Helen Clark: Address to DFID Speaker Series

Jul 1, 2009


Thank you for the invitation to me this afternoon to address DFID staff here in London and around the world.

DFID’s close and longstanding partnership with UNDP is very important to us, and it is one which I am committed to building on during my time as Administrator

UNDP itself greatly values DFID’s generosity.  In 2008 you were our fifth biggest supporter to core resources, and our second biggest contributor overall.  To deliver on our goals and achieve real results, UNDP needs an adequate and predictable base of core resources.  DFID helps provide that.

Our two organizations also benefit from working together on the goals for development we share in common.  UNDP’s Institutional Strategy with the governments of Denmark and the UK sets out how we will do that.  Making this happen requires not only a common understanding by our top management; it also requires our teams on the ground to work well together.

While I assumed my post as Administrator only ten weeks ago, I have long known about the scale of Britain’s ODA delivered through DFID.  I am also advised that there has been considerable cross-party and public support built for maintaining Britain’s official development assistance – even in these difficult economic times.  I applaud that commitment.

Our world has been faced concurrently with multiple challenges – not only that of the recession, but also the climate change challenge, and the recent experiences of high food and oil prices which drove down living standards for the poorest and most vulnerable people.

These are times when developing countries need our support more than ever.  Without that support, the global recession could reverse hard-fought development gains, just when we should be accelerating our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

With political commitment, additional resources, and redoubled efforts, the international community can still reach the MDG targets.   We have to be very focused on the interventions we can make collectively which will make a difference.

While UNDP is a large organization in the UN development system, its resource base is relatively small in the larger envelope of development funding.  We ourselves must be very focused if we are to have maximum impact.

UNDP’s strategic plan as you know is agreed on with our Executive Board.  It defines our core function as being to support capacity building and development.  It exhorts us to move away from small projects without the capacity for system wide impact.

My own view on this is very clear.  Unless small projects undertaken by UNDP have the potential for catalytic or significant demonstration effect, and the capacity to be scaled up, they will never help bring about the transformational change developing countries are seeking. They have to be part of a bigger vision and plan.

This is not always easy, as donors request our assistance to implement particular projects which are not necessarily of scale.

But UNDP’s job is clear :  we must focus our interventions on the development of those strategies and policies, and their roll out, which will have system-wide impact, and are aligned with national development strategies.  This is very much in line with the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action, as well as with the UNDP’s strategic plan approved by our Board.

UNDP, as DFID knows well, is mandated to work in four areas.  Promoting democratic governance and crisis prevention and recovery are two of the four central pillars of our work.  I see them as important stepping stones to our other two pillars of poverty reduction and the MDGs, and environment and sustainable development.

I believe UNDP can play, and must play, a vital role at the global level and in programme countries on fostering conflict prevention, reducing disaster risk, and ensuring recovery.

I recognize with great appreciation the role DFID played in the creation of our Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery.  DFID has also been the largest contributor to the Thematic Trust Fund for Crisis Prevention and Recovery.  This essential partnership, which we hope can be maintained, allows us to carry out programmes promoting rapid movement from humanitarian assistance to early recovery.

On my first trip to Africa as Administrator, I visited Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  There, and elsewhere, our primary aim is to restore hope and dignity to lives devastated by violence or natural disasters, and to “build back better” to reduce the likelihood of conflict and destruction in the future.

By working through the Resident Co-ordinators and with all other engaged stakeholders, we can and must do more to support nations recover from deep trauma and to prevent a return to it.

If development does not quickly ensue, and a peace dividend is not delivered, that undermines the maintenance of new found stability.

Promoting better governance continues to be a significant part of UNDP programme work.  This is important because efforts to reduce poverty and tackle tough environmental challenges are likely to be more sustainable where government at all levels is responsive, transparent, and accountable to its citizens.

Our work in this thematic area is wide ranging.  For example, we contribute to making human rights institutions more effective in close to 100 countries, and we support an election somewhere in the world approximately every three weeks.

Where I want more focus and action now from UNDP is on our mandate to work on poverty reduction and the MDGs, and on environment and sustainable development.

This is particularly important as the MDG target date of 2015 nears, and as the climate change negotiations enter an intensive period with considerable potential to benefit development.

In 2000 when I signed the Millennium Declaration as a head of government, 2015 seemed a long timeframe within which to achieve the MDGs.  But now the countdown is on.

Progress will be reviewed again next year when the General Assembly meets in September.  A high level event is planned at that time around the MDGs.  UNDP looks forward to working closely with DFID and other partners not only to prepare for this important event, but also to ensure that there is momentum to report on.

Going forward I will be expecting not only UNDP, but the whole UNDG structure with its regional and country level tiers, to be focused on identifying gaps in  MDG achievement and on how more effective action by us all could help to fill them.

While the MDG targets, or many of them, may well be met at the global level, that can, as we know, be achieved by mega-emerging nations making considerable progress.

What averages tend to obscure is the lack of traction on the MDGs for significant populations – both within countries and across regions.  I am advised, for example, that no country in sub-Saharan Africa is on track to achieve the MDGs.

What we should not accept is that the MDGs were merely aspirational or stretch targets which were not seriously intended to have global reach.

These were serious targets in critical areas which, when achieved, have the capacity to transform the lives of individuals, families, communities, and nations.

That is why we in UNDP, both as a stand-alone agency, and through our leadership and co-ordination of the UN development family at all levels, must work to mobilize support for the MDGs globally as a central focus for development strategies.

All hands are needed on this particular wheel – if we are to have impact.  There is a plethora of stakeholders active in development.  We can be so much more effective if we work together.

Enlisting the interest and support of the private sector is vital too. A vigorous private sector underwrites the prosperity of developed nations, and has a huge contribution to make to the economic growth and development which makes poverty reduction possible.

The Business Call to Action was launched last May with DFID support.  UNDP is willingly serving as the secretariat, as we see it as an important part of bringing the private sector on board to reach the MDGs.

But if we are serious about MDG achievement, then key donor pledges on Official Development Assistance will need to be fulfilled.

The British Government is to be commended for maintaining its commitment to allocating 0.7 per cent of gross national income to ODA by 2013.

That commitment gives Britain the moral authority to advocate for others to act on the pledges they have made.

When the G8 meets next week, it has the opportunity not just to reaffirm its Gleneagles commitments as it has done before, but also to go beyond well-intentioned  words and commit explicitly to mobilizing the resources needed to fund the “Gleneagles Scenarios” which are being developed for African countries.

These scenarios have been developed with the full backing of the multilateral system and programme countries.  They show how powerful the funding pledged at Gleneagles four years ago would be in getting traction on the MDGs, country by country.

We count on Britain also to continue its support for more attention to be paid to the plight of low-income countries by the G20.  Building on the success of the London summit in enabling support to be made available from the International Financial Institutions to middle income countries, the G20 at Pittsburgh now needs to consider how more policy space can be provided for low income countries hit by recession, but working to maintain progress on the MDGs.  This is not a time for cutting essential health and education spending.  Many nations do need more support and understanding to make it through these tough times.

As we focus on how to get more traction on the MDGs and poverty reduction, we need to appreciate the potential for the deal to be sealed at Copenhagen to contribute to that by also being a deal for development.

I applaud Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s seminal speech last week, indicating that Britain was prepared to contribute significant sums of money to this end, and being prepared to name an annual global figure for the resources required.

The significance of the resources which can flow to development from a new climate change agreement is such that we cannot treat these negotiations and these issues in silos separate from our central development paradigms.

Reinforcing that is our knowledge that we will not achieve poverty reduction and MDG targets for the long term if the way we grow and develop throws the world’s ecosystems out of balance.  We have only one planet to live on – not four or five.

UNDP has been supporting a small number of programme countries for some time in their preparations for Copenhagen.  Now I have instructed all Resident Co-ordinators to approach their host governments proactively to offer support even at this late hour in developing well informed positions for the negotiations .

UNDP has significant expertise around climate change and sustainable development issues.  Now is the time for us to ensure that all those who would benefit from drawing on it know that it is there and are able to access it.

It is important for me to emphasize that UNDP is mandated to promote and is committed to promoting the empowerment of women and the mainstreaming of HIV-AIDS responses in national development strategies. Both areas feature in the MDGs in their own right, but they are also vital for achieving other MDG targets.

We are also playing a full and energetic role in helping find solutions to the epidemic of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict and post conflict areas which led the Security Council to commit to Resolution 1820. Words cannot describe the horror so many countless thousands of women have been subjected to as marauding armed groups use rape as a weapon of war and revenge.

I turn now to the issue of getting better co-ordination across the UN development system.

The blunt truth is that we cannot be effective working as a disparate set of agencies. We need a clear strategic focus and more co-operation on the ground.
As Chair of the UN Development Group, I am prioritizing getting our funds, programmes, and agencies to work together. But we also need to reach beyond that to enlist more contributors to development in co-ordinated efforts to support the development strategies of the nations in which we work.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown was a member of the High-Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence, and DFID’s contribution to ‘Delivering as One’ process has been instrumental in moving this agenda forward.

I have had the opportunity to meet with the Resident Co-ordinators from the eight ‘Delivering as One’ pilot countries.

One cannot fail to be impressed with the progress which the government and the UN Country Teams of these countries have made. The pilots at their best show how we can be more strategically focused and cohesive in responding to country-led agendas.

Now more governments and UN Country Teams around the world are coming together, on their own initiative, to improve the UN’s ability to deliver coherently. As the word spreads further about what the ‘Delivering as One’ pilots are achieving, I believe there will be more’ self starters’.

Within the UN Development Group, and through the inter-governmental process, we will continue to gather the initial lessons and experiences emerging from the pilots to improve the UN’s response to national development plans. As you probably are aware, the way is not yet clear politically at the UN for this approach to be mainstreamed, but I hope a way forward will be found.
The roll-out of ninety UN Development Assistance Frameworks over the next three years is a good opportunity for our system to focus on the actions required to achieve the MDGs.

What is needed is country-by-country analysis of which of the MDGs are currently lagging behind, but could be reached with more effort, backed by the necessary resources. We welcome DFID teams on the ground assisting this process.

In these difficult times we must spare no effort to make the best use of the resources available to us. We must pursue greater efficiency, and we must prioritise. As well, accountability and transparency to our programme countries and our donors must be our guiding principles.

Let me reiterate my commitment to strengthening even further UNDP’s important partnership with DFID to achieve our common goals in the interest of development.

I count on our continued collaboration as we advance our vital work at UNDP and on UN reform.

UNDP Around the world