Clark: “Lifting UNDP Performance from Good to Great”

Jun 29, 2011

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Talking Points for the Opening Session of Day 3 of the
Global Management Meeting
“Lifting UNDP Performance from Good to Great”
Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Context and Framework for Change

As I emphasized on Monday, the ground is shifting quickly in global development. 

Globalisation has not only brought with it expanded possibilities but also heightened risks. We have known this for some time, but collective shortcomings in protecting global public goods – like our climate – are now more exposed than ever.

The aspirations, expectations, demands - and crucially, self-confidence - of developing countries have changed dramatically. What we see in the Arab States are shared sentiments people around the world have for shared prosperity, greater freedoms, and more choices, backed by the opportunities to lead lives which they value and choose.

There are also high and rising expectations for us to provide higher quality advice and services; to demonstrate greater impact and value for money; and to adapt to an altered development financing landscape which is seeing aid budgets under pressure and which may see increased levels of climate financing.   

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

If we scan the horizon for upcoming events, we can get a sense of both the opportunities before us to start doing things differently and the importance of making sure we position ourselves strategically for the years ahead.

In a few months there will be the high level meeting on aid effectiveness in Busan and the COP17 in South Africa. Next year the Rio+20 Conference takes place as well as the discussions around the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review.

As we look to position ourselves externally, internally we need to prepare for a number of institutional milestones:

  • Arising from the Mid-term Review of the Strategic Plan and the recent decision of the Executive Board, we will embark in the fall on a roadmap for developing the next Strategic Plan - a process which will involve considerable debate and internal and external engagement, and against clear expectations from the Executive Board that our results frameworks need to become significantly more robust and comprehensive.
  • The next BSB for 2012-13 will be considered by the Board in September, and reflects the constraints regarding core funding we continue to face.
  • Programming arrangements are due for review.
  •  We are rolling out a major brand repositioning exercise, including our new tagline.

This is not an exhaustive list of what’s on our plate. But it does highlight the importance of moving forward swiftly on each of the three pillars of the Agenda for Organizational Change – our improved governance, our organizational effectiveness and our leadership, culture, and behaviours. 

We have real strengths as an organisation which can help us meet the demands of changing global conditions. We now need to renew ourselves in an effective and convincing manner. 

Even the best laid plans will remain just ideas on paper if they are not implemented. The Agenda for Organizational Change will have to become an integral part of all our work at UNDP and not a separate, stand-alone initiative. 

To make sure we are all singing from the same song sheet, one of the first outputs of the Agenda for Organizational Change has been the development of a set of internal strategic priorities for the organization for both the next year and the next 3-5 years. 

Sharper Development Focus

These priorities have been shared with staff already, and I trust you have read them.  I will not therefore go through them now. Let me emphasize, however, that they lie at the heart of our change agenda efforts and are critical to doing at least four big things in UNDP :

First, they will help us reposition the organisation around a clear and connected set of development and internal change issues guided by the changes taking place around the world, what our partners are telling us, and what we have learnt from the MTR. The MTR, for example, affirms that UNDP’s primary contribution to advancing human development is through programming which helps build inclusive, sustainable, and resilient societies.

Our strategic priorities therefore recognize that we need to foster great inclusion and equity to help all men and women to participate fully in all aspects of the development process and to share equitably in the gains which it brings.  They recognize that we need to nurture greater resilience, to help countries safeguard hard won development gains in the face of different kinds of shocks and crises, and to mediate tensions before they boil over into conflict.  And they recognize that we need to promote sustainability, to enable countries and societies to develop green economies, and to grow while also managing their natural resources and protecting their ecosystems.

Second, the strategic priorities will help us focus our energies on making important development contributions for which there is country demand and on which we have a clear comparative advantage.  

Third, they will help us establish clear internal accountabilities so that we link responsibilities for our actions and our resources to what we want to achieve.

Fourth, they will help us tell a powerful and credible story about our work. This is an area where we have traditionally been weak. These priorities can guide us in communicating how our development contributions connect to the important changes transforming the world in which we work.

Organizational change to deliver results

The strategic priorities are the “what” part of where we are headed. Let me highlight several of the most critical elements of “how” we intend to implement them, and renew UNDP in the years ahead.

Again, I stress that the required changes involve and touch upon all levels of the organisation and across all Bureaux.

It is clear that we need to be much more forward-looking to be able to respond to opportunities and risks and to match resources and actions to priorities. 

A key aspect of this will be the development of a range of positioning tools and systems including a strategic corporate planning system and a forward looking partnership strategy.

We will develop a multi-year integrated approach to resource mobilisation and allocation which brings together core and non-core resources. We will also create an in-house strategic policy function headed by a Chief Economist. 

We need to see a major shift towards more strategic programme management, where we look actively at how our entire portfolio of work is performing at the regional and global levels, how country demands are shifting, what kinds of products and services we need to provide to meet demand, and how we are contributing to development results.  This requires a qualitative leap forward in the programme oversight and troubleshooting roles of Regional Bureaux, working closely with Central Bureaux.

But Regional Bureaux are dependent on the information and input from Country Offices to do the analysis and provide the support required.

We will expect more from our country leadership as well, to lead in the design of programmes which are qualitatively superior to anything we have seen so far from UNDP, and to report on them clearly and convincingly. We need our leaders on the ground to tap even more creatively and energetically into partnership possibilities, and to push UN Country Teams to deliver better results and at lower cost.  In the session after this you will be discussing in more detail your role and that of your Country Offices in implementing this change agenda.

We will expect Central Bureaux such as BCPR, BDP and BOM to offer a forward-looking perspective on how global conditions, industry standards, and good practices are shifting - and offer policy, technical, and operational services which are going to meet or exceed those offered by our peers.  We will also need to become more nimble and flexible, tailoring our services better to differentiated country requirements.

Underpinning our capacity to deliver on these changes will be more clearly defined accountabilities for performance in contributing to outcomes at all levels of the organization. This will be supported by clearly defined and strengthened decision making mechanisms, both through formal collective decision making roles and structures as well as by empowering individuals at different levels to make choices. 

Ultimately, if we are to succeed, we need to ensure that UNDP is the sort of place where people want to work and that our staff feel satisfied and empowered to contribute to our goals.  To that end we must offer better paths for professional development and people management systems which recognise and reward good performance.  To go from good to great we need to attract the best and the brightest.        

An even better, stronger UNDP will also continue to support co-ordination of and provide leadership to the UN development system as a whole.   

Leading the UN development system

As part of our change agenda, we must continue to engage with our UNDG partners– at headquarters and at the field – to strengthen our contribution to co-ordination of the UN development system and Delivering as One.

I note the strides which have been made through the Delivering as One initiative to date. Now we must 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. 

There is much more work still to be done to ensure that the UN development system is effective and coherent so that it remains a central player of the global development architecture of the future. 

Going forward we have to focus less on internal process with high costs, and more on speed, efficiency, and delivering demonstrable development results.

The reality is that funding for co-ordination, from DOCO and other sources, is increasingly tight. So we need to push for system-wide coherence not just because we are mandated to do so, but because it is the best and most effective way of bringing the full weight of the system to bear to solve any problem.


There is strong commitment by the Executive Group to operate as a unified and strategic decision making body. 

The change agenda will be managed in a prioritized and sequenced way, with dedicated resources to support implementation, monitoring, communication, and reporting.  At a strategic level it will be driven by the Executive Group, which has signed off on the first phase of the implementation plan, which was circulated to staff.  Implementation will be guided by a Steering Group led by Rebeca. 

But the Change Agenda is not just the responsibility of the Executive Group.  It is the collective responsibility of UNDP’s leadership group – all of you assembled here today – and, ultimately, of every staff-member. 

That is why today’s agenda focuses very much on getting your input. In the next session and in the clinics this afternoon you have both the opportunity and responsibility to think through how to bring about the changes the organisation needs.

The clinics this afternoon cover a variety of topics – from how to achieve faster recruitment to how to streamline procurement, enhance and lighten our processes, improve policy services, and how we might configure our country presence differently.

These are all critical issues. In each of these areas you will be discussing options for how he might change. The options range from incremental to much more radical.

From interacting with many of you over the past two years, I know that each of you has ideas about what can be done better. Now let us focus less on how we can make things better. Today is an opportunity for you to offer your direct input on the agenda for change and on how we take it forward.

I count on each of you here to do your part in bringing about the strategic shifts and leadership changes we need to lift UNDP from good to great.

I will now ask Rebeca to speak about the Steering Group and how we are approaching implementation.


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