Our Perspectives

UNDP’S new Strategic Plan is a chance to rethink and refocus


Workers from several UN agenciesThe new Strategic Plan will lay out how UNDP will work with sister UN agencies, governments and other partners to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Photo: Devaka Seneviratne/UN Sri Lanka

On a Wednesday morning in late June, I got an email from HQ requesting that I come to New York from Bangkok to help with the drafting of UNDP’s new Strategic Plan. I said yes, of course. The email was followed by a phone call asking if I could come as soon as possible. The span of time between my receiving the email and boarding a plane was four days.

I keep this in mind as I work with the team crafting the document that will guide UNDP’s work over the next four years. There are many instances when UNDP is called on respond quickly to problems and challenges our clients face. It is part of our DNA that we do so whenever and wherever we are needed.

This was demonstrated again when we asked staff all over the world to share their thoughts on our future direction. Without missing a beat, they’ve stepped up to the challenge of helping to quickly rethink our vision and strategy for the organization.

In terms of the overall framing, the Strategic Plan will make clear that UNDP’s primary objective is to support countries in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In terms of how to do this, we think it’s important to hear from as broad a range of people as possible. We are setting up opportunities for staff to provide input, and we’re already getting a tremendous response.

I want to share some of the ideas that have been mentioned repeatedly by staff in our teams all around the world. They highlight three dimensions of our work that will be emphasized in the Strategic Plan.

  1. Our extensive network is our greatest strength.

    One of the things we try to do in the new Strategic Plan is to talk directly about the importance and value of our network, not just for UNDP but for the whole UN Development System and for our partners. Part of this is our substantive expertise on various issues covered in the Sustainable Development Goals: our work on poverty, governance, resilience and climate, gender, etc. But the second part, just as importantly, is the tremendous value we provide as a result of our physical network and presence: our country offices, our infrastructure, our local knowledge and our presence on the ground.

    This is in many ways the deepest asset that UNDP has: being on the ground, working side-by-side with governments and communities and, as a result, understanding the issues and challenges they face. The revised plan will try to speak very clearly about how this capacity provides us with a platform through which the UN system and other partners can help countries achieve the 2030 Agenda.

  2. UNDP has experience and expertise in a range of contexts.

    If you go back 20 or 30 years, most developing countries were more similar to each other. Today, as a result of quite successful development in many places, the majority of our programme countries have reached middle income status. Yet they still face development challenges that they want UNDP to help them address.

    But the kind of challenges they face and the kind of solutions they are looking for are quite different from the countries that are still struggling to eradicate basic poverty and put in place basic systems of government. We’re trying to make clearer to our partners and our constituencies the range of contexts in which UNDP operates and the kind of solutions UNDP needs to provide for these different contexts.

  3. UNDP helps bridge emergency aid and development.

    The third context we address in the Strategic Plan is crisis and conflict. This is an area where we are increasingly called upon to act, and we want to communicate how UNDP helps countries and communities come out of crisis or conflict and move back into stable, sustainable development, which is our core mandate.
A busy train station in Mumbai, IndiaAs a result of quite successful development in many places, the world of development is evolving. The new Strategic Plan is an opportunity for UNDP to reexamine its approach in order to better respond to changing demands. Photo: Dhiraj Singh/UNDP India

The new Strategic Plan will frame the work we do around these three broad themes to better explain how UNDP actually works. The input from staff has been invaluable, because UNDP is at a point where we need to seriously reexamine how we approach the work we do. Just last year, UNDP celebrated its 50th anniversary. And in some respects, we’ve been working with the same structures and similar approaches that we were using 30 or 40 years ago.

Meanwhile the world of development has changed around us. Our programme countries have made tremendous progress. The kinds of issues we’re dealing with in the 2030 Agenda are much broader and more complex than the work we were doing years ago.

We see the Strategic Plan as an opportunity to recalibrate. As we develop the details further, we’ll continue to deepen our outreach. The Administrator has tasked the Strategic Plan team to make sure we get robust feedback, and we’ve taken that directive to heart.

We’re trying very hard to make sure that everybody in the organization has a chance to contribute to the development of the Strategic Plan. Outside of UNDP, there’s also been extensive engagement. We’ve had fruitful discussions with partner UN agencies and with Member States through our Executive Board. This is extremely important to make sure that what we are developing resonates with Member States and with our programme countries.

This broad consultation will undoubtedly result in a stronger Strategic Plan, one that all stakeholders can get behind. It’s been challenging because of the very limited time we have and the many competing commitments and priorities staff face. But at the same time, it’s important to recognize that the plan itself is just a vision and a strategy.

The real challenge, and the real opportunity for staff to contribute, will come as we flesh out how we implement the vision, and that is work that will continue for many months after the plan itself is approved. It’s an exciting opportunity for us to collectively rethink and refocus what UNDP does on the ground and try to make it the kind of organization we all know and believe it can be.

Do you have thoughts about UNDP’s future direction and role in the United Nations system? Leave a comment below.


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