Celebrating Excellence: UNDP People Awards 2023

UNDP People for 2030
8 min readDec 20, 2023


This year’s People for 2030 awards honoured initiatives that contribute to UNDP’s ongoing efforts to support countries in pursuing the three directions of systemic change enshrined in the Strategic Plan 2022–2025 (Structural transformation, leaving no-one behind, and building resilience). The Strategic Plan 2022–2025 identifies the people strategy as a key enabler for scaling development impact.

The 2023 awards ushered in a significant development with the introduction of new award categories, broadening the spectrum of acknowledgment to encompass a wider range of impactful initiatives within UNDP. The winners were announced during the People Awards Ceremony on 18 December 2023, hosted by the UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner and Director of Human Resources David Bearfield.

Among the 30 impressive submissions received this year, the following five proposals emerged as winners, each making a unique and impactful contribution to their office:

UNDP Panama — Adaptive Workplace Innovation Award

Adaptive Workplace Innovation Award recognizes Country Offices that have effectively adapted to the rapid changes in the world of work, including innovative strategies and practices that have enhanced workplace flexibility, resilience, and productivity.

UNDP Panama won in this category with its initiative “Embracing adaptability to thrive as a #FutureSmartUNDP.” Recognizing the complex challenges of a rapidly evolving global landscape marked by events like COVID-19 and social unrest, UNDP Panama’s strategy involved establishing an inclusive environment that championed well-being, adaptability, and innovation in the workplace. The Country Office developed a hybrid workplace model for both remote and in-office work, with a keen focus on providing top-notch technology and a people-centered office design. This approach promoted staff integration, offering inviting spaces with optimal views, natural light, and dedicated areas for relaxation, maternity, and self-care.

Regular well-being sessions and feedback mechanisms contributed to a healthy work-life balance, incorporating stress reduction techniques, and promoting regular check-ins. The successful execution of this strategy resulted in a notable shift towards a green solidarity ethos within the office culture, emphasizing mental health as a top priority. UNDP Panama’s commitment to employee well-being was further strengthened through the integration of resources and training for stress management, mindfulness, and breathing exercises. The positive outcomes of this office adaptation strategy were evident in the consistent high productivity and unwavering quality of work. Lessons learned during the process emphasized the importance of consistency, flexibility, and strong leadership for successful cultural change.

UNDP Panama’s initiative prioritized adaptability and well-being in a changing work environment.

UNDP Kyrgyzstan — Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Champion

In an inspirational display of commitment to inclusivity, UNDP Kyrgyzstan secured the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award. This category recognizes initiatives that go above and beyond to enhance diversity at the Country Office, ensuring that the UNDP workforce mirrors the communities it serves. The award also acknowledges efforts in creating an inclusive workplace where all voices are not only heard but valued.

Earlier in the year, the Country Office set its sights on fostering a disability-inclusive organizational culture. The People for 2030 initiative also aimed to support the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by Kyrgyzstan in 2019. As part of the initiative, the entire UNDP Country Office team received comprehensive training on disability inclusion. In addition, the introduction of a disability-inclusive language glossary, media representation guidelines, and employing adaptive communication materials in the office contributed to a transformative shift in thinking. As a result, disability inclusion not only became an integral part of project design, but these efforts led to initiatives that extended beyond specific projects to daily activities in the office.

Active engagement with the disability community, an informal office reading group discussing disability literature, and a commitment to the principle “Nothing About Us Without Us” underscore the inclusive approach which has proven to be successful in creating a workplace environment where persons with disability thrive.

UNDP Kyrgyzstan creates a model for a disability-inclusive culture in the workplace.

UNDP Albania — Employee Well-being Award

UNDP Albania received the Employee Well-being Award with its “Staff Well-being Challenge”, highlighting the team’s dedication to promoting work-life balance.

The challenge addressed the critical need for a healthy work-life balance through a diverse array of engaging activities — from intellectually stimulating book club sessions to meditative Yoga exercises, cooking and the adventurous thrill of hiking and rafting, each activity, inspired by Albania’s culture and international practices, aimed to enhance team well-being, showcase the country’s nature and culture, and heighten environmental awareness.

With over 90% of the Country Office workforce participating in these activities, the challenge fostered team building and camaraderie among colleagues across teams and hierarchies. Following the success and popularity of the initiative, UNDP Kyrgyzstan is preparing for another Well-being Challenge in 2024 and plans to invite local and international partners as participants.

The Well-being Challenge enhanced work-life balance and fostered team bonding through diverse activities.

UNDP Rwanda — Career Progression Catalyst Award

UNDP Rwanda through its initiative “Driving Careers Forward Through Collective Growth and Development” played a significant role in supporting career development and progression of its workforce. The initiative aimed to address specific challenges faced by team members in communication effectiveness, engagement and advocacy, and adaptation to evolving communication trends.

To address the challenge of communication effectiveness, the Country Office conducted specialized writing workshops. Expert communicators and writers guided participants in structuring Op-Eds, refining their argumentation skills, and crafting engaging and impactful messages. In addition, the office recognized the importance of enhancing public speaking abilities and conducted training sessions focusing on developing engaging narratives, impactful delivery, and stage presence in a TED Talk-style format.

The outcomes were remarkable, with participants showcasing enhanced communication skills. They demonstrated significant improvement in crafting persuasive Op-Ed pieces and delivering compelling narratives for presentations. The initiative resulted in increased staff engagement, as evidenced by a commendable rise in written contributions, including over 10 pieces from programme staff, and a notable uptake in storytelling presentations. UNDP Rwanda plans to further invest in staff development. The award money will be utilized to enroll at least five additional staff members in the Op-Ed writing and TedTalk-style training programs, ensuring broader access to these crucial skills.

The overwhelming response to the call for training applications highlighted the universal interest in honing vital career skills. Additionally, the experience underscored the value of joint learning, fostering mutual respect for individual learning paces and promoting a culture of continuous learning within the organization.

UNDP Rwanda: Driving forward careers by enhancing employable skills and supporting professional growth.

UNDP Burkina Faso — New Talent Workforce Engagement Award

In a visionary initiative, UNDP Burkina Faso took on the challenge of addressing the employment and employability concerns of the country’s youth, who make up a substantial 32.6% of the population aged 15 to 34. Recognizing the pivotal role young talent plays in achieving the SDGs, the country office strategically engaged with this demographic, especially those transitioning from academic studies to the labour market.

To ensure comprehensive information dissemination, UNDP Burkina Faso organized targeted sessions with universities, grandes écoles, and civil society organizations that engaged with youth. The outcomes were both significant and multifaceted. Participants gained in-depth knowledge of UNDP’s mandate and missions and were informed about UNDP’s work in the country, showcasing the organization’s commitment to collaborating with the government for sustainable development. The initiative also shed light on UNDP’s employment opportunities for young people, including the United Nations Volunteer Programme and UNDP’s award-winning Graduate Programme.

In addition to the winners, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner acknowledged the outstanding efforts of the runners-up, whose initiatives stood out in a pool of exceptional submissions. He expressed gratitude for the overwhelming response to the awards, with 30 entries providing unique insights. “Each entry contributed valuable lessons for the organization. The awards represent more than just recognition; they offer an opportunity for colleagues to further invest in improving the workplace,” he said.

As the ceremony concluded, both the Administrator and the Director of Human Resources echoed the collective commitment of UNDP to evolve and thrive in an ever-changing world. The achievements celebrated at the People Awards underscored the organization’s dedication to its people and the impactful work they undertake globally.

UNDP Burkina Faso engaging students in an informational session on its programme in the country, showcasing UNDP as an employer of choice.

About People for 2030 Awards

The first People for 2030 Awards were held in 2020. Since then, over 120 submissions to the annual competition have been made, demonstrating a wealth of innovative approaches adopted by UNDP’s Country Offices to deliver the People for 2030 Strategy in their respective countries. Crucial to this endeavour are UNDP’s People Champions, a dedicated network of colleagues in Country Offices acting as conduits for constructive feedback and ensuring that the People Strategy remains responsive to the dynamic needs of UNDP’s diverse teams. Through their active engagement, the People champions exemplify the foresight required to navigate the complex landscape of global development, contributing significantly to the realization of our shared vision for a better, more sustainable future.

Now in its second phase, People for 2030 is not only driving progress within UNDP but is helping the organization contribute to global objectives. Since 2022, over half of UNDP’s workforce (11,000 employees) have participated in career development webinars, earning certifications that not only strengthen the organization’s capabilities but enrich their individual career journeys and create opportunities for career progression. In addition to meeting and exceeding 94% of indicators in the UN System-Wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment 2.0, UNDP has demonstrated its commitment to fostering an inclusive and diverse workplace with the adoption of a first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategy as well as the introduction of a flagship Speak UP culture initiative which aims to encourage trust, belonging and psychological safety for personnel to address incidents of bias, microaggressions, and other forms of exclusion.