aligned to the objectives of the country. In order to marry our objectives and those of the country, there has to be a planning instrument, which, in South Africa, is called the Strategic Cooperation Framework,” reveals Dr Agostinho Zacarias, the Resident Representative at UNDP South Africa.

According to Zacarias, the Strategic Cooperation Framework, which in other countries is called the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), is the overarching planning document that guides all United Nations system organisations assisting South Africa. Consultations are conducted with various stakeholders in order to draw up this document, which will be the country development framework for a given period. The current Strategic Cooperation Framework was the basis for the development of UNDP Country Programme Document 2013 – 2017. UNDP’s country programme is fully aligned with the government’s 2009 Mid-term Strategic Framework, the National Development Plan and the New Growth Initiative. Coupled with discussions with various entities in government, the private sector and civil society, these elements provided UNDP with a clear definition of priorities which guide the country programme document for South Africa.


Priority areas have been identified and the possible role that the UN can play has been examined. Apart from supporting South Africa’s general and global growth, UNDP in South Africa will, in the main, ensure inclusive growth, governance and service delivery along with assisting in the greening of the South African economy.

Zacarias notes that inclusive growth entails promoting gender equality, women’s empowerment, human rights, and tackling HIV/AIDS issues. “We give preference to vulnerable groups: women and the youth are foremost in this regard. Creating sustainable work opportunities for this group is also a top priority,” says Zacarias.


Although South Africa aims to create 5-million jobs in the next 10 years, Zacarias notes that this will only be possible through the provision of skills and the creation of job opportunities, particularly for the aforementioned vulnerable groups.

Commencing at the grass-roots level is key for such a project; hence says Zacarias, UNDP has established partnerships with Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) and Black Business Council (BBC), in a form of the UNDP Private Sector Development Forum that is intended for small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), in order to improve their organisations through upskilling their personnel, and by helping them to benefit from technology updates so as to improve their efficiency and capacity.

The collaboration with BUSA and BBC led UNDP to develop the Supplier Development Programme, bringing UNDP to closer collaboration with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), Gauteng Enterprise Propeller (GEP), Public Investment Cooperation (PIC), ABSA Bank and others, as organisations with the mandate of creating job opportunities in the market. “We have to create decent employment where individuals have dignity and find inspiration to continue in their own careers,” says Zacarias.

Stakeholder engagement with partners takes place on a regular basis and parties touch base on various aspects of the priority areas.  “The intention is to have as many initiatives in the private sector as possible that will enable the country to deal with issues of reducing inequality and high unemployment rates,” reveals Zacarias.          


A Sustainable Future

Given that the country’s private sector is the engine for growth, it has to be kept ‘warm and running’ for the purpose of achieving a sustainable economy. Together with its partners, UNDP has various programmes in place to stimulate and foster growth in the private sector.

“Our main role here is to pass on technical skills that will contribute to uplifting the small companies into becoming normal suppliers of well-established and big corporates. In this manner, they will improve and expand their capacities,” states Zacarias. He alludes to the fact that some companies, formed about 20 years ago, are still clinging to 20-year-old technology which, ultimately, adversely affects their productivity, and this despite the fact that there are new technologies which increase productivity.

“In monitoring the small companies, and their balance sheets and levels of technology and skills, we will help them reach the standards required by the big multinational corporates that they should be doing business with,” says Zacarias. In doing this, UNDP measures local companies against international standards, for instance against companies in China and India, so that these companies meet the standards for companies from which multinational corporates import. The key question to ask in this regard is: why are big multinational supermarket chains still importing meat from countries such as Argentina when there are local companies that can supply that same product? Zacarias reveals that a recent study by UNDP showed that most small local enterprises do not adhere to international standards; hence the focus is on ensuring that they not only meet these standards, but can also compete globally.

Emphasis should be put on realigning the training offered by institutions and on the skills needs of the private sector. In this regard, given that a high number of graduates are unemployed, says Zacarias, it may not necessarily be a matter of a lack of jobs, but because the people available have the wrong or inadequate skills. He therefore urges the private sector to stand up and be counted in order to make this realignment a success.

Encouraging the mobility of labour across borders is another way that South Africa can address the issue of high unemployment among graduates. Zacarias says that not only should they be allowed to work in neighbouring countries, but regional protocols also have to exist in order to allow for volunteer programmes wherever opportunities exist regionally. In the private sector there are about 800 000 vacancies while there are about 600 000 unemployed university graduates. So the issue is that of skills mismatch and lack of opportunities for young people. He also cites the example of Europe, America and Latin America where countries allow young people to come into the job market without jeopardising the positions of those who already have employment.


Providing Incentives in order to Retain Skills

In an effort to encourage the retention and transfer of skills, Zacarias cites the example of the recently concluded agreement between PRASA and Alstom which stipulates that 65% of the components needed for the project have to be locally available or produced. He says that this translates into local skills development by companies to ensure that they are able to meet that 65% stipulation.

In South Africa, where the pool of scarce skills is under threat as a result of trained and experienced personnel emigrating to greener pastures, Zacarias says that encouraging career growth is one way of incentivising employees so that they feel that their organisations care for them. However, any such incentive programme will have to ensure continuity, and this is where all parties in education and business should come to the fore. “By continuously developing employee’s skills and adequately remunerating them, they may stay with the organisation for longer,” suggests Zacarias.


The German scenario is an apt example of individuals being successful in their careers without necessarily having a university degree. It demonstrates that one can grow through vocational or on-the-job training that is equivalent to college training and which is recognised in the system. Through a combination of experience and training, such individuals might end up being an engineer with recognised skills without having obtained a formal university education.


Creating industries that foster technological innovation is another way in which South Africa can win the battle of skills retention. “Stakeholders should try to incorporate innovation in the industry as a fundamental function. It is critical in today’s environment to innovate continuously,” says Zacarias. He explains that the focus should not be on short-term gain, but on long-term value, with companies positioning themselves as good corporate citizens that contribute to sustainability.

A case in point in this regard is Vietnam, where most of its young people are employed in the information and communications technology sector. Zacarias notes that, here, young people have been instrumental in revolutionising their own societies and Vietnam so that Vietnam has become a fully-fledged knowledge economy.

UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP South Africa 
Go to UNDP Global