Nadia Ben Ammar, Head of Exploration, UNDP Accelerator Lab, Tunisia

By Yun Xuan Poon

Women in GovTech Special Report 2021.

How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation. 

Technology for me is a means to an end, it needs to fulfill a real need and its use must have a positive impact on a process or a service. The use of technology must be linked to positive impacts at the citizen level and cannot by any means be a tool which enhances social inequalities.

Part of my role as head of Exploration at UNDP Tunisia’s Accelerator Lab, is to find entry points for the use of alternative sources of data, namely with our national partners. One of our ‘frontier challenges’, the development thematic that we work on in Tunisia is waste management.

We are also interested in learning about trust paradigms between citizens and public institutions at the local level with municipalities. In this context, we are using specific technologies linked to GIS data and fleet management to improve decision-making and participation at the local level.

 What was the most impactful project you worked on this year? 

The lab is experimenting with a new model to manage waste in the rural area of Beni Khalled. On one hand, we are implementing a GIS system at the municipal level and reinforcing the capacity of technical municipal agents to collect, make sense of and update GIS data on waste management. On the other hand, we are training local citizens to enrich this data by providing real-time information on a crowdsourcing application.

Beyond being a powerful learning tool for the municipality and a way to adopt a more data-driven decision-making mechanisms, we are hoping for a shift in the accountability paradigm when it comes to waste management. This is where waste management becomes a social responsibility and where citizens are empowered and feel they are part of local development, even if it is only a small contribution.

We are also hoping to learn about the social impact of this initiative, how it affects trust dynamics at the local level and how to scale the project up to other municipalities with some of our partners and projects at UNDP Tunisia CO.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021?

The most unexpected learning from 2021, was that nothing can be expected, from life, from work, from people. Life is not a linear continuity of activities, ideas and emotions. Things can go sideways, in different directions and we need to acknowledge that we are not entirely in control of outputs, outcomes and that our environment and world has many hidden surprises for us. I have therefore learned to value specific traits and properties which allow us to better operating in uncertainty.

What’s your favourite memory from the past year?

My favorite memory from past year is receiving genuinely positive feedback for a personal account of my journey as a head of exploration. This has made me very happy as I have always wanted to share my writings with others. I felt that I finally got the opportunity to do it and I was very happy that people found it meaningful for them.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022? 

In 2022, I would really like to explore system mapping tools and applying them to challenges we learn about in the Tunisia accelerator lab. I think system mapping tools can be very powerful in understanding what elements constitute a system, how these elements are linked and depend on each other, and eventually unveil important gaps and levers of change. For me this is an essential step in navigating through complexity.

What are your priorities for 2022?

My priorities for 2022 is to keep enjoying what I do at UNDP while still generating important learnings for projects and programs. Most importantly, I would like experiment new ways in which the data the lab produces is integrated beyond UNDP and helps produce a meaningful impact for people in Tunisia.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?

The person who inspired me the most in UNDP was Azza Rajhi, my former colleague and head of experimentation in the lab. Working with her was a real inspiration and I have learned a lot from collaborating with her at different levels.
Bas Leurs, whom I like to think of as the ‘architect’ of the accelerator lab network is one of my professional inspirations. He is always very generous intellectually and discussions with him almost always lead to very interesting ideas. Other people such as Jennifer Colville, Alissar Chaker or Leila Ben Gacem have been amazing to collaborate with.

What gets you up in the morning? 

My loving family who provides me with their wonderful support daily despite the fact that I’m sometimes very busy with daily tasks.

The belief that I am part of a world where I have a meaningful role to play, even though I am still figuring out what it is.

Doing a job which gives me a sense of purpose and where my skills and mindset are highly appreciated by my organization.

Doing a job where I feel empowered because I am trusted to some degree to choose my exploration scope and the methodology I use.