Helen Clark: Remarks at the First Regular Session of the UNDP/UNFPA Executive Board

Jan 31, 2011

Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme
New York

Madam President,
Members of the Executive Board,
Colleagues and Friends,

It is a pleasure to address the Board during this first regular session in 2011.

I congratulate Ambassador Edita Hrdá, Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic, from the Eastern European States group on her election as President of the UNDP/UNFPA Executive Board.

I also congratulate the following on their election as Vice-Presidents : for the group of African States, His Excellency  Michel Tommo Monthe, Permanent Representative of Cameroon; for the group of Western Europe and other States, His Excellency Takeshi Osuga, Minister from Japan; for the group of Asian and Pacific states, His Excellency Nojibur Rahman, Minister from Bangladesh; and for the group of Latin American and Caribbean States, His Excellency Carlos Enrique García González, Deputy Permanent Representative from El Salvador.

Let me also take this opportunity to thank most warmly the outgoing President of the Executive Board, Ambassador John Ashe, Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda, for his hard work and his dedication to UNDP. My thanks also go to the outgoing Vice-Presidents for their support over the last year - Ambassador Atoki Ileka, Permanent Representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Ms. Claude Lemieux of Canada; Mr. Muhammad Ayub and Mr. Ahmad Naseem Warraich of Pakistan; and Mr. Farid Jafarov of Azerbaijan.

Background comment on context in which UNDP works
The world has been undergoing profound changes in recent years, besieged by a set of often interconnected crises.

Many nations have been facing difficult economic conditions, budget cuts, and higher unemployment. Times are tough, and people in developed and developing countries alike are hurting. Yet it is the poorest and most vulnerable people across the developing world who have been hardest hit.

We must continue to give priority support to those countries and populations which are the least able to recover from recession, least able to afford rising food prices, and least able to adapt to climate change and deal with a range of other disasters and shocks.

Out of crises, however, can come opportunities to make a difference for the better.

Making that difference is one of the reasons why a strong multilateral system is so important – a system which can support the voices of those not seated at the top tables, tackle global problems head on, and deliver hope and opportunity to those who have been left behind.

This is where UNDP – as a leading development agency and the co-ordinator of the UN development system – can play and is playing such a vital role. Governments and other partners look to us to mobilise expertise and resources, and transfer capacity. The form that takes varies according to national circumstances.

For example, in the past year,

  • in Moldova we have responded with help from partners through a major transitional capacity building initiative to support the government to implement reforms.
  • in Niger, we are working with the Government and the UN Country Team and other partners to apply the MDG Acceleration Framework on MDG One’s target of reducing chronic hunger.
  • in Bangladesh, we have supported the establishment of the new Human Rights Commission, and the national roll-out of ICT services for development.
  • in Papua New Guinea we have helped draft legislation to increase women’s representation in Parliament.
  • in Haiti, we have played an important role in temporary job creation for essential work and to give people access to much needed income.

The common thread which must bind our work is our drive to support countries to bring about transformational change, by achieving lasting development results which will raise the living standards of all.

Reinvigorating UNDP
UNDP has unmatched strengths in its mandated areas of work – across its global network of country offices and through its co-ordinating role on behalf of the UN’s development system.

Our neutral and long-term in-country presence is critical for building access to and trust with national partners. It is a platform from which we can build capacities for sustained development, respond to emerging needs, and support the sensitive governance and post-crisis areas of work.

To take UNDP boldly forward and ensure that we stay at the cutting edge of development practice, we are pursuing a serious change process at UNDP.

It is fuelled by a clear vision for UNDP as a solution-oriented, knowledge-based organization, supporting programme countries to reach their own development objectives and the internationally-agreed goals.

As I have said to the Board before, bringing about lasting improvements in any organization requires perseverance and dedication.

Transformation does not happen overnight, but it will be the result. I am committed to positioning UNDP so that it stays at the forefront of the international development system in the years ahead.

Our change process and management responses to current conditions have three elements – the Action Plan launched early last year; efforts to contain and control costs and expenditures in difficult fiscal circumstances; and a review of the UNDP business model.

The Action Plan is propelling greater effectiveness and efficiency within existing UNDP structures over a two-year period.

I provided the Board in September with an update on progress in priority areas, and will update that further now.

On Knowledge management
Generating and assembling knowledge, and sharing it along with experiences and lessons learned, are central to UNDP’s work.

The more we can facilitate knowledge exchange across countries, the more we can provide ready access to successful initiatives tried and tested on the ground. We can all learn from the evidence of what works and what doesn’t work, and adapt from that evidence to local contexts.

The Teamworks platform has an important role to play in our knowledge management system. It has now gone live after more than a year of testing.

The number of users is growing, and a training system is being put in place to enable staff, affiliates and partners to use it. As anticipated, we now see queries, discussions, and recommendations being addressed through Teamworks.

An improved intranet platform has also been set up to strengthen our internal business processes.  Staff are being trained to move their work to the new system.

Communications and getting results
The third leg of our ICT upgrade is a revamped external website. This is an essential part of UNDP’s efforts to communicate what it does successfully to stakeholders and the broader public. I understand that some of you have already had a demonstration of the new website, and I hope you will agree that it looks much more attractive. Along with the active promotion of our work through social media like Facebook and Twitter, it is very much part of building greater understanding of what we do and why it is important.

It goes without saying that communicating successfully requires having successes to communicate. That drives us to be an organisation focused on getting results which have genuine development impact.

To that end we have increased support to country offices on how to plan their programmes more strategically following through from their input into the design of UNDAFs to the formulation of Country Programme Documents and Country Programme Action Plans, and then to implementation.

We are also lifting the level of oversight applied to countries in crisis or transition, in a mechanism being co-ordinated by the Associate Administrator. That is because operational and delivery risks are inevitably greater in these environments.  

Evaluations also have a major role to play in driving improvements in performance. The revised UNDP evaluation policy will be presented to you shortly.

It aims to strengthen our evaluation function, particularly at the decentralized level. It further codifies what we expect and need from evaluations, as well as the roles and responsibilities of us all, including the Board, in using evaluations to make UNDP’s work as effective as possible.

I trust that the Board will approve this revised policy, and continue to support our efforts to learn from evaluations and act accordingly.  

You will see the first evidence of this new policy in practice when some 45 Country Programme Documents are submitted to the Board this year.  

Each will have an evaluation plan, which is costed, and a refined results framework. That will help ensure that our programmes are more focused on the outcomes to be achieved.

Strategic partnerships
We are active in building new and more strategic partnerships with an extensive range of development actors.

Rigid dichotomies between donor and programme countries no longer apply – if they ever did. Amidst global geopolitical and socio-economic change, there are exciting possibilities for sustainable human development.

There is no one blueprint for development success. UNDP can use and is using its convening power as a network to link ideas, innovation, and experience around the world.  
We promote inclusive multilateralism. For example, we are providing support to the G-20 working group on development formed last year, to ensure that priority development issues get the focus they deserve.

We are building on our vital relationships with traditional partners, and seeking to harness the enormous potential of developing countries to contribute to development solutions beyond their shores.

UNDP and the Government of the People's Republic of China have signed an agreement which centres on strengthening South-South co-operation.  It enables UNDP and China to work together on sharing knowledge of what works in reducing poverty.

As I have mentioned to the Board before, an agreement has also been signed with Brazil, which is the host of the UNDP International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth, and with whom we have been working on its development co-operation for some time.  
We continue to pursue similar agreements with other emerging economies too, and to step up our contributions to South-South co-operation through our convening roles and as a provider of development solutions.

UN Development System Co-ordination
UNDP is committed to driving greater co-ordination of the UN development system. This unique role we play contributes to the development impact of the work of the UN development system overall.

We provide support to UN-wide efforts across all areas of our mandate. We are committed to lifting the level of joint programming and making UN Country Teams more effective through  collective effort.

We are making the lessons learned from the Delivering as One pilots and self starters available to our Country Offices in those countries which are voluntarily adopting this approach and where new UNDAFs are being rolled-out.

With other UN actors we continue to improve the rigour of the assessment system used to select Resident Co-ordinator candidates. The first assessments using the new testing and reporting system were conducted in December.

On managing performance and developing staff capacity more broadly, we are improving how we select, develop, and retain staff.

You will shortly be discussing a paper detailing the progress made and the challenges we still face in improving our strategic human resources management.

Our big focus now is on securing and nurturing the best leadership we can, and on providing better incentives for staff to support strategic results.  

Our Leadership Development and Management Skills Programmes are now up and running for managers at the entry- and mid-levels of UNDP. The feedback we are getting from the first cohorts is very encouraging. The programme for senior managers will begin shortly.

With respect to security for staff, I am pleased to report that compliance with Minimum Operating Security Standards and business continuity is steadily improving. Sadly, UNDP country offices face an increased number of threats and security risks. We are working hard to reduce the vulnerability of our premises and ensure the safety and security of staff. We count on the Board’s continued support for meeting the security needs we face.

Delivering greater effectiveness and efficiency
We are already seeing concrete results from our efforts to tackle inefficiency and promote greater effectiveness.

Since the new procurement review policy was introduced last summer, time spent on cases below US$1 million has been reduced by about one month. For cases above US$1 million, the reduction has been about six weeks.

To ensure that IPSAS is implemented effectively without adding excessively to the workload of offices, we are moving to establish a shared service centre by the end of the year. Locating IPSAS experts together will provide offices with more efficient advisory services.  

These efforts are driven not only by the need to contain costs, pressing as it is in the current funding environment to do more with less.   

They are also driven by the need to ensure that we can always deliver the best development outcomes possible with whatever resources we have.

This brings me to a second area which required concerted management attention in recent months – expenditure control.

In line with UNDP’s reduced estimated core resources, we have been adjusting downward the core resources allocated for programme and management budgets for 2010 and 2011.

We have curtailed core programme and management expenditure, by reprioritizing programme activities in consultation with stakeholders, and using other available resources where possible, including cost sharing, trust funds, and extra-budgetary resources.

A transitional expenditure control mechanism was established to contain and further reduce expenditure. Overseen by the Associate Administrator, it was designed to ensure that our operational balances stay within our set margins.

Areas of particular focus include costs related to travel and those associated with the frequent turnover of staff between posts.

The early harvest from the Action Plan, combined with the need to control expenditure firmly, however, have convinced me that more change is necessary to position UNDP as the most effective development partner possible within and beyond the UN in the decades ahead.

We need to remove duplication in functions where it exists, better align responsibilities across bureaux, and rebalance functions between headquarters and country offices.

I have therefore commissioned a review of the UNDP business model.  

The review will make actionable recommendations to management. It is focusing in the first instance on changes needed at headquarters and the regional service centres.

As a priority, it is examining how to put in place better mechanisms to establish clear corporate policies which can be properly implemented, regularly reviewed, and updated.

That is necessary to achieve strategic coherence across our operations; manage and empower our staff more effectively; and exercise appropriate accountability.

The review will also look at how incentive systems need to change to encourage a greater focus on supporting transformational change at the country level.  

The challenges which the review is addressing are not new.  Several previous reform efforts have identified similar issues. But follow-through with recommended changes has been incomplete.

This review exercise will focus less on the analysis of the problems and more on providing a clear way forward so that change which has been needed for some time is actually made.

This review is fast working and targeted towards solutions which will make a real difference to UNDP’s effectiveness.  I expect the full first phase to take around three months.  

Mid-Term Review
Overall, our internal change management efforts are designed to support more effective implementation of UNDP’s Strategic Plan and to maximise our development impact and results. It will also feed into the Mid-Term Review of the Strategic Plan.

The Mid-Term Review is a very important exercise for UNDP, enabling us to prepare for, and strengthen our position in advance of, our next Strategic Plan commencing in 2014.

As requested by the Board, the Mid-Term Review will take stock of our achievements during the Strategic Plan’s first three years and propose improvements to be implemented over its remaining period. It will also review the institutional results framework.

Our overarching goal is to use the Mid-Term Review to paint a clear picture for the Board of where we want to be in three years’ time as we advance our work, and how we will get there.  

We look forward to our engagement with the Board on the review, which will be discussed at the June meeting.  To prepare for that, we are analysing and reviewing where we think UNDP is strong, where we need to do better, and how we can make needed improvements.

Through a number of informal meetings with the Board, staff  have been sharing with you insights on achievements and challenges.

We are drawing heavily on evaluation evidence, which we are analysing alongside self-reporting and perception surveys.

We welcome the five major thematic evaluations which the Evaluation Office conducted at the Board’s request. These will be presented in detail, together with their management responses later this week.

These evaluations have prompted important debate inside UNDP, which will help guide our work in the future. Some of the issues raised are specific to the subject area, while others are more general in nature.

In a number of cases, action had already been taken by the time the formal evaluation made its recommendations. In other cases, management may not entirely agree with the findings. Evaluation, like management, is not infallible.

There can be no doubt, however, that there are valuable lessons to learn from the evaluations and measures to be taken in response. UNDP will carry out all necessary management actions in a proper and timely manner.

Looking ahead, to the rest of the year, preparing the 2012-2013 Biennial Support Budget presents another opportunity for UNDP to sharpen its results orientation.  

It will be a difficult budget to prepare, given the constrained core funding environment and the pressing development needs there are to address.

The review of the programming arrangements in September will provide options for consideration in improving the criteria in the resource allocation methodology. It will need to address a range of important issues, especially how we juggle levels of support across least developed, low- and middle-income countries, and those affected by conflicts and natural disasters.

Both exercises will be important milestones leading up to the new Strategic Plan in 2014, and to the integrated budget which will underpin it and be linked to planned results. We look forward to Board support for this process as well.

Let me emphasise again the negative impact which a declining core resource base will have on UNDP’s ability to fulfil its multilateral mandate and deliver effective capacity-building support.

The support of the Board in helping us achieve a critical mass of core funding remains vital. That critical mass enables us to plan strategically, be responsive to the needs of those we serve, and manage strategically our UN development co-ordination role.

Recent developments
Since I last addressed you, the development agenda has received some welcome boosts.

The MDG Summit in September concluded with a unanimous call to accelerate progress on the Goals.

High on UNDP’s agenda is helping to translate those words into deeds on the ground.

I previously informed the Board about the MDG Acceleration Framework developed by UNDP to assist governments and other partners to identify the obstacles preventing MDG progress, the solutions to overcome them, and an action plan to speed up progress.

We collaborated with governments and UN agencies in ten countries to pilot the Framework. The results suggest that it is effective in supporting programme countries to prioritize what works, and turn strategies into action.   It is now being applied in the Sahel, around MDG 1 on reducing chronic hunger.

At the MDG Summit in September, the Prime Minister of Japan announced that his country would host a follow-up conference, which UNDP is delighted to support. We are also supporting preparations for the Fourth UN Conference on Least Developed Countries in May in Turkey.  This will establish a new Programme of Action for the next decade to address the special needs of LDCs.  

Last October, the Nagoya Biodiversity Summit saw Member States adopt a new ten year Strategic Plan with achievable targets to reduce the loss of biodiversity.

UNDP implements the largest portfolio of biodiversity projects in the UN system, and looks forward to working with programme countries and donors to implement the Nagoya agreements within our mandate.

The Cancun climate change conference made welcome progress. Its outcome reflects what UNDP has long been advocating: the need to shift to a “low-carbon society which offers substantial opportunities and ensures continued high growth and sustainable development.”  

For climate assistance to be most effective, funding made available, including through the new Green Climate Fund, must help build national capacities to promote climate-resilient development. UNDP is playing a critical role here, by
supporting governments to prepare and implement sustainable investment frameworks, so that they can attract and leverage climate finance to reduce poverty.  

UNDP stands ready to assist partner governments to act quickly in advancing the Cancun agreement. We have comparative advantages in the protection of forests, climate adaptation, low carbon development, and technology transfer.

We are also supporting preparations for the Rio+20 Conference next year. It will represent an opportunity to marry global efforts to achieve the MDGs with those to tackle environmental degradation and climate change.  

Our work on crisis prevention and recovery and promoting good governance continues to be greatly needed.

Over the past year, from Haiti to Pakistan, we have supported recovery efforts in crisis-affected countries. Our employment and cash-for-work initiatives, for example, have collectively produced millions of work days for men and women.

Each new crisis has its own challenges. We continue to learn from the experience gained and are committed to responding faster and more effectively.

At the end of last year I approved the transformation plan for the Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery. Its new structure will be effective from 1 March.  By better pooling and focusing its resources, the Bureau will be able to respond better and more strategically to the ever-growing demand for its services from country offices.

This year we are working especially hard to scale up our prevention work - helping governments, communities, and civil society to find solutions to tensions and conflict on the basis of consensus, and strengthening readiness for natural disasters. Modest investments in prevention will save lives and build resilience to shocks.

The last Biennial Support Budget increased the amount of core funding for the Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery. Yet insufficient support for the Thematic Trust Fund for Crisis Prevention and Recovery currently is making it difficult to cover priority areas – like de-mining. Yemen – which I have just visited - and eighteen other countries have demining commitments to meet by the Ottawa Convention deadline of 1 March 2015. BCPR is re-energising its “completion initiative” to rally funding to this end. The need is urgent. Yemen’s programme alone is some $10 million short for the next four years.

In other areas, the Thematic Trust Fund for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, if adequately resourced, can provide rapid and effective responses at the country level where time is of the essence, in circumstances where other funding mechanisms can take time to be put in place.

The UN is set to issue a number of reports this year highlighting the importance of peacebuilding. From UNDP’s perspective, we cannot stress enough the value of development as a foundation for securing and maintaining peace and stability. Our efforts to provide a peace dividend, whether to reduce poverty or to increase access to justice, are crucial.

Fast-changing events in the Middle East and elsewhere highlight once again that overcoming development challenges  - providing citizens with better employment opportunities, quality education, and the chance to benefit more from and contribute more meaningfully to their country’s progress and to decisions which have an impact on their lives – is so important for social cohesion.

Our sizeable portfolio to promote democratic governance helps to create the foundations which support lasting development results – accountability, human rights, responsive government, and the rule of law. Around the world we are sharpening our expertise in these areas.

This year is an important one for strengthening mutual accountability for development effectiveness, and for implementing the Paris and Accra agendas at the country level. The UN Development Group is working jointly for a successful outcome for the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Korea late this year.

You will be hearing shortly a more detailed report on how UNDP is implementing its gender equality strategy and action plan.

Gender perspectives must be integral to our programming across areas as diverse as supporting electoral systems and participation, to the work of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law which will confront the issues of inequality, prejudice, and stigma driving the epidemic.

To measure better our efforts to achieve gender equality, we have introduced a gender marker which tracks the contribution our investments make in this area.   We are also working to advance gender parity across all levels of staff.

We look forward to a close collaboration with UN Women to boost UN-wide efforts to promote gender equality.

UNCDF and UNV, our associated funds, remain integral parts of and vital partners in our work, each providing unique expertise and skills to advance development.  

2011 marks the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers.  This is an important occasion for recognising the valuable contributions which UN Volunteers make every day to promote peace, development, and social cohesion.

A more coherent UN development system
It remains vital that the different arms of the UN development system pull in the same direction, and that we together offer unmatched services and expertise.

During my travels I continue to see progress on this in UN Country Teams to deliver as one, but it is variable.

Co-ordination among the funds, programmes, and specialized agencies is most advanced in the Delivering as One countries, in those which have voluntarily adopted that approach, and in those supported by the MDG Achievement Fund set up with generous support from Spain.

But I also believe that much more co-ordination is happening across the board than is generally acknowledged.

We are making the most of fresh opportunities to position UN Country Teams to help meet the MDGs and other internationally agreed development goals.

In particular, it is expected that new UNDAFs or integrated strategic frameworks will be prepared in 34 countries this year.  UNDG has increased its support to the design phase, and will analyze evidence of how higher quality UNDAFs are improving the development impact of UN support at the country level.

This is an important year for the Delivering as One pilots. The fourth intergovernmental conference will take place in Uruguay in October. The independent evaluation of the pilots will shortly get underway. Its outcome will inform inter-governmental discussions on the future course of UN support to programme countries.

The UNDG review of the implementation of the Management and Accountability System is underway, with the outcome currently expected in April.

Following a detailed functional review process, DOCO is now getting staffing in place for its new organizational structure, to position it better to support UNDG in implementing its strategic priorities.

This is an important time for development. To help countries meet their goals, development actors cannot continue with business as usual. At UNDP, we are not.

We are taking measures to lift performance, manage tight budgets, and ensure that our structures and systems are fit for purpose.

The aim is to make UNDP the very best development organization and co-ordinator of the UN development system it can be for years to come.  

I look forward to the Board’s continuing support in the year ahead and to ongoing dialogue with you.

UNDP Around the world