Helen Clark: Achieving Development Progress in a Time of Crisis

17 Sep 2010

Helen Clark on Rethinking the concepts and measures of development and social progress

Speech at pre-MDG Summit event

Friday, 17 September 2010

New York

The background paper for today’s event reminds us that the multiple crises of recent years have been serious obstacles to development.

It’s against that backdrop that next week’s MDG Summit meets, to review progress on the Goals and targets to date, and look at what can be achieved over the next five years.

At UNDP, we don’t believe this is a time for lowering ambition, nor for abandoning hope that the MDGs can be met.

The progress we see on a range of goals and targets, including in least developed countries, convinces us that they can be met - but a lot needs to be done to accelerate progress.

We note too that progress has been uneven – within and across communities, countries and regions and across the Goals themselves.

In particular, the results for women, rural dwellers, ethnic minorities and indigenous people, people with disabilities, and others who are marginalized often lag well behind national averages of progress on the MDGs – even when nations as a whole are moving towards the goals.

The comprehensive global action agenda proposed in the Jens Martens paper would in my view undoubtedly be beneficial for development – embracing as it does effective financial sector regulation; devising accountable global economic governance; better resourcing for development, including for adaptation and mitigation; a focus on jobs, social protection, and the green economy; and a rights-based model of development.

Many of these agenda items are being pursued in a range of international fora by Member States – but it will need strong advocacy from all those convinced that business as usual is not an option to stop a relapse into the old ways.

On the panel today we have been challenged to reflect on alternative measures of well being and progress, and on what is needed to achieve progress in poverty eradication and social justice. My focus will be on UNDP’s work in this area at both the conceptual and country levels.

On issues of measurement, for many years now UNDP has been a custodian in the UN system of the human development approach, and produces the annual Global Human Development Report and Index.

The Index goes beyond measuring just GDP per capita to include components of education and health status too. GDP per capita rankings so often disguise huge inequalities in the distribution of wealth, and of opportunity and access to services in a society. Tackling inequalities and supporting empowerment are central to our work.

This year’s Global Human Development Report, to be launched in November, introduces new measures for assessing inequality and multiple dimensions of poverty.

In it there is a new Inequality Adjusted HDI, and there is also a specific Gender Inequality Index which captures the loss in HDI for countries which can be attributed to gender inequality.  

As well, there is the new Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which will feature in this year’s Global Human Development Report. It has been developed at Oxford University with UNDP support. It identifies overlapping deprivation at the household level, across dimensions of health, education and living standards.  The indicators, which are different from those used in the HDI, are drawn largely from the MDGs. The MPI has been estimated for 104 developing countries, and was released globally in July.

It will give policymakers a more detailed picture of the development challenges their countries face, and insights into whether growth has or has not improved people’s lives across a range of measures of well-being.

The overall MPI can be broken down into its constituent parts, revealing the overlapping needs of families and communities across a range of indicators which so often have been presented in isolation. This allows policymakers to see where exactly challenges lie and what needs to be addressed.

Thus, the MPI can give a more comprehensive picture of poverty than the dollar-a-day type of formula does.

In preparing for the MDG Summit next week, UNDP has supported the preparation of many new national MDG progress reports, and has produced an international assessment based on analysis of them of what it will take to achieve the MDGs.

We’ve taken a practical approach, focusing on what can be achieved now – notwithstanding the existing parameters of economic, social, climate and other injustice on a global scale which need to be tackled by Member States across a range of global negotiations.

We’ve identified a number of drivers of MDG progress – and we’ve advocated for priority to be given to them over the next five years.

We’ve observed, for example, that even stellar rates of economic growth have in a significant number of countries not resulted in poverty reduction – and that more inclusive and sustainable models of growth in country need to be pursued to deliver to the poor.

We see the difference in poverty and hunger reduction in countries with large rural populations between those which have invested in their agricultural and rural sectors and those which haven’t.

We say that there is no choice to be made between focusing on poverty reduction and growth on the one hand, and climate and environment on the other.  We can and must address both together.  

This calls for a transformation of the global economy towards production and consumption patterns which are less carbon intensive and put the world on a more sustainable path. Developing countries need the finance which can flow from a new climate agreement to support them in making that move, and also in building resilience to the impact of climate change.

We’ve advocated the importance of the ILO’s Global Jobs Pact with its proposals for putting jobs at the centre of the response to the recession.

We’ve argued for the spread of social protection to build the resilience of communities against adversity in general and to sustain development gains.

We underline the importance of access to energy as a vital enabler of development – and, going forward, of energy with a low carbon footprint.

We advocate for investment in women and girls as not only the right thing to do, but also for its positive multiplier effects across families, communities, and generations.

We note the critical importance of sustained investment in education and health.

We call for support for country-led development, and for building the capacity to operationalise plans and mobilise the domestic resources required.

And we call on the international community to build broad-based partnerships for development which go beyond delivering on their ODA promises to being prepared to make the paradigm changes, including on rules around trade, climate change, and financing for development which will accelerate MDG progress.

We’ve developed a practical diagnostic tool to support governments in identifying what the bottlenecks to and constraints in MDG progress are within countries, and then in identifying a range of solutions which would overcome them – and around which development partners could be rallied.

We acknowledge and embrace the diversity among those who contribute to the development of others. The traditional donors play a vital role, and co-operation across the South is growing fast.

Philanthropic foundations and international NGOs are operating on a very large scale, and from the private sector too there are many worthwhile initiatives too. The voice of local civil society must be heard and it must be supported to play its part in development.

With the momentum generated by next week’s Summit, we hope that MDG progress will be reinvigorated in support of the aspirations of the peoples of the developing world, not only in the practice of development, but also in renewed determination to make the paradigm shifts which will make development sustainable for the longer term.