UNDP-Achim_Steiner-Annual Session of the Executive-Board
Our role is to work with countries and partners, to enable them to map the pathways that will move economies and societies simultaneously across different dimensions, towards sustainability and leaving no-one behind. Credit: UNDP/Freya Morales.

 

As prepared for delivery.

Mr. President,
Members of the Executive Board,
Colleagues and friends

I am pleased to be addressing you this morning at my first Annual Session of the Executive Board.

But first, I am deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life and significant damage caused by the El Fuego volcano, which erupted Sunday in Guatemala. I extend my sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Guatemala. The United Nations Development Programme stands in solidarity with Guatemala and is currently supporting the national rescue and relief efforts, together with all the rest of UN entities on the ground.

We meet at a moment in time characterized by both huge changes in the world around us, as well as some of the most significant changes in how the UN works – possibly in the last 70 years. Both present challenges, and opportunities.

As I look back over my first year of leading UNDP, I am excited to share with you some of the key areas of work that we have progressed in 12 short months that I believe are moving us onto a promising and future focused trajectory. I would also like to draw your attention to the our new illustrated annual report which highlights many of the transformational results that UNDP has achieved in 2017.

But let me begin by briefly outlining some of key challenges faced:

•    Fourth industrial revolution. We are in the early years of a fourth industrial revolution, which is already impacting societies and will continue to do so in ways that we do not fully grasp. The truth is we still do not know what a mature information economy looks like— and it will be some time before we do. In the meantime countries will need to make choices to prepare for the transformative impact of automation, artificial intelligence and the new digital economies of tomorrow

•    Inequality has soared. It is not just an economic problem; it drags on social mobility and tears at the social fabric. Nor is it an inevitable result of capitalism, or one kind of capitalism or other economic system versus another. There is no “invisible hand” guiding us toward a just world – or to an unjust one. Markets are structured by laws and norms at different levels of society, from the local to the global. If we accept that markets are ultimately governed by social choices we must evolve our governance frameworks and incentives accordingly.

•    Poverty. Despite impressive poverty reductions over recent decades, it remains a persistent challenge globally, not least of which in middle-income countries. Going forward, we must understand two basic features of poverty. First, some have argued that the poor today are much farther away from the poverty line, suggesting that the last mile really will be the most difficult. Second, people fall in and out of poverty. We must take steps to lift people out of poverty and keep them out of it – for example, through effective social protection and insurance systems. Ill health is a major factor pushing people into poverty. That makes universal health coverage a health issue and a development challenge, and that’s why I am very pleased with UNDP’s new MoU with WHO and its ongoing partnership with the Global Fund – the latter enabling us to put some 2 million people across 22 countries on life-saving antiretroviral treatment over the last three years.

•    Climate change. With the landmark Paris agreement, the world embarked on a journey toward a low-carbon future and to limit global warming. The two transitions at play here – one the one hand, moving to a low-carbon society and on the other, adapting to an inevitably warmer and more stressed world – will unfold over the coming decades. UNDP’s $3 billion-plus portfolio supporting 140 countries anticipates these uncertainties and will help countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change and other environmental challenges representing a major contribution to both national and global efforts to address the risks of climate change.

•    Conflict, fragility and displacement. The nature of conflict over recent years has laid bare the development dimensions of conflict and fragility.  That’s why around 40% of our programming takes place in conflict-affected and fragile settings. It is also why Mark Lowcock and I visited the Horn of Africa earlier this year to bring together humanitarian and development efforts towards more collective outcomes and the operationalization of the New Way of Working. And it is why UNDP and UNHCR signed a global agreement to reinforce our efforts at finding durable solutions to protracted displacement.

This is the context in which UNDP must succeed and operate – and, indeed, we are already on the frontlines of these challenges, present in 170 countries and working in concert with partners within and outside the UN. Like so many others, we look to Agenda 2030 and the SDGs to guide us in navigating this complex terrain.

The SDGs frame the key tasks ahead in a way that is understandable and pegged to benchmarks that are mobilizing action -- and not only by governments, but increasingly also by firms, private investors, municipalities and citizens who want to align their work to the sustainable future envisioned in the 2030 Agenda. UNDP’s role is to work with countries and partners, to enable them to map the pathways that will move economies and societies simultaneously across different dimensions, towards sustainability and leaving no-one behind. It speaks to the centrality of UNDP’s advisory and capacity building work in the domain of governance and poverty eradication. The precise focus may vary depending on the development context and setting of the countries we serve – including our work in fragile and crisis contexts.

UNDP’s work, I believe, is mission critical to the SDGs and has different dimensions, from supporting countries to design institutions and public policies that take a systemic approach that is called for by the 2030 Agenda, to bringing the SDGs down to local authorities and people thereby enabling them to make more effective and inclusive choices. “Leaving no one behind” has many implications such as gender equality which continues to be progressively mainstreamed in all our work.  44% of our projects had gender equality as a significant objective in 2017, a significant increase from 29% in 2014.  UNDP builds on this experience and will further strengthen gender mainstreaming in the coming years.  

UNDP’s work is guided by our new Strategic Plan. In approving the 2018-2021 UNDP Strategic Plan, you gave us our license to operate and innovate. Our signature solutions build on the demand of countries and our established competencies in which UNDP has by now accumulated decades of experience.  I think we all share a conviction that this was also a singular opportunity to refocus our work in terms of delivering as One UN. As part of this, and in close partnership with UNICEF, UNFPA and UN Women, UNDP is committed to implementing the common chapter of our strategic plans.

UNDP’s new Strategic Plan builds on its strong performance in 2017, when we:

•    delivered $4.5 billion – a $500 million jump from the year before – and our highest delivery on record alongside improvements in management efficiency;
•    ended the year without a deficit in our institutional budget for the first time in 6 years;
•    received an unqualified audit for the 12th year in a row;
•    retained our top-ranking in the Aid Transparency index as of 2016; and
•    saw the independent Aid Data survey of 125 low and middle income countries rank UNDP first among development partners in 2017 in value for money terms - ‘punching above our financial weight’ in attracting users of our data or analysis.

Nevertheless, our core funding remains perilously low with 2017 core contributions of $612 million slightly below 2016. The significant core/non-core imbalances continue, with 13% core to 87% non-core. This is not sustainable and has real implications for accountability in terms of our mandate, capacity to deliver integrated responses, and organizational sustainability.

Multi-year core commitments are, therefore, especially welcome as they enhance our ability to plan for the future with greater confidence.  In this regard, I am grateful to Canada, Denmark, Belgium, Australia, and New Zealand who have multi-year agreements in place today, and I welcome Sweden joining this list next week. We also look forward to renewing earlier multi-year agreements with Turkey, Netherlands and Switzerland over the course of this year.

I would also like to thank our programme countries for their GLOC - the contributions towards our local offices at country level which support our operations.

While UNDP’s performance in 2017 was impressive on many key performance indicators there is little room for complacency.

We must be an “organization on the move” which is why we have used the past 6 months to implement a number of initiatives and reviews to align our programme and business model with the strategic objectives of the Strategic Plan. Already this year we have:

•    Made real progress with our ongoing business model review which is looking at how we can improve our business processes through simplification, more consistent methods for costing services, streamlining administrative and fiduciary processes to enable faster response to innovations, and most importantly investing in a culture of innovation and client orientation.

•    The business models work is also closely tied to two major reviews of corporate functions (which are almost complete) that will drive a step change in performance across the organization, from policy and program to management services and operations including looking at how we can realign our policy support with the needs of the countries we serve and supply our country offices with the necessary critical mass of expertise to deliver. We are building a ‘global policy network’ to enhance and deepen our SDG expertise at country level with cutting edge knowledge, practice and innovation. Now and in the future, our policy function must better capture the knowledge, innovation and best practice from country, regional and global experience, helping UNDP to achieve global excellence as well as being a thought leader that draws from a truly global network of internal and external expertise.

•    Revised our project management guidelines, achieving an estimated time saving of 33 days per year per programming staff that can now be applied to more productive engagement.

•    Introduced monthly ‘innovation calls’ with UNDP teams across the world to learn lessons from the field and position UNDP at the frontlines of development innovation in the context of SDG implementation.

•    Established a new Country Investment Facility which provides seed money for our country offices to fast track and invest in innovative ideas, diversify partnerships and catalyze scaling up of our programme support. This Facility builds on and mainstreams lessons from the Danish funded Innovation Facility at UNDP and is an additional source of funding for UNDP’s support to countries.

•    Launched a new initiative called 'Project Catalyst' enabling UNDP to have the capacity to scan ‘tomorrow’s world’ in terms of development choices and policies which countries must address today.

•    Embarked on drawing up a new private sector strategy for UNDP reflecting on our experience and best practices while at the same time exploring new financial legal instruments that will allow for new ways of working with partners. The potential for private sector partnerships is significant and growing, but we need to upgrade our approach and tools.   Our work together with the World Bank and the insurance industry through the Insurance Development Forum is but one example of how we engage to reduce risks of the poor by promoting micro insurance policies and markets.

•    Launched a new start-up initiative – 'Project T' – to help test a new UNDP flagship offering to assist governments in mobilizing significant financing by working with investors in order to leverage private capital for the SDGs, building on the excellent experience of our UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF). I see great potential for UNDP to draw on and leverage UNCDF expertise on financial inclusion and local development finance. This is equally relevant to middle-income countries with deep inequalities.

•    Launched a Global Islamic Finance Impact Investment Platform in partnership with the Islamic Development Bank. It forms an integral part of our rapidly growing IFI partnerships around the world, including a significant increase in funding from the World Bank through UNDP, and an array of joined-up initiatives with a variety of IFIs to leverage climate finance.

South-South collaboration
will continue to be vital to SDG achievement and increasingly drives and underpins our work in UNDP. In 2017, nearly all country offices reported engagement in aspects of south-south and triangular cooperation.  There is a distinct upward trend in the level of engagement with national governments as well as cooperation with non-State actors such as the private sector, civil society organizations, academic and research institutions in the South.

UNDP has worked with partners to establish an “SSMart for SDGs solution exchange” to help bridge knowledge gaps and scale up access to south-south knowledge. In the leadup to the Buenos Aires Plan of Action (PABA + 40 Conference) in March 2019, UNDP and UNOSSC are working together to facilitate a Global Coalition of Think Tank Networks for South-South Cooperation to collect, analyze and disseminate data and knowledge about patterns, trends, flows, composition and impact of south-south and triangular cooperation.  

UNDP is proud to host UNOSSC as the focal point for South-South and triangular cooperation on a global and UN system-wide basis. The new Strategic Framework for UNOSSC aims to further position the Office to support the efforts of Member States in implementing the 2030 Agenda through demand-driven South-South alliances and partnerships.

UNDP also recognizes the important role of volunteerism in advancing peace and development, and in sustainably promoting national capacities. In 2017, nearly one third of the onsite UN Volunteers were supporting the delivery of UNDP projects and programmes. We greatly value this collaboration with UNV.

UN Reform

For the UN Development System Member States have now agreed a reform package with the Secretary General, and UNDP will play its part in translating the ambition of the resolution into reality. As I have said many times, UNDP is reform-ready and embraces the SG's sense of urgency about the need to reposition the UN development system for the SDG era.

We will provide the kind of integrated policy advice that helps governments chart their own paths to SDG achievement:

•    To working from joint planning and reporting tools like the UNDAF to pooled funding mechanisms like SPOTLIGHT that bring us together around outcomes that cut across UNCT mandates.

•    To open our processes and deliberations to new sets of partners, not least private sector actors and capital markets on which realizing Agenda 2030 will increasingly depend.

•    To greater accountability to Governments where we serve and to ECOSOC at a global level.

•    To harnessing the efficiency gains that can and must be realized as we pool our resources and streamline our presence more and more.

After more than 40 years as the custodian of the RC system, we recognize that the responsibilities and expectations on the shoulders of Resident Coordinators, who must lead this operational repositioning in the field, have evolved. The UN development system’s capacity to deliver on the SDGs relies on an RC with greater authority and more joint and coherent funding for programs at country level, supported by adequate resources in her local RC office and backed by an effective Development Coordination Office at headquarters.

The transition of the RC system from UNDP to the Secretariat is a complex undertaking. The mechanics of transferring 129 RCs to Secretariat contracts, the transition of hundreds of RCO and DOCO staff to new contractual arrangements, ensuring no gaps in leadership of UNDP’s teams at country level, figuring out the new demands for office space to house the separate RC and RC Office, and putting in place a service agreement with the Secretariat for the envisaged operational support needed from UNDP for this new configuration are just a few of the challenges we have ahead of us.

UNDP will establish a temporary Transition Management Team in the Executive Office that will focus exclusively on facilitating and co-ordinating UNDP support to both the UN Secretariat as well as RCs and UNDP RR’s and teams in managing this operation. We also look forward to empowering a new generation of development professionals to assume the UNDP Resident Representative positions and lead our UNDP team and programme support to countries.  We are determined in our efforts to ensure that this transition does not slow UNDP's momentum in implementing our new Strategic Plan. Our capacity to do so will depend on maintaining UNDP’s funding as well as securing the resources for the new RC system to become operational in the Secretariat.

It is our hope that this funding will be secured rapidly if we are going to meet the timetable. Staff transferring to new Secretariat contracts need to make choices quickly and be confident they are moving to a stable platform, office space needs to be identified and rented, legal and financial arrangements need to be put in place to be operational by 1 January.

Let me underline that UNDP's role in supporting the RC and the wider UN system to work in an integrated manner will not stop but change on January 1. Every agency is today, expected to carry its share of inter-agency responsibilities. But UNDP's responsibilities will remain significant. The organization provided the backbone for operational collaboration for decades, from joint premises to managing pay-roll for thousands of staff in the agencies to dealing with the authorities on protocol, tax and visa matters. In its 'integrator' platform function, UNDP is also committed to providing a programmatic support platform where the best of the UN's knowledge can come together to assist Government's in addressing their priority development challenges.

Finally, as UNDP Administrator, I also have a duty of care, towards our staff – both in terms of the change referred to above as well as the overall and long term working conditions. I am pleased that our new HR Director, David Bearfield is now on board and ready to take up his leadership role.

Among the priorities we wish to address is gender parity. Just over 50% of UNDP staff today are women, but we continue to face challenges at the D1 and above levels, where women occupy 39% of positions. We recognize that some gender gaps persist in our workplace in terms of empowerment, opportunities for advancement, and general experience in our offices.  We have recently approved a new Gender Parity Strategy for 2018-2021 and a more detailed implementation plan is being developed, a plan that also aims to drive a cultural change in UNDP. In alignment with the SG’s UN System-Wide Strategy, the new UNDP Strategy sets forth a comprehensive roadmap which aims to enhance the quality of our workplace and make it more gender sensitive.

In addition, over recent months we have also given serious consideration to and reviewed our Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Abuse of Authority policies to bring them in line with best-practices. We were pleased to join UNFPA and UNOPS at the joint briefing to the Board on Monday on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and to provide more information on the work we have already done and our plans to continue to drive forward this change process. I will continue to give this issue the highest priority which it deserves in light of what we have learned about our organization during the past years.

In many of the initiatives and changes outlined above we have drawn extensively on  internal and external assessments and recommendations.

•    Evaluations are fundamental to UNDP to promote evidence-based programming, strategic decision-making, learning and effective use of resources:  UNDP has intensified its efforts to strengthen the quality and implementation rate of management responses: as of May, 75% of the planned actions had been completed while 16% were ongoing. And while 74% of all decentralized evaluations were assessed as moderately satisfactory or above in 2017, we can do better and we will strive to increase the quality of our decentralized evaluations. I am grateful to the Director, Indran Naidoo and his team for the ongoing collaboration and support

•    Good news on audit: for the first time, our internal auditors have given us a satisfactory rating on the adequacy and effectiveness of our governance, risk management and control framework for the year 2017. This complements 12 consecutive years of unqualified audit opinions on UNDP’s financial statements. We have also made big improvements on reducing our long outstanding audit observations from 6 to 1.

•    To advance UNDP’s culture of ethics, integrity and accountability, in the last year the organization has strengthened its Policy for Protection Against Retaliation, enhanced its annual Financial Disclosure Programme, and has extended mandatory on-line ethics training to all categories of UNDP personnel.

•    Of the 35 recommendations made to UNDP last year by the Joint Inspection Unit, 20 have been implemented already and we are working on progressing those remaining. We are committed to implementing the JIU recommendations and have included, for the first time, an indicator in our IRRF which tracks the progress made in implementing the JIU recommendations.

•    Also tabled for the Executive Board’s approval are the new country programmes for Kenya, Malawi, and Rwanda.  All new country programmes undergo a thorough quality assurance process to ensure that they are relevant to national priorities; that they embody the aspirations of our Strategic Plan and contribute to its measurable goals; and that they emphasize effectiveness and efficiency, synergies with partners, and credibility of monitoring and evaluation arrangements.

In closing, let me state once more that this an organization on the move – implementing its Strategic Plan, ready for UN reform, driving performance changes across the organization, and looking ahead to the future of development thinking and practice. We are at an inflection point. The task is clear. UNDP’s mandate in the era of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs is more relevant than ever. In presenting to you today UNDP’s performance highlights for 2017 and key milestones of refocusing and aligning our work with the 2018-2021 Strategic Plan, I hope we have demonstrated both the significance and relevance of UNDP to the future success of the UN’s Development System. Together with my team, we stand ready to deliver, but it is a joint endeavor with you as Member States. It is your strategic choices and support to the UN’s Development Programme that will determine the future of this organization. Last week’s adoption of the resolution on UN Development System reform has signaled loud and clear your heightened expectations of all of us in the UN family.

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