Helen Clark: Speech at the Opening session of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Europe and CIS Annual Cluster Mtg

May 19, 2016

Building back better to improve services through UN Floods Recovery Programme Photo: Vanes Pilav/UNDP in Bosnia & Herzegovina

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Annual Cluster Meeting of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (RBEC). Our meeting brings together senior management from RBEC and other UNDP Bureaus, representatives from other UN agencies, and RC/RRs and Country Directors from across the region. 

Our thanks go to the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) for its invaluable support to our meeting, and to the Minister of Finance and Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Mr. Bevanda, for taking time to be with us here today.  

I also thank the RR/RC for BiH, Sezin Sinanoglu, UNDP’s BiH country office, and our Regional Bureau and Istanbul Regional Hub for their hard work to ensure the success of this meeting.   

Co-operation with Bosnia and Herzegovina

First let me comment on the strong partnership which UNDP has enjoyed with BiH ever since it became an independent country.  Last year, our Country Office here had the largest programme delivery in UNDP’s Europe and CIS region. 

We worked with BiH authorities and other stakeholders at all levels on many issues – from the promotion of dialogue and peacebuilding to strengthening the rule of law and human security, advancing local development, deepening social inclusion, and addressing gender-based violence.  

Following the devastating floods of two years ago which affected almost a quarter of the country’s territory,  we worked in partnership with the European Union and other international partners to support the wide-ranging response and recovery efforts which were called for in the face of this massive disaster.   

Led by the principle of building back better, this included supporting the rebuilding of nearly 5,000 homes and more than 150 roads and bridges; rehabilitating 170 schools; and supporting the creation of thousands of jobs. As a result of these efforts, it is estimated that more than 600,000 people directly benefited from the building back better approach.

Looking ahead, UNDP is firmly committed to supporting the Government of BiH in implementing its Reform Agenda for 2015-2018. Its adoption demonstrates commitment to addressing the country’s social and economic challenges. 

Earlier this year, BiH officially submitted its application for EU membership. UNDP has a long track record of supporting the EU accession aspirations of countries in the region, and is committed to supporting BiH on its chosen path.

We look forward to continuing to work closely with BiH as it strives to meet its national development aspirations and achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals. 

Regional Context—Challenges and Opportunities 

Since becoming UNDP Administrator, I have had the great privilege of visiting almost all UNDP Country Offices in this very diverse Europe and CIS region. This has enabled me to see for myself the many opportunities and challenges which the region faces.
This is a region where:
•    extreme poverty has been largely eradicated, and where
•    most of the MDGs were met in most countries. Now Governments across the region are moving rapidly on SDG implementation, including by defining national indicators and setting baselines for measurement of progress.
•    While the eastern parts of the region are facing socio-economic challenges, economic growth in the Western Balkans is accelerating, and high unemployment rates in a number of countries are beginning to come down.

But there are significant challenges too: the refugee and migration crises, ongoing tensions and conflicts, recurrent natural disasters, the spillover impacts of economic downturns in key neighboring countries, the collapse of commodity prices and remittances for some countries, and broader geopolitical tensions. UNDP’s upcoming Regional Human Development Report also highlights other challenges faced by many countries in the region – from growing inequalities to labor market exclusion, weakening social protection systems, and the unsustainable use of natural resources.  

As recent events around the world remind us, conflicts which seem frozen can quickly re-ignite—especially against a backdrop of unfavourable socio-economic trends. The fact that we are meeting in this beautiful city of Sarajevo, whose residents lived through the unspeakable horrors of war only two decades ago, reminds us of the importance of working to prevent such tragedies.  

Turkey is currently home to an estimated 2.7 million  refugees fleeing conflict. Many have been transiting via Turkey and the Balkan States in search of a better life in Western Europe. The lessons from the Syrian crisis and others around the world highlight the need for humanitarian and development responses to work alongside each other. Shrinking the need for humanitarian relief by building people’s resilience through effective development responses even in the midst of crisis is the emerging consensus on how to respond to protracted crises. This will be highlighted at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in a few days’ time.

I offer my thanks to our UN Country Teams in Turkey and the Western Balkans for their work to support refugees and local communities as the spillover from the Syrian and other crises was felt in this region.

Agenda 2030 and its importance to the region

Last September, world leaders meeting at the United Nations in New York agreed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals are big, bold, and universal. Achieving them will challenge countries at all levels of development to lift their game.

For many countries in this region, many of the MDG targets presented no serious challenge, although there remains unfinished business, not least on areas like achieving gender equality and combating HIV. In rolling out the SDGs, the unfinished business must be attended to, but the 2030 Agenda also has a much higher level of ambition across the economic, social, and environmental spheres. It is a transformational agenda. 

Implementing Agenda 2030

This also calls on the UN system to step up its support to countries on implementation of the Agenda. Siloed approaches will not do. To advance sustainable development, governments must be well co-ordinated across policies and sectors. The UN must match that in the way it works.

That is why the UN Development Group has adopted a joint approach to support for the 2030 Agenda. It is called ‘MAPS’, which stands for mainstreaming, acceleration, and policy support: 
•    Mainstreaming refers to the support we can give governments to incorporate the agenda in their national and local strategies, plans, and budgets, and strengthen their data systems.
•    On acceleration, we can help identify the obstacles and bottlenecks in the way of making progress on goals and targets, and identify actions which could speed up progress on multiple targets at the same time.
•    On policy support, we can and we must provide co-ordinated and demand-driven advice and technical assistance across the range of SDGs where we have expertise.

The MAPS approach can be adjusted to each development context and set of challenges which countries face. This afternoon a dedicated session will look at experiences and efforts so far on SDG implementation in the Europe and CIS region.
 
UNDP itself is throwing its support behind the MAPS approach to advance a ‘whole of agenda’ and ‘whole of society’ approach to implementation. Its long association with planning and related ministries around the world makes UNDP especially relevant in supporting mainstreaming the new agenda into national plans and budgets. We must also work with local governments, civil society, and the private sector to help build the multi-stakeholder partnerships for successful SDG implementation.

UNDP will also mobilise its own programme expertise around the goals – on poverty eradication, reducing inequalities, building peaceful and inclusive societies, and on gender equality, environment, energy, and climate change, and health. Our wide-ranging expertise must be used collaboratively with others in UN Country Teams and with national partners.

Our many years of supporting national and local MDG reporting will also enable us to support countries to monitor, report on, and apply lessons learned from SDG implementation.

I understand that Georgia, Montenegro, and Turkey will present on SDG progress at the High-Level Political Forum in July. UNDP is pleased to be backing their efforts as part of supporting national capacities to drive forward on Agenda 2030.

Next week, the World Humanitarian Summit will be held in Istanbul. In the lead up to it, UNDP has pushed for both a strong focus on disaster risk reduction and crisis prevention, and for including development work as part of the essential support to people caught up in crises. It’s not a question of either humanitarian or development support – both are needed. UNDP’s efforts will always aim to renew the foundations for development, and build resilience to future shocks. 

In this region, UNDP has been at the forefront of the global policy shift to bring development and humanitarian responses closer together. In Turkey, we are helping Syrian refugees to find gainful, formal employment, and supporting the host communities and authorities. In Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, we are helping municipalities to provide better social services to local residents and to newly arriving refugees.

An evolving and effective UNDP

It is over a year now since our regional hub in Istanbul was formally inaugurated. It has quickly established itself as a center of knowledge and expertise which connects and collaborates within RBEC and beyond. I am grateful to all staff in Istanbul for creating a great team there, and to all colleagues in New York and across the Country Offices for supporting the new RBEC structure. 

On transparency 

A top achievement for UNDP in the past year has been to be ranked as the most transparent aid organisation in the world for the second year running. My thanks go to all the teams in our Bureaux, hubs, and Country Offices in this region and beyond who have worked tirelessly to make information about our work easier to access, use, and understand.

On partnerships and delivery 

These are not easy times for development agencies. A number of traditional funders have been cutting their development assistance budgets, and more and more Official Development Assistance has been needed to meet humanitarian needs arising from catastrophic and protracted emergencies. Add to that the depreciation of most donor currencies against the United States dollar, and we have the perfect storm.

As a Bureau working in a middle-income context, RBEC knows well how to build strong partnerships, deliver quality results, and ensure that UNDP is a relevant and responsive partner. It is no accident that in the RBEC region, UNDP leverages US$23 from partners for every US$1 of core funding delivered. You work very hard under Cihan’s leadership to make this happen. As UNDP is increasingly working in a lower core funding environment, RBEC’s experience in leveraging resources and partnerships is of great interest to other Bureaux.

In 2015, RBEC made good progress on expanding critical partnerships, including with the European Union.  Over the last five years, EU-UNDP co-operation in this region has strengthened beyond project implementation to encompass joint analysis, thinking, and strategizing on issues of common concern. 

RBEC’s partnership with Japan, which was originally focused on Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, has been rapidly expanding, and now includes collaboration in Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Turkey. 

RBEC is also at the forefront of organizational efforts to work with new funding modalities in an increasingly competitive funding environment. Bosnia and Herzegovina and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia were awarded three projects of significant strategic and financial value through competitive bidding from the Swiss Development Cooperation. RBEC has led the way on ensuring that UNDP is nimble and flexible enough to compete successfully in such contests. 

RBEC has also broken new ground in forming strategic partnerships with Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey. 
•    In addition to hosting the Istanbul Regional Hub, the Istanbul International Policy Centre for Private Sector Development, and providing core and country-level funding, the Government of Turkey is supporting UNDP’s Regional Programme for Europe and CIS with $15 million funding for the period 2014-2018.  UNDP was also at the centre of the Turkish G20 Presidency’s development working track, with our contribution on inclusive business being recognized in the G20 Leaders Declaration last year.  
•    In 2015, UNDP’s Partnership Framework Agreement with Russia was signed, and then, last June, the Russia-UNDP Trust Fund was established. The Fund had an initial allocation of $25 million over four years, and has now received an additional $10 million for climate change-related work.
•    Kazakhstan made $2 million available through UNDP for an Africa-Kazakhstan Partnership on SDGs. This adds a new dimension to our growing partnership with Kazakhstan, which includes capacity-building support to the country’s future aid agency and to a major regional South-South initiative – the Astana Civil Service Hub.

RBEC is also a pioneer in a new generation of UNDP partnerships with International Financial Institutions, including with EBRD, the European Investment Bank, and the Islamic Development Bank. We see a lot of potential in these partnerships with IFIs to scale up the work we do so well at country level. 

On innovation

Innovation has become a hallmark of RBEC’s approach to programming, partnerships, and communications. 

In 2015, RBEC continued its leadership role on the innovation agenda within UNDP. The Istanbul Regional Hub launched the RBEC ‘Innovation in the age of SDGs’ report, which highlighted UNDP’s emerging offer on innovation and our success stories from across the region. RBEC also launched UNDP’s first Crowdfunding Academy, with eleven Country Offices selected from among thirty from each UNDP region to participate in the Academy, and to develop their ideas into fully fledged crowdfunding campaigns with the support of the innovation team based in the Istanbul Regional Hub.  You turned Mahalle, a digital challenge prize platform on peace and reconciliation in Cyprus, into a cross-regional peace lab which succeeded in sourcing over seventy proposals from RBAS and RBEC on various ways in which technology can incentivise dialogue and collaboration across different groups in society and empower citizens to hold elected officials to account. Topics ranged from social cohesion and reconciliation, to peace and citizen engagement.  

Against the backdrop of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, the Istanbul Regional Hub brought together leading global authorities on alternative funding mechanisms for development, ranging from crowdfunding to peer to peer lending, and from mobile money to digital and alternative currencies, impact investment, social and civic microbonds, and forecast-based financing.  

Conclusion

UNDP’s expertise and experience across governance and the rule of law, poverty eradication, MDG implementation, and building resilience, along with our knowledge networks and co-ordination role within the UN Development Group, are highly relevant to addressing the wide range of challenges facing the Europe and CIS region. 

This regional meeting aims to bring everyone up to speed with global and regional developments, and with what is happening within UNDP and the broader UN development system. The objective is for each of you to return to your duty station well equipped and encouraged to lead efforts in support of national development aspirations and SDG implementation. 

I am confident that the Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS and its Country Offices will continue to be regarded as indispensable partners to this region. I thank Cihan, Olivier, and all our senior personnel and staff in New York, the Regional Hub, and at country level for your work to deliver on UNDP’s mandate. 

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