Helen Clark: How to push for reform at the HQ-level

01 Feb 2011

Remarks by the UN Development Group Chair, Helen Clark
on “How to push for reform at the HQ-level”
On the occasion of the Lunch on Friends of UN Reform: Delivering as One and Beyond
Tuesday, 1 February 2011, 1:15-2:45 pm


The call from Member States for a more coherent, efficient and effective UN development system is crystal clear.  

In return, the UN development system must draw on its collective strengths to maximize the development impact of its support to countries.

That requires strategic and focused leadership at all levels, and drawing on the full breadth of the expertise which resides in the UN system and beyond.

Just as the development challenges our world faces are increasingly inter-connected, so our responses need to be joined-up at all levels.

Let me outline five areas where we can make and are making a difference in advancing reform from the headquarters level.

First, the UN Development Group has sharpened its strategic focus. For the first time, Strategic Priorities have been promulgated – putting MDG achievement, national responses to climate change, support for fragile and transition countries, support for the Delivering as One pilots and self-starters, and harmonizing business practices at the top of our agenda.

There is an implementation plan for these Strategic Priorities which defines responsibilities at the headquarters, regional and country levels.

Second, we are making the lessons learned from the Delivering as One pilots available to those countries which are interested, while we await the independent evaluation of them and further consideration of the approach by the General Assembly.

Co-ordination among the funds, programmes, and specialized agencies is more advanced in the Delivering as One countries, in those which have voluntarily adopted that approach, and in those supported by the MDG Achievement Fund.

The findings emerging from the country-led evaluations of the pilots suggest that the hard work of the last three years is paying off. That was reflected in the outcome document of the Hanoi intergovernmental conference last year.

The governments of the Delivering as One countries have stated on numerous occasions that this reform of the UN development system in their countries has supported enhanced national ownership and leadership of the development agenda.

National counterparts in the pilot countries are noting that they now have better access to and are benefiting more from the full range of the mandates, expertise, and experience of the UN agencies.  

These changes are driven at the country level by the UN Country Teams, led by the Resident Co-ordinators, and are supported by the UN Development Group at the regional and global levels.

The fourth inter-governmental conference on Delivering as One in Uruguay later this year is a chance for all represented here to support and advance the Delivering as One reform.

Third, through the Management and Accountability System which the UNDG has agreed to, we are empowering Resident Co-ordinators to make the tough decisions needed to lead and prioritize the work of UN Country Teams.  The incentives we have in place to encourage more inter-agency collaboration are a step in the right direction.

A review has been launched on the extent to which the outcomes and outputs agreed in the Management and Accountability System’s Implementation Plan have been achieved. The review is being undertaken by independent consultants, and should be completed in the next few months.

Fourth, we must be on constant watch to ensure that we continue to deliver value for money.  We need to make system-wide efficiency gains wherever we can.

Last year, Josette Sheeran, as Chair of the HLCM, and I commissioned joint UNDG-HLCM high-level missions on harmonization of business practices. These missions visited three pilot countries and one which has voluntarily adopted this approach - Albania, Mozambique, Malawi, and Viet Nam.

This work has resulted in the adoption of an implementation plan, aimed at improving the operational effectiveness of the UN development system on the ground.  It was endorsed last September at the first joint UNDG-HLCM meeting.

Building on that collaboration, the UNDG is now commissioning a review together with the HLCM of how the UN development system reports on results. The aim is to identify best practice and agreed standards which could be widely applied to results reporting. That would help provide increased clarity between Member States and different parts of the UN development system on what the expectations of reporting are.

All our agencies need to meet high standards for communicating results, and articulating what the contribution is that we make to national development achievements.  Too often we have been shy about saying what was achieved because of a strong belief that credit rests with the countries concerned. Of course it does, but that should not stop us being specific about what our role in their success was.

Fifth, all agencies at the headquarters level need to demand that their interventions are catalytic. Too often our development agencies are heavy on projects, and light in their ability to provide strategic and policy advice and transfer knowledge to programme countries. That is not unique to the multilateral system.

We have to engage in ways which will help move whole countries forward, so that the sum of our efforts is truly greater than that of its parts.

There are three areas in particular where Member States can make a big difference.

First, Member States must communicate their expectations of better co-ordination and improved performance consistently through the governing boards of the UN agencies, so that all agencies get the same message. That is not always the case at present.

I would also ask that you urge all agencies to put forward their best candidates for assessment for Resident Co-ordinator positions, and to develop the right incentives for that to happen. I am told that top candidates may be wary of applying for Resident Co-ordinator posts out of concern that they could be put out of contention for senior posts in their own agencies later on.

Second, the nature of the funding we receive can support co-ordination.

Adequate and predictable funding for “core” resources enables us to plan ahead and adopt flexible and strategic management approaches best suited to helping countries achieve their long-term development goals.

Pooled and unearmarked contributions at the country level, such as through One Funds or for joint programming, can provide quality funding which pulls teams together and allows Country Teams to respond more directly and flexibly to national priorities.

Third, I would encourage all Member States here to carry on with and build on initiatives such as this – to be champions for Delivering as One. Where possible, I would encourage you to expand the base of committed countries.

This will be important both for rallying broad political support, and for sustaining the resource base for joint action at the country level.  

Tremendous effort has gone into supporting Delivering as One countries and others adopting this approach. The momentum is strong to carry on this work.

The more we share the experiences of how a more coherent UN development system has helped to achieve better development results, the more support we can generate for advancing improved ways of working together.

This year is a particularly important one to make voices of support heard loudly.

The independent evaluation of Delivering as One, the next inter-governmental meeting on Delivering as One in Uruguay in October, and the preparations for next year’s Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review are all opportunities to push for further gains and to consolidate those which have been made.

While no one-size fits all, I would urge you to advocate that the reforms which have been useful in Delivering as One countries are reflected in each of these events and processes, so that countries can continue to benefit from Delivering as One and a more relevant, effective and efficient UN development system.

With your support and leadership, together we can ensure the UN development system remains a highly relevant and effective partner to programme countries for years to come.