Inside the Engine Room: Enabling the Delivery of UN Mandates in Complex Environments

Engineers at work at the UNOCI logistics base in Abidjan’s suburb of Koumassi, May 7, 2012. UN Photo/Basile Zoma.

Particularly in the complex environments where it increasingly deploys, the UN depends on a range of functions to implement its mandate. These include but are not limited to provision of security, facilitation of access, medical support, support to staff welfare, logistics, coordination, and risk management. Compared to substantive tasks implemented as part of mandates, these enabling functions, or enablers, have received less scrutiny. As a result, enablers—and their financial costs—are often unknown or misunderstood by member states, donors, and even UN staff.

This paper explores these enablers by explaining what they are, why they are needed, how much they cost, and how they are—or should be—funded. It then investigates the challenges the UN needs to tackle to put enablers on a path to sustainable funding, including:

  • Reporting and consolidating data: While data is not the end point, it is a necessary starting point for the UN to engage in dialogue with those who use enablers and those who pay for them.
  • Dedicating the necessary capacity: More spending on enablers is required now if lives and resources are to be saved later.
  • Managing trade-offs: The UN needs to set and articulate clear priorities to guide the difficult trade-offs between different enablers and their associated risks.
  • Integrating operations into planning: Operational planning is critical to avoid retroactive, ad hoc arrangements, especially during mission transitions.
  • Communicating the importance of enablers: Effective communication on the need for enablers is necessary to convince member states and donors to fund them.

Ultimately, there must be greater coherence between those who define UN mandates, those who fund them, and those who implement them.