Helen Clark: Opening remarks at the UNDP Global Management Meeting

27 Jun 2011

New York

It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to Tarrytown for UNDP’s Global Management Meeting.

Secretary-General, Minister Izabella Monica Vieira Teixeira - we are truly honoured that you could join us this morning to help launch our meeting.

A number of other eminent speakers have made or will be making the journey to Tarrytown this week as our distinguished guests.  Your presence here will help challenge and ground our thinking and provide us with valuable perspective and context to help shape our work.

It has been five years since many of you gathered together in The Hague for the last UNDP Global Management meeting. At that time I was still in New Zealand.

When you leave one home for another, something many of you have experienced many times, there are always lessons to be learnt. Moving from the island where I was born to the island of Manhattan was no exception.

Within my first week at UNDP, it became clear that I needed a crash course in a language not offered by the UN language service or even the Rosetta Stone : UN-speak.

I needed to make sense of casually used terms like “DSRSG/RC/RR/HC/DO”,“the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review”, and “Global Fund principal recipient”.

I have learned much else since coming to UNDP, not all of it acronym-based. That leads me to make five key points, each of which relates to the huge value of what UNDP does, and why it is critical now for our organisation to lift its performance from good to great - as our agenda for change challenges us to.

First, the development landscape is shifting fast and dramatically.

We live in times of heightened awareness of the natural limits of our planet, the impacts of human activity on our ecosystems, and our role in protecting our natural resources.

We live in heightened awareness of the transformational power of social movements and of the importance of inclusive and equitable growth. We see tensions rising from growing disparities, exclusion, and alienation, even where conventional indicators were suggesting that progress was being made.

We live in heightened awareness that while we need development for peace to take root, we also need peace and security for development to get traction.

We also live in times of heightened awareness of the need to do more with the same or less. Traditional development assistance budgets are under pressure. We hear the message from donors about the importance of getting value for money, improving the effectiveness of what we do, and reporting and communicating it in clear language which a lay audience can easily understand. But we also see fast growth in South-South co-operation and new opportunities for UNDP partnerships.  

My second key point is that the changes taking place in the world around us are not only about the challenges and difficulties.  

There is also now a level of optimism, self-confidence, and aspiration for a better future in most developing countries – in the field many of you see it for yourselves in your interactions with your host countries.

Meeting these aspirations would bring about transformational change – and we at UNDP need to transform our own organisation to play a full part in that process.

My key concepts for our work are: transform, scale up, break through, and accelerate. If we put these into action we really will make a strong impact.

We see more evidence now than ever before of how progress towards the MDGs can be accelerated.

We have a better understanding of how development and climate change are inter-dependent.

We have more tools at our disposal to tackle cross-cutting issues like HIV and gender inequality, which are not only challenges in their own right but act as a brake on development overall.

We can help accelerate development progress, sustain it, and support countries to leapfrog the traditional carbon footprint-heavy models of development.

The challenge we in UNDP and the broader UN development system must rise to meet is responding well to the growing demands for advice of high quality and impact as ambitions for faster-paced and more inclusive development grow.      

How we respond will define how good we are in living up to the UNDP motto : “Empowered lives. Resilient nations.”

This is where each of us comes in – whether we work in headquarters, a regional service centre, or the field. This brings me to my third point.

It is the Resident Co-ordinators/Resident Representatives and their teams who form the backbone of the UN development system around the world. You and your offices act as nerve centres, promoting co-ordinated action across the many agencies of the UN.

Each Resident Co-ordinator/Resident Representative has earned the distinction of being appointed by the Secretary-General. Your work to promote sustainable human development in an integrated way is critical not only for developing countries, but also for the future relevance of the UN development system itself.

The Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review next year will take a close look at what has been achieved in the Delivering as One pilots and the voluntary adopters of the approach.

Undoubtedly the incentive of additional funding has helped advance those efforts. Now, severe resource constraints have led to reduced funding allocations for Resident Co-ordinators’ offices. Donors increasingly, and in my view not unreasonably, expect the UN development system itself to pick up the costs.

Looking ahead, we will need to drive co-ordination at the headquarters, regional, and country levels not just because it is part of our mandate, but because we actually believe that the better co-ordinated our system is, the greater our impact and results will be.

My fourth point is that UNDP, our associated programmes UNCDF and UN Volunteers, and the broader UN development system, are helping to build better lives – but we can do even better.

In my country visits, in meeting with government officials and other partners, and in our evaluations, results reporting, and partner surveys, I have become broadly familiar with what we do, like:

•    supporting green economies and sustainability across the three pillars of sustainable development. What a joy it was to see in Tajikistan how we have helped to expand small-scale, low-cost, renewable energy production in rural areas, enabling children to attend school and a local hospital to operate throughout the winter.

•    supporting the global South to share development experiences.  In Egypt, earlier this month UNDP organized a highly successful dialogue between a broad cross-section of Egyptians and others from the region with those who had helped lead transitions to democracy in other parts of the world.

•    making a difference to the lives of the world’s poorest people. I saw in India how we supported the design and implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. It provides a right to a minimum of one hundred days of work a year, benefiting some 46 million households.

•    improving health outcomes for development in critical areas. Since 2003, our partnership with the Global Fund has helped develop the capacity for large-scale HIV, TB, and malaria programmes benefiting millions of people in 37 countries.

•    strengthening governance at all levels and strengthening capacities for preventing conflict. I learned in Kenya how, in the two years prior to the appalling post-election violence in 2008, UNDP had provided support to local peace committees in parts of the country. When violence erupted, the well-established committees managed to keep their localities relatively calm, or helped restore the peace quickly.

•    making a difference in countries in transition from relief to development. I have seen the devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti and by the floods in Pakistan. There the UN Country Teams played and continue to play a vital role, including through job creation to help the recovery.

Yet the wide range of UNDP’s contributions to development cannot always be captured in a neat metric as the important tasks performed by others of food delivered, shelters built, and children vaccinated can be.

That is especially so when it comes to helping develop institutions, policies, and laws; ensuring that the capacity is in place to sustain progress long after our involvement with programmes has finished;  and working to champion issues like the MDGs, the conservation of forests, and the importance of reducing the global burden of armed violence.

Such work takes time. Its results may not be measurable over night. But the outcome will be lasting change and sustainable human development.  

Until the mid-1990s, as the Secretary-General can attest, the Republic of Korea received development assistance.  Today, Korea is a member of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee. UNDP was a part of Korea’s transformation. Korea today is a donor, and working with us to share its successful experiences with others. The journey Korea has been on can be, and is being, repeated over and over again around the world.

Throughout this year, events in the Arab
States region have held centre stage in the international news. With one exception, these events are taking place in countries with middle-income or NCC status. UNDP’s universal and long-term presence places us in a good position to respond to the new challenges and opportunities presented when countries move down the road away from authoritarian rule.

Overall, our track record of staying the course in good times and bad; our ability to engage in sensitive programme areas and in countries when and where other partners cannot; our commitment to building capacity; and our co-ordination role within the UN development system all mean that our work today is not only highly relevant, but also may be even more critical than ever before.

Let me recap my four points. The development field is undergoing profound change. With that change, comes huge opportunity. As leaders, your role in seizing those opportunities is crucial. We have a proven track record of development impact.

My fifth point builds on all these, and recognizes the urgency of making changes to how we work so that we continue being a partner of choice in the years ahead.

Our future funding rests on meeting expectations for delivering results, reporting on them, and ensuring even greater transparency.

We must be more strategic, focused, consistent in the quality and effectiveness of our work, and nimble - in order to retain our leading role in a crowded development field.

We must be a solution-oriented, knowledge-based organization, helping developing countries make transformational change and helping channel the strengths of the entire UN development system to that end.  

To consolidate that positioning and our ongoing relevance, we have embarked on a larger agenda for organisational change, building on the action plan launched last year. Our objective is to move from being a good organisation to being a great one.

We want to ensure that UNDP bureaux and offices all give optimal support to Country Offices to produce more consistent performance in the field – an area the Mid-Term Review of our Strategic Plan has identified as needing improvement.

On Wednesday we will focus on the implications of the change agenda.  For now, let me note that in 2-3 years we want to see a UNDP with an improved culture of, and capability for, strategic planning and results-based management; better able to match resources and actions to clear priorities and tailor services to country needs; and with a workforce which can consistently deliver support comparable to the best peer institutions.

We must have stronger collaboration with existing and new partners within and beyond the UN system. Partnerships must be about bringing different actors together to tackle problems, and not just about raising money. The Partnership Bureau and its liaison offices are obviously key here, but everyone in this room has a role in outreach too. Indeed, the relationships with development partners in the field have a critical impact on our reputation overall.

A crucial change will be the extent to which Regional Bureaux take responsibility for oversight of programme delivery.  Regional Service Centres will be much more closely linked into Regional Bureaux and the priorities they set for programming.  

We will expect Central Bureaux such as BCPR, BDP, and BOM to offer policy, technical, and operational services which are going to meet, and ideally exceed, those offered by our peers.  

We are also developing a people capability strategy to identify the size, shape, and skills mix of our future workforce, and provide training, and mentoring for staff.

The change required at head office and the regional service centres does not mean that Country Offices are let off the hook. This change will provide you with more effective support, but it is also about developing one UNDP, where all our Country Offices feed into the planning systems, and where the results achieved by each Country Office are a crucial building block in our results chain. Our programme delivery and reporting systems rely for their success on implementation and results in the field.

Then, through improved communications, advocacy, results measurement and reporting, we can tell a more compelling story of what we actually do.

This gathering is one of UN development system and UNDP leaders from around the world. In this room there is huge development knowledge, unparalleled experience, and a burning commitment to build a better tomorrow out of the troubles and opportunities of today.

All of you here know what UNCTs in general, and UNDP in particular, do well and can do better. We rely on your feedback on how to give better support to the critical work you do in the field.

UNDP’s universal presence is one of our great strengths – but only if we stay connected with each other, sharing best practice in all we do. New systems like Teamworks will help us do that.  So do gatherings like this one and your annual regional cluster meetings.

Please use these next five days together to exchange ideas, build friendships and networks, and engage freely in open debate about how best we can respond together to the development challenges of today.

I repeat: RCs/RRs and their teams are the backbone of UNDP and the UN development system. You are the eyes, ears, and hands on the ground. You and your teams  make a difference where it matters.

Making that difference is why we exist. That is why we sign up for these jobs. That is why I am excited about our work and confident about our future.

Every day, indeed every working hour, we can and must help make the changes which put people, their communities, and countries, on a transformational path. Together I know we can do it.