All aboard the Cabo Verde ForesightSHIP: A journey like no other!

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All aboard the Cabo Verde ForesightSHIP: A journey like no other!

Eyes wide open, and full of curiosity, the passengers boarded the imaginary cruise ship. They had each received an invitation and a mysterious file containing ‘travel documentation’ for their destination which included analysis of the country and a guide to the wonders and pitfalls of the adventure ahead. 

Most intriguing of all was what was written on the boarding pass itself: point of departure Praia, 2022 … port of arrival: Praia 2030!

Realizing that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development would require a significant break from the ‘business as usual’ approach to development planning, the Government of Cabo Verde joined forces with the UN Country Team (UNCT), led by Ana Graça the UN Resident Coordinator to organize a ‘cruise into the future’ visioning exercise to help design the National Development Plan 2022-2026 and the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework 2023-2027 (UNSDCF). 

The workshop, which took place in Praia, Cabo Verde last month brought together more than 40 participants from government, civil society, private sector and academia to brainstorm ideas for a future facing UNSDCF strategy. 

The cruise into the future event was not just a creative gimmick, it is a part of the broader approach of the UNCT and the Government of Cabo Verde to inject transformational thinking into development planning. By organizing the workshop around the theme of this imaginary cruise, the ‘ForesightSHIP’, participants were encouraged to think outside the box and bring new ideas to the planning process. 

"We have to build plans that are more sensitive to the future," explained Resident Coordinator Ana Graça during the workshop. 

The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of Cabo Verde, Olavo Correia echoed this sentiment, explaining how Cabo Verde as a "Blue Nation, smart, digitalized yet also emergent and resilient" understands the importance of building a future facing development plan. 

In the world of business, entrepreneurs are constantly looking to the future to harness the power and opportunities of new technology. The same type of future thinking must be adopted by the public sector if governments and civil society are to reach the ambitious goals set out in the 2030 Agenda.  

The need for strategic foresight -applying future approaches to strategic planning- could not be more urgent for Cabo Verde. 

Cabo Verde has faced crisis after crisis over the past few years.  Highly dependent on global trade, the country imports 80% of the food it consumes, and virtually all the country’s industries, households and administrations depend on imported fossil fuel. 

For a vulnerable SIDS economy (Small Island Developing State), this high level of uncertainty and repeated crises, means that planning and budgeting based on past trends and priorities is no longer sufficient.  Even our best economic forecasts from the past few years could never have predicted the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate shocks and the current war in Ukraine on this small island economy. 

In contrast, foresight analysis provides a more structured approach to dealing with uncertainty. For our workshop we used a foresight technique called ‘backcasting’ which, in a similar way to chess players, enabled us to work backwards to identify the key milestones, assumptions and underlining risks for 2023, 2025 and 2027. 

The first stop on our way through these past milestones was the year 2022. As the ForesightSHIP came into port, participants were encouraged to put on their Manager’s hat and ask themselves ‘What does our current situation look like? What are the key challenges we face? What assets do we have?’ This part of the journey was called Horizon 1. 

After that, we reached Horizon 3, where participants were asked to look ahead and identify emerging trends, risks and opportunities that will characterize the future.

Finally, working backwards again, we put on our Entrepreneur's hat for Horizon 2, and asked ourselves: What can be done? What future-proof solutions and pathways should we adopt? This allowed us to connect the questions explored in Horizon 1 ‘the present’ with the possible outcomes and risks identified in Horizon 3 ‘the future’. 

At the end of the exercise we all embarked the ship again for one last travel through time to test our solutions against different scenarios, including how they could be adapted to future shocks and what risk mitigation measures could be taken. 

This type of exercise was useful since it helped everyone think and plan more strategically about the future.

"It allowed us to explore possible future scenarios at a national level, aware of the global context, which greatly impacts Island States such as Cabo Verde," the Resident Coordinator explained at the end of the event. 

João Sousa, who works in the private sector in Cabo Verde also thought the workshop was valuable since it encouraged participants across different fields to think more clearly about future planning. 

"It was a unique exercise without doubt. In a very clear way and with a relatively simple methodology it allowed us to prepare for this future that is supposed to be now."

All the outputs from our cruise into the future workshop including assets, assumptions, risks, opportunities, development solutions and pathways will feed into the theory of change of both the National Strategic Plan for Sustainable Development and the UNSDCF (2023-2027), putting risk-informed analysis and prioritization at the heart of both plans.

The ForesightSHIP workshop fostered a strong sense of partnership between the UN, the Government of Cabo Verde, and the coalition of partners who joined us on this journey to the future. By embedding this exercise in the Cooperation Framework and National Strategic Planning Process, the Government of Cabo Verde showed how committed they are to adopting a future-facing approach to planning. 

Using this foresight model, we are not just reinventing ways of strategic planning, but creating a community of thinkers and practitioners, able to reflect collectively on the future, to plan jointly and to take immediate action. 

The imaginary voyage may be over, but we at the UN Country Team will continue to bring this community together to build a prosperous and sustainable future for Cabo Verde. 

This blog was written by Sebastien Vauzelle, Economist, UN Cabo Verde, and Katarina Kuai, Innovations Specialist, UN Development Coordination Office. Editorial support was provided by the UN Development Coordination Office.

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Sebastien Vauzelle

Katarina Kuai