UNDP: Empowering lives at a time of great changes

Jun 13, 2011

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark addresses the members of the UNDP/UNPFA/UNOPS Executive Board at the annual session at UN headquarters in New York. Photo: UNDP


Statement by Helen Clark
Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme
On the Occasion of the Annual Session of the Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS

Monday, 13 June 2011
New York

Madam President, 
Members of the Executive Board, 

Overall development context

We meet at a time of great change, with the cumulative effects of longer-term trends radically altering the development landscape.

These include the impacts of climate change and of human activity on our ecosystems and natural resources.

There are challenges associated with high food and fuel price volatility, poor governance, and the difficulties of helping countries prevent and recover from natural disasters and conflicts. 

We also see tensions boiling over from growing disparities, exclusion, and alienation, even where conventional indicators have suggested that progress was being made – bringing to mind the old adage that men and women do not live by bread alone.

The High-Level Meeting on AIDS last week highlighted again the need for strong political and financial commitments to halt and reverse that epidemic.

The world continues to experience shifts in the global balance of power, with the steady rise of countries in the global South.

There is the challenge of renewing multilateral institutions, rules, and processes to recognise these shifts and empowering those institutions to plug the gaps in global governance. 

Unless that is done, the challenges our world faces are likely to exceed our capacity to deal with them. Yet, by reinvigorating multilateralism, we can re-energise the fight against the global challenges of tackling poverty, disease, inequality, climate change, biodiversity loss, and much else.

Since we last met, events in the Middle East and North Africa have held centre stage in the international news. UNDP and our colleagues in the UN Development Group all stand ready to support countries undergoing transitions. Indeed we are collectively already heavily involved, at countries’ request, in revamping our activities in countries in the region where there are new circumstances and challenges.

With one exception, these events are taking place in countries with middle income or NCC status, reminding us of the relevance of UNDP’s mandate across the development spectrum – not only in governance, but also in advocacy and support for inclusive growth and youth development.

UNDP’s universal presence; our track record of staying the course in good times and bad; our mandate to engage in sensitive programme areas and in countries when and where other partners cannot; our commitment to building capacity; and our co-ordination role within the UN development system – all these factors mean that our work today not only is highly relevant, but indeed may be even more critical now than ever before.

I am well aware that we face high expectations from our partners to demonstrate ever greater impact, results, and value for money from the funding entrusted to us.   

Developing countries seek advice of high quality and impact, tailored to their individual needs as ambitions for faster paced and more inclusive development grow. 

Official development assistance budgets are under pressure. We hear the message from donors about the importance of continually improving the effectiveness of what we do – and reporting on it fully and communicating it. 

We will meet those expectations where the Board enables us to do so. I have said ever since coming to UNDP that I am committed to best practice on results-based management and reporting. But technical issues like these can also detract from substantive debate within the Board, which is a matter of regret to me.

Having been a long-serving government leader, I fully appreciate the need of our funders to report to their constituents on the use of their money. My request is that the Board, building on our proposed roadmap towards the next Strategic Plan, which is being shared with you, give us the scope and space to refine and strengthen results and meet related reporting expectations.

I am fully aware that our future funding rests on meeting expectations for delivering results, reporting on them, and ensuring even greater transparency. We need the Board’s help and understanding on these issues to achieve that.

Our objective at UNDP is to move from being a good organisation to a great one. That is why we have embarked on a larger agenda for organisational change, building on the action plan launched last year.

Our change agenda, along with our determination to respond to the findings from the Mid-term Review of the Strategic Plan, will put us in a strong position to deliver meaningful development results and report on them in the years ahead. 

Let me now comment briefly on the Mid-term Review and Annual Report documentation before you, before commenting on our change agenda.

Annual Report and the Mid-term Review

The 2010 annual report section in the Mid-term Review provides an in-depth analysis of UNDP’s contributions to eight outcome-level results.

These areas cover issues relating to our work on promoting democratic governance; reducing poverty and achieving the MDGs; and supporting post-crisis recovery.

Engagement with civil society is a common theme across all eight outcomes, as are UNDP’s activities to strengthen institutions at both national and local levels.

To prepare for the Mid-term Review we undertook a major, multi-year analysis of findings from evaluations and independent surveys, and of the demand coming from governments, our self-reporting on results, and on how resources have been invested for country-level programme delivery.

The overall picture which emerges is of a development organization which is delivering focused support, responding to the specific needs of different typologies of countries, and playing an essential UN development co-ordination role. The evidence shows that we are not doing everything everywhere as is sometimes suggested.

It is also clear that we have transparent resource allocation policies, effective accountability policies, and strong disclosure practices.

The review affirms that UNDP’s primary contribution to advancing human development is through programming which helps build inclusive, sustainable, and resilient societies.

The first years of implementing the Strategic Plan have seen UNDP responding well to the specific and evolving needs of each country. We can do that because we are a development organisation with a broad mandate – we are not a specialized agency with the narrow mandate which goes with that designation.

In the poverty practice, our programming focus is evolving beyond MDG planning and monitoring to encompass MDG acceleration and implementation.  That relates to our work both as a stand-alone agency and as a participant in UNCTs - all of which are dedicated to MDG achievement. This shift in focus is critical for supporting more countries to meet more MDG targets by 2015.

Prior to last year’s MDG Summit, we piloted the MDG Acceleration Framework in ten countries with the support of UNCTs. In Tajikistan, for example, the Framework resulted in plans to expand small scale, low cost, and renewable energy production in rural areas. I saw an example there in recent weeks of just such a micro-hydro scheme bringing reliable energy to a township – enabling children to attend school and the local hospital to operate throughout the winter. Unreliable power supply impeded both these areas previously.

The Acceleration Framework is currently being applied in four countries in the western Sahel to address the MDG 1 target on chronic hunger, and there are many other requests for its application. Support for this acceleration approach came through strongly at the important MDG conference in Japan earlier this month.

Last year the MDG Achievement Fund, financed by Spain, supported 128 active joint UNCT programmes to spur MDG progress in 49 countries, ranging from combating desertification in Mauritania to promoting social inclusion in national policies in Ecuador.

We are also heavily engaged with UNCDF in joint programmes on local development and microfinance in LDCs which underpin MDG acceleration.

The MTR shows that UNDP’s work on HIV/AIDS links to our broader development efforts to advance gender equality, economic empowerment, social inclusion, and human rights, as it must. The epidemic will not be beaten by health sector interventions alone.  

Since 2003, our partnership with the Global Fund has helped develop the capacity for large-scale HIV, TB, and malaria programmes in 37 countries, most of which are LDCs or in special development situations. We have already handed over our role as principal recipient to national entities in twelve countries. Our goal is to build that same capacity and hand over responsibility in every other country where we are principal recipients.

In the environment and energy practice, the first three years of the Strategic Plan have seen a steady increase in the demand for our services. UNDP is now an important player in initiatives around the world on forestry, energy access for the poor, desertification, biodiversity conservation, water, and climate change adaptation and mitigation. We also operate as a leading implementer of programming for the Global Environment Facility and a range of climate funds, and are involved in the design of the new Green Fund mandated by the Cancun Climate conference.

On democratic governance, UNDP is the only UN development agency with a specific mandate, and there is a great demand for our work.

Last year alone, for example, we provided electoral cycle assistance in sixty countries, and helped to develop systems and policies to tackle corruption in more than 100 countries.

In Bangladesh, we supported the establishment of the new Human Rights Commission, and the national roll-out of ICT services aimed at supporting development, including by increasing digital access to government services.

Our work to engage civil society at the local level has contributed to improvements in public service delivery in Colombia, Dominican Republic, and El Salvador.  

On crisis prevention and recovery, UNDP’s role has been found to be highly relevant. We offer unique and integrated support, analysis, and expert knowledge.

Where properly funded, we can act quickly, support national authorities, inject development early on in peacekeeping and humanitarian settings, and support community-based peacebuilding which reduces the likelihood of violent conflict. We have a special role to play in supporting societies to withstand and recover swiftly from threats to peace and development, including those related to slow-onset disasters such as climate change.

Last year, from Haiti to Pakistan, UNDP-sponsored employment programmes generated hundreds of thousands of short-term jobs, helping people to rebuild their lives and livelihoods and restore basic services.

In Afghanistan, UNDP’s largest programme in the world, we have helped strengthen public administrations, and supported the reintegration of returning combatants. We are working at the community level to develop livelihoods and essential infrastructure.

In Southern Sudan, we are helping create essential government capacities as part of the overall effort in support of the transition to independence next month.  UNVs are very active in these and other areas there, especially at the sub-national level.

The evidence gathered for the MTR suggests that UNDP continues to have an important role to play in all the pillars of its Strategic Plan.

It does show us where we need to improve, including in ensuring that project successes and results from local initiatives more consistently support transformational change at scale; strengthening linkages and breaking down silos between practice areas in order to deliver integrated solutions; and ensuring more consistent performance across Country Offices.

As I mentioned earlier, we must also continue to improve results-based management in our programming and our results measurement and reporting – with the support of the Board, we can do that.

We are introducing a set of development effectiveness outputs and indicators for the remainder of the Strategic Plan period. They will help us monitor and guide the results of UNDP in response to recurring evaluation findings. 

The MTR also points to the need to streamline operational processes.

In order better to monitor how we improve in the operations area, as well as on issues like our co-ordination role, we are proposing adjustments to the Institutional Results Framework.

On the structure of the Development Results Framework, in accordance with the Board’s 2008 decision, we use outcome statements and output indicators as the basis of our reporting in the current Strategic Plan period.

Based on the analysis in the MTR and requests from Member States, we have strengthened the Development Results Framework, within the parameters of the Board’s original decision. 

I understand that some Member States feel that UNDP has not gone far enough in the changes being proposed. Discussions must continue on that topic.

At the same time, I believe it is important that the Board acknowledge that UNDP has made a huge effort through the MTR to analyse its strengths and challenges in its mandated areas of work.  This has helped us to examine our contributions to outcome level change. It has also been an important catalyst for furthering our learning from evaluation and our culture of results. We would welcome a robust discussion on that substantive analysis.

We are committing to building up further our data and results capture systems, based on country level outcome indicators.  We have offered a consultation process with interested Members to further develop this over the course of the year, leading up to the next annual report in June 2012. 

We will consult with the Board in advance of each reporting period to establish the indicators to be used, and work to ensure that our reports are more comprehensive in their presentation of results across countries. 

The details of the proposed changes to the results frameworks are reflected in the annexes to the MTR which have been shared with the Board.  We count on the Board’s support for these results frameworks, which demonstrate our commitment to continual improvement to results measurement and reporting. 
We have also committed to begin consultations on the next Strategic Plan in the autumn.  Our aim is to construct results frameworks which provide a strong foundation for results-based management and reporting in UNDP, and which meets the expectations of the Board.

Agenda for Organizational Change

The work on the MTR has also informed our internal agenda for organizational change. The agenda has been shared with you in writing, and by the Associate Administrator in a Board informal recently.

The change agenda is about ensuring that UNDP is strategic, focused, consistent in the quality and effectiveness of its work, and nimble - in order to retain its leading role in a crowded development field.

It builds from and encompasses projects ongoing from the action plan initiated last year. We want to ensure that UNDP bureaux give optimal support to Country Offices to produce more consistent performance in the field – an area the MTR has identified as needing improvement.

Our aim is to be a solution-oriented, knowledge-based organization, helping developing countries make transformational change and helping channel the strengths of the entire UN development system to that end. 

As a first step to focusing our efforts better, we have identified internal strategic priorities for both the next 12 months and the next 3-5 years. That will help us act on the forward-looking agenda of the MTR in the context of the Strategic Plan, guide our change process, and improve internal accountability.

These internal priorities will be subject to annual review and reassessment, and be adjusted as necessary as work on the next Strategic Plan proceeds. It is important to find that balance between the need to set priorities as an organisation and the need to respond to country demand.

For the next 3-5 years, we have identified four over-arching priorities.

  • First, we will engage with even greater determination on promoting growth and development which are inclusive, sustainable, and resilient. 

Accelerating progress on the MDGs is critical here, paying particular attention to lagging Goals, the elimination of major disparities, the role of cross-cutting issues such as gender and HIV/AIDS, and to the poorest countries facing the greatest difficulties in meeting the targets. 

Working with other UNDG agencies, we must also be part of finding solutions to large-scale youth unemployment and under-employment, which is a growing and critical problem in many countries.

Long term sustainable development requires sound management of natural environments and resources to secure their long-term development ambitions.  UNDP will prioritise support for countries to prepare low-emissions, climate-resilient development strategies, and strengthen the institutional capacities needed to implement them. That includes support for boosting access to clean and renewable energy services and helping countries to access and deploy climate finance.  Developing countries will need the appropriate rules, institutions, skills, and information, to benefit from the Green Climate Fund.

Our work on growth and development must also help prepare countries to deal with risks which can seriously disrupt and reverse progress.  This will include efforts to expand coverage of social protection programmes serving the most vulnerable, and helping to strengthen countries’ disaster and crisis risk reduction and recovery capabilities.

Throughout, we want to engage more imaginatively and systematically with civil society and the private sector.

  • Our second priority relates to tackling governance challenges and the danger of countries slipping into crises.  We have unique strengths in governance and crisis prevention and recovery to draw on.  Building national and local dialogue and mediation capacities, reforming justice and security sectors, and rapidly providing livelihoods and jobs which target ex-combatants and youth are crucial. 

Complementary to these efforts, we will continue to focus on improving the credibility of electoral processes and institutions, and helping countries to manage their financial resources transparently and effectively.

In the Arab States region, as I mentioned earlier, we have been examining our programming to ensure we can respond effectively to changing circumstances. 

In Tunisia, as requested by the new authorities, we are giving support to the new electoral commission and the development of political parties.  Work is being done to support security sector reform, develop policy options for a strategy against corruption, and support a new NGO regulatory framework.

In Egypt, we organized last week a forum for a broad cross-section of Egyptians and others from the region to share experiences with participants who had led transitions to democracy in other parts of the world. We are supporting the formal multi-party national dialogue process, and have been promoting job creation through the development of small- and medium-sized enterprises.

  • Our third priority is to re-energize our efforts on knowledge capture and sharing so that we can better support transformational change, sharing experiences of what works.

We will consciously exploit our proud intellectual heritage of shaping debates through global, regional and national human development reports.

A key message of this year’s global Human Development Report will be that the freedoms and choices of today’s poor must continue to expand, but that the risks which seriously undermine the ability of future generations to meet their own aspirations must also be addressed. The Report will identify the kinds of policies and actions which can promote both sustainability and equity, providing important insights in the run-up to Rio+20.

The process of preparing the HDRs is important, and was subject to considerable feedback by Member States and other partners after last year's publication. The team preparing the 2011 Report has heightened efforts to engage with all key stakeholders, strengthened the technical review processes, and improved the transparency of the preparation process.  We look forward to Board feedback on the concrete measures undertaken in an upcoming agenda item.

  • Fourth, we will improve our organizational effectiveness and our contribution to co-ordination of the UN development system and Delivering as One. I will return to this subject shortly.

After 2-3 years of the change agenda we expect to see a UNDP with an improved culture of and capability for strategic planning and results-based management; better able to match resources and actions to clear priorities, tailor services to country needs; and with a workforce which can consistently deliver support comparable to the best peer institutions.

We expect to see improvement in the design of country programmes and associated programme and project portfolios. We will have improved results measurement and reporting at country and at global level, and invest in ensuring that project level results are influencing outcome level change.

Our business processes should be faster, cheaper, and better. 

We should have stronger collaboration with existing partners, and a step change in that with new ones.  Facilitating South-South exchanges will be very important as we seek to help countries address shared needs and priorities. Our approach will be more open, flexible and focused, in line with the feedback from partners over the past few years. 

For the next twelve months, our internal strategic priorities within the inclusive growth agenda will be our work on MDG acceleration, focusing on transition and fragile settings which are already high on the global agenda, and increasing advocacy on climate change and its links to development in advance of the COP17 climate summit in South Africa and of Rio+20. 

You will see improvements in our communications. We are working on a more strategic approach to external communications and partnerships. We are repositioning the UNDP brand, important parts of which are the redesigned website and our new tag line - “Empowered Lives. Resilient Nations”.

We are revamping our internal decision making structures not only to achieve more focus, but also to make us better able to adapt to changing circumstances more quickly.  We are emphasizing collective leadership and decision making roles, with responsibilities for contributing to outcomes clearly defined. 

This is part of shifting to a stronger culture of strategic planning and results-based management within the organisation.

This will be accompanied by moves to bring together the management of our core and non-core resources to support our identified priorities, respond to opportunities, and provide differentiated services in different country settings. 

A key aspect of accountability for performance is securing a step change in the quality of the country programmes coming to the Board, and ensuring that these improvements are sustained throughout the programme cycle. 

To be a leading contributor to policy debates and to inform programming, a new strategic policy unit, headed by a Chief Economist, will be formed in BDP. It will look over the horizon to identify both emerging policy issues and their implications for our programmes.  It will help put in place a robust policy framework to tackle complex development challenges across practices  

Improvements will be made to the delivery of corporate services through BOM so that they are more quality-and customer-focused.  An immediate priority is to overhaul processes to reduce recruitment times significantly and to deliver quality procurement more quickly.       

Subsequent phases of the change agenda will see a continued focus on strengthening programme coherence and operational efficiency.

A crucial change will be for Regional Bureaux to take responsibility for oversight of all programme delivery.  Regional Service Centres will be much more closely linked into Regional Bureaux and the priorities they set for programming. 

BCPR will continue to implement its transformation plan, with some additional changes to ensure that we have closer integration of its policy functions with BDP and of its programmes with Regional Bureaux for more effective country support.  

Linked to our work to build and leverage new partnerships for development, UNDP will develop an integrated resource mobilization strategy for three to five years, bringing together planning for core and non-core resources.  

We will be developing a people capability strategy to identify the size, shape, and skills mix of our future workforce. Career paths in policy, corporate services, and programme areas will be developed, with professional skills development, training, and mentoring for staff. The performance management system will aim to ensure that the right incentives are in place to produce the best results.

In two weeks we will be bringing together all Resident Co-ordinators/Resident Representatives in New York for our global meeting. It will focus on our vision for the next few years, pressing development challenges, our priorities, and our change agenda. The deliberations at this Board meeting will therefore inform those discussions.

UN coherence

UNDP is firmly committed to its role and mandate in leading the co-ordination of the UN development system.

We will look critically at areas where weaknesses still persist, and others where our collective strengths are still not being fully exploited for the benefit of those we serve. 

Going forward we have to focus less on process, and more on delivering demonstrable development results.

In November the Fourth Intergovernmental Conference on Delivering as One in Uruguay will take place. The independent evaluation of Delivering as One is also underway. 

Both will provide critical inputs to the QCPR discussions next year on the way the UN development system needs to operate in the future.

When looking at the next generation of coherence efforts, we need to look at what has been achieved, especially in the Delivering as One Pilots and the voluntary adopters, and what has driven the behavioural change towards greater coherence, beyond the incentive of additional funding.  

To identify and recommend the most suitable candidates for Resident Co-ordinator positions, the UNDG has re-designed the next generation of the Resident Co-ordinator assessment. Candidates from across the system are going through it.

We continue to aim for better gender and geographic balance among the Resident Co-ordinators. Forty two per cent of first time Resident Co-ordinators approved last year were women.

An independent review of the Management and Accountability System was just been completed.  We are examining it now to see if it will assist the implementation and development of the system.

I remain very concerned that contributions to our core resources decreased in 2010. Current projections for 2011 suggest a slight upward trend to $1 billion, but only because of exchange rate movements.

The resource framework agreed by the Board in 2007 may not seem realistic in light of current realities. We have updated and adjusted it as part of the MTR, but maintained our ambition to build back core resources to the critical mass we need to achieve meaningful results.

"Non-core" resources entrusted to UNDP further increased in 2010, reaching a total of $4 billion. Both bilateral donors and multilateral partners each contributed funding of more than $1.6 billion towards this amount. The majority of the remaining roughly $0.75 billion comes from programme country cost-sharing.

Contributions for UNDP’s associated funds and programmes increased last year to $209 million, up from $200 million.

The high level of non-core funding shows that UNDP remains a partner of choice. That, however, should not detract from the fact that we need a stable and critical mass of “core” resources to allow us to be strategic, plan ahead, and provide predictable and differentiated services across all the countries in which we work.

I appeal to all our partners to commit increased core contributions for this year, and for the remainder of the Strategic Plan. I thank those partners who have already contributed to our core resources this year, and especially to those able to pledge on a multi-year basis.

As part of the integrated resource mobilization strategy I mentioned earlier, we look forward to engaging with each of you to discuss what measures can be taken to achieve our core resource targets.

A word on staff security – the necessary demands of which are increasingly costly. Since I last briefed you, UN staff have sadly come under attack in more than one location. We have to prioritize staff safety and security, while we also adhere to the UN posture of "how to stay" rather than "when to go". Doing that is resource-intensive.

Transparency and oversight

We are committed to working with all our partners so that we use the resources entrusted to us as effectively and efficiently as possible, and meet the highest standards of accountability and transparency.

UNDP is currently the only UN agency which has signed, along with around twenty programme countries, the International Aid Transparency Initiative. This initiative seeks to establish a common standard for disclosure of financial data and documents to help developing countries better to plan, budget, and account for development assistance. UNDP is also on track to adopt IPSAS by January 2012.

Transparency must also apply to information which shows areas in need of further improvement. Member States therefore have full access to our internal audit reports, with the necessary safeguards for confidentiality. Sharing that information instils trust in UNDP’s management and oversight.

Internal audit information, however, is not only relevant to Member States. It is increasingly of crucial importance for our partnership with institutional donors, such as the Global Fund and the European Union.

That is why we presented last week, together with UNFPA and UNOPS, a joint recommendation to the Board to grant institutional donors access to audit reports on projects funded by them, under the same conditions which apply to Member States. Doing that will demonstrate UNDP’s continued commitment to working with its partners in an accountable way.


The ground is shifting quickly in global development. We are making changes at UNDP to keep ahead of the curve, and to make sure we remain a focused and leading development agency.  

I count on the support of this Executive Board to help us lift the organization from being good to great, so that we truly can help empower lives and build resilient nations everywhere.



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