Helen Clark: Opening Speech at the Eighth Ministerial Forum for Development in Latin America and the Caribbean convened by UNDP Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean

Oct 31, 2016

Across the Latin American and Caribbean region, between 2003 and 2013, more than 72 million people exited poverty, and close to 94 million joined the middle class. Photo: UNDP

I am delighted to join you here in Santo Domingo for the Eighth Ministerial Forum for Development in Latin America and the Caribbean. UNDP is proud to have organized this Forum from its inception. Since last year, we have organized it jointly with ECLAC and I thank Alicia Barcena and her team for this collaboration.

I sincerely thank the Government of the Dominican Republic for hosting this year’s Forum which focuses on multidimensional development progress in the region and the associated opportunities and challenges.  

Since it was first convened in 2007, this Forum has brought together very impressive gatherings of Ministers and high-level officials to discuss how to promote the region’s development in all its dimensions.

On the whole, Latin American and Caribbean countries have witnessed remarkable transformations since the early 2000s. Across the region, between 2003 and 2013, more than 72 million people exited poverty, and close to 94 million joined the middle class.  There was also important progress in the fields of gender equality, employment, and environmental sustainability. 

Progress in recent years has, however, slowed. Social, economic, and environmental gains are at risk in a number of countries, and poverty and unemployment have actually increased in some.  

A critical challenge for governments therefore is to protect the broad-based development gains made in recent years. There is also the challenge of breaking through some of the structural obstacles in the way of continued sustainable development progress.

This Ministerial Forum will address three aspects of these challenges:

First - the Forum will look at how countries in the region are looking beyond GDP when measuring development progress. 

Middle Income Countries (MICs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are continually stating that development challenges don’t suddenly expire or lessen when an arbitrary GDP per capita threshold is passed. Multidimensional measures of progress are needed. The Human Development Index has long given a better sense of human development status.

Now the impact of major trends like globalisation and climate change are raising vulnerability levels for a number of countries, particularly for Small Island Developing States. SIDS and other small MICs are arguing convincingly for more access to concessional financing. 

Second – the Forum will take stock of current social protection efforts in the region and of the dynamics of current poverty reduction approaches. 

Latin American and Caribbean countries have been implementing social protection policies across the life cycle, intensifying co-ordination between ministries and sectors to avoid duplication of efforts, and articulating policies across the different levels of government in both urban and rural areas.

Third – Forum participants will exchange experiences of how countries are taking on board the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Many are mainstreaming the SDGs into their national plans, and are taking early steps on SDG implementation.

Allow me to comment briefly on each of these themes:

Moving beyond GDP as a metric of development progress. 

In launching the first Human Development Report in 1990, UNDP called for broadening the traditional view of development – beyond the tyranny of GDP as the sole measure. The first report stated that:

“People are the real wealth of a nation. The basic objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to live long, healthy, and creative lives.”

This year, UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Latin American and the Caribbean has launched two major Human Development Reports which follow the paradigm established in 1990. These two: “Multidimensional Progress: Well-being Beyond Income” covering the whole region, and “Resilience Beyond Income” covering the Caribbean, aim to inform policy making and policy implementation in the region in order to advance multidimensional development progress. 

The Reports focus on “progress” because Latin American and Caribbean countries have gone through an historic transformation which has reshaped both the income and the non-income dimensions of well-being. That was achieved through innovative social policies and inclusive economic growth. Recent low economic growth, however, threatens ongoing progress. Persistent inequalities, discrimination, and exclusion, including on the basis of gender and ethnicity, also require policy attention both above and below poverty lines.

These two reports emphasize the “multidimensional” aspects of progress in order to build both upon past work on human development, and on the more recent policy work on multidimensional poverty in this region. The explicit measurement of acute deprivation is inspiring policymakers to think about public policies in a more holistic way. 

At this Forum, countries will exchange experiences and lessons learned as they have adopted and implemented multidimensional approaches to poverty and vulnerability. 

Our host today, the Dominican Republic, has experiences to share on strengthening the resilience of households and communities through social protection, adopting multidimensional approaches to tackling poverty , addressing vulnerability to natural disasters, and building a state-of-the-art information system (SIUBEN) to help track progress over time. 

We look forward to hearing more about these experiences and many others over the next two days.

Social protection and the dynamics of poverty reduction efforts

A number of countries in the region are facing the risk of having significant numbers of people falling back into poverty and exclusion. UNDP estimates that between 25 and 30 million people are at risk of relapsing into moderate poverty – either because of loss of employment or because of the impact of a natural disaster.

To help address this challenge, UNDP has designed an analytical tool which focuses on the dynamics of moving in and out of poverty. It has now been applied across eighteen countries in the region, and this experience tells us that while exiting poverty correlates mostly with access to labour markets and to educational achievement, the factors which prevent people from falling back into poverty are mostly correlated with access to social protection. The latter include access to social transfers, including pensions, and to systems of care, physical and financial assets, and skills training. 

UNDP has also observed that while 49 per cent of the region’s population experienced upward mobility between 2003 and 2013, close to thirteen per cent experienced downward mobility during the same period. These trends call for increased focus on addressing multidimensional challenges above the poverty line – to include issues such as the quality of work, social protection across the life cycle, systems of care, use of time by women and men respectively, citizen security, and freedom from shame and humiliation,  among others.

Over the course of today and tomorrow, many countries represented here will share their experiences with integrated policy interventions which have been designed to ensure that no one is left behind – either above or below the poverty line.

The 2030 Agenda: giving momentum to multidimensional development progress

The 2030 Agenda is multidimensional. It demands new ways of thinking across the whole range of policy issues, and on financing and implementation.

Around the world, countries are embracing the 2030 Agenda, by:

• aligning their national development plans with the SDGs, assessing the bottlenecks to progressing it, and strengthening their data collection, analysis, monitoring, and accountability mechanisms;

• building capacities to co-ordinate sustainable development efforts across sectors, and to drive coherence across policy areas and between levels of government; and

• raising public awareness of what needs to be done, and building innovative partnerships for action.

In the Latin America and Caribbean region, many countries have moved swiftly to adopt the new agenda, and UN Country Teams have been pleased to support these early efforts. 

In the lead up to this Forum, UNDP organized preparatory meetings in Bolivia and Guatemala for government officials from across the region.  There was a specific focus on how to take the 2030 Agenda forward in Middle Income Countries and Small Island Developing States. Innovative approaches, such as “target clustering”, “target alignment”, results-based management systems, and creating fiscal space for the new agenda were discussed.  We encourage countries to take a closer look at these approaches, and we stand ready to provide support as required on a country-by-country basis.


In conclusion, allow me to reiterate my thanks to the Government of the Dominican Republic for the hospitality shown to us here in Santo Domingo.

At a moment in history where most of the poor and vulnerable live in middle income countries, the time is right to take stock of current challenges to help chart the course towards poverty eradication in all its forms. 

Latin American and Caribbean countries have implemented some of the most innovative social policies in the world over the past two decades. We hope the deliberations of this conference will contribute to the region maintaining its leading edge on social policy and sustainable development, and we pledge to tailor our support to country-specific needs. 

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