Helen Clark: Leaders of Change Summit, Istanbul

Mar 14, 2011

Remarks by Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme
Leaders of Change Summit
Panel on “A New Perspective on Development”
Istanbul, 13 March 2010

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this panel on a new perspective on development.

Recent years have thrown up enormous challenges to development. Food and fuel crises preceded the global recession – which, beginning in a few markets of the north, rapidly spread its tentacles to most corners of the earth, impacting on the poorest the most.

As well we have witnessed huge loss of life and destruction of livelihoods and communities from mega natural disasters. Japan, a developed country, is in our thoughts right now, as the latest nation to suffer from devastating seismic events, and their aftermath, shortly after the earthquake causing serious damage and loss of life in Christchurch, New Zealand. Just over a year ago it was Haiti which suffered grievously; before that China and Pakistan; before that the Indian Ocean tsunami affecting countries around its rim; and earlier still Turkey, Iran, and others.

Managing disaster risks like these is a huge challenge. As well, climate change and the increasingly erratic and extreme weather it produces add immensely to the risk profile of many countries. Environmental degradation generally and loss of biodiversity also represent significant threats to life on this planet.

Then there are the ongoing conflicts in a number of countries which stand in the way of development, and the high levels of armed violence in a number of countries not formally recognized as conflict zones.

Notwithstanding the many challenges, the world overall has made progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed goals. 

But we do need to accelerate progress in order to achieve the MDGs and other national and international development goals. 

The need is urgent. Our world now has a huge population of young people – all with hopes and dreams for the future, but who all so often have deep concern for their future. 

On current rates of economic growth and on current economic models, too few jobs and sustainable livelihoods are being created for those who need them.

Sheer frustration about lack of opportunity and about hardship being experienced has played its part in the series of uprisings in the Arab States this year – coupled with the expression of a pent-up desire for greater inclusion and participation and for dignity and justice.

If needs and dreams like these are not met more broadly, then the stability and peace needed for development momentum cannot be attained.

The Importance of Inclusive Growth

In the run up to last year’s MDG Summit in New York, UNDP produced an International Assessment of what it would take to achieve the Goals, drawing on national MDG progress reports and lessons learned across a wide range of countries.

One of the key drivers of progress identified was the need for more inclusive models of economic growth, which could succeed in driving down poverty and in creating decent work and sustainable livelihoods.

High levels of economic growth per se will not achieve that. So often we have seen such growth generated from the extractive industries with little spin off for human development locally.

Going forward, I believe that models of more inclusive growth will need to encompass smart strategies for nations to be able to capitalize far more on their natural endowments of riches than many have been able to hitherto. Doing that effectively will require not only deriving spin offs for jobs and local business, technology transfers, and infrastructure legacies, but also strong and capable institutions and leadership committed to human development.

Achieving inclusive growth is also very much about targeting the sectors, activities, and regions where poor people work and live. In the developing world, 2.5 billion people depend on agriculture for their living. Boosting agricultural production, through measures like providing access to fertilizer, credit, and irrigation services, and improving rural infrastructure will simultaneously reduce poverty and improve food security.

Both Ghana and Uganda provide examples of where investment in the agricultural and rural sectors has had that effect. In Uganda, growth in the agricultural sector accounted for more than half of the reduction in headcount poverty between 1992 and 2003.

The Role of Equity

Inclusive growth should also strive to be equitable growth. While it may seem paradoxical, absolute poverty reduction may be accompanied by greater inequality. That too puts strains on social cohesion and stability.

To promote equity, it is critical to sustain and expand investments in infrastructure and access to social services like health and education. 

Public employment schemes, like India’s National Rural Employment Development Scheme, and social protection programmes can be enormously helpful too, in ensuring that nobody drops below a minimum floor of wellbeing and in developing resilience to shocks.

There are the cash transfer programmes of Latin America – such as Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, and Colombia’s Familias en Accion programmes, and others – which target low-income households, help reduce poverty levels, and increase access to education and health services.

Here in Turkey cash transfer programmes address the nutritional needs of impoverished households, and help girls in those families go to school, thereby helping to empower them for the future.

Inequality goes beyond income distribution. It is important to tackle inequalities based on gender, ethnicity, faith, disability, geographic locations, and other factors. Investing in opportunities for women and girls, for example, is not only the right thing to do in equity and human right terms, but it also has multiplier effects for development across communities and generations.

Deliberate strategies are also needed for more equitable access to assets like land and tenure rights. Legal frameworks which work for everyone, and ensure access for the poor to legal rights need to be established.

Decent Work

A particular focus for inclusive growth must be to increase employment which merits the definition of decent work.

Creating job opportunities for young people and harnessing their energies and talents is of great importance right now. The global economic crisis has taken its toll on the young, with recent ILO estimates suggesting that the global youth unemployment rate rose from 11.8 percent in 2009 to 12.6 percent last year.

As well, actual labor force participation among youth dropped with the onset of the crisis. That means that fewer young people are actively seeking work. As these discouraged young people are not counted among the unemployed, the level of youth unemployment tends to be understated. The problem also goes beyond unemployment, with youth making up a larger proportion of the working poor. Young women are particularly disadvantaged.

The cost of youth unemployment is not only borne by young people themselves, but also by economies and societies as a whole. In recent years the highest regional youth unemployment rates have been observed in the Middle East and North Africa, where so many young people now see nowhere to go but to the streets in protest. UNDP’s Human Development Reports have warned about the consequences of such lack of inclusion and opportunity for youth in the region for some years.

Yet when growth supports rapid increases in decent work, incomes and opportunities will increase. That spurs virtuous cycles of activity, which generate additional public revenues to support further investments in education, health, and infrastructure, thereby contributing further to growth and stability.

More Inclusive Governance

Recent events in the Arab States also suggest that more inclusive political systems and governance need to accompany the growing of more inclusive economies if growth and stability are to be maintained.

UNDP’s Egypt Human Development Report in 2010 highlighted how young Egyptians were calling for greater consultation and communication between the government and young people. That report now seems particularly prescient.

From the early days of the transition in Tunisia this year, UNDP has provided support for establishing a strategy which could lay the ground for a functioning democratic governance system and economic recovery. Going forward, UNDP is committed to work with countries in the region, at their request, in fostering more inclusive political and economic participation, and securing peaceful transitions.

Development Partnerships

Tackling today’s development challenges requires strong partnerships – and the scope for these is expanding rapidly with the rapid growth of South-South cooperation, of the mega philanthropic foundations and NGOs, and the growing interest of the private sector.

Turkey is one of a number of large and dynamic developing countries which have themselves become significant contributors to international development cooperation.

Recognizing that and the broader geopolitical roles which such nations now play, at UNDP we have sought to lift our relationships with them to new levels.

Last Friday in Ankara, I signed with Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs a new Partnership Framework Agreement as the basis for Turkey and UNDP cooperating globally to advance development. Previous such agreements have been signed with China and Brazil, and others are in the pipeline.

At UNDP, we recognize that the strategies, policies, skills, and expertise which can be exchanged through South-South cooperation are often those best suited to meeting the development challenges faced in the South.

As a global development network with a universal presence, we are in a good position to work with a wide range of partners to facilitate exchanging experiences, and sharing lessons learned and best practice. 

A second agreement has also been signed with Turkey, on establishing the UNDP Istanbul International Policy Centre on the Private Sector in Development. It will be a centre of excellence on the engagement of the private sector in development and enhancing its impact. I am particularly keen to see the Centre promote inclusive models of doing business - which create opportunities for local businesses from the micro level up in value chains, and are positive for job creation. The Policy Centre’s establishment is made possible by generous support from Turkey.

Another major event this year will also underline the emphasis Turkey is placing on international development. In two months’ time, the Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries will be held here in Istanbul. I believe that the LDCs will be looking for an outcome which emphasizes the importance of growth, jobs, trade, and investment – all of which have played such an important role in propelling Turkey and other emerging economies forward in recent years. 

Where that momentum is also linked to policies which are inclusive and promote sustainable human development, then our world can work to overcome the many challenges development currently faces.

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