In Myanmar, the “iWomen” application, using design thinking, built on a network of village women and volunteers, is helping rural women to become leaders in their communities. Credit: UNDP.


As prepared for delivery.

Minister Balakrishnan, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to start by thanking H.E. Mr. Vivian Balakrishnan for his thoughtful and kind remarks. Singapore and UNDP have a long history of strong partnership and collaboration over several decades, which UNDP cherishes.

It is humbling to learn about the Singapore-UNDP partnership and the impact it had on Singapore’s development. In 1960, the government of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew received a team of advisors led by Dr. Albert Winsemius from what later became UNDP. The team delivered a roadmap for Singapore’s development based on innovative ideas – from education to financial services, tourism, engineering, etc. It was a partnership that paid off handsomely as we can witness today. It is a partnership that demonstrated how well we work together at times of great change – that is why we could not have picked a better place to meet this week.

I am delighted to be with you all today and to see UNDP senior management across the Asia-Pacific region, both at country and regional level, together with senior management and colleagues from Central Bureaus.  I have visited several Asia-Pacific countries since I took office. From Myanmar, to China, India, Japan and Viet Nam, I have been very much impressed by the commitment, professionalism and diversity of UNDP staff I met – a real asset to the organization.

This meeting takes place at a very important junction as we gear up our efforts to effectively and successfully rollout the UN Development System reforms in line with the vision of the Secretary-General and expectations of Members States.  I am confident that the reforms will position the UN Development System to better serve the needs of our partner countries.

As I noted in my address to the Executive Board last month, an effective UN Development System Reform will need a strong UNDP. As envisaged in the Strategic Plan, UNDP will continue to play a critical role in making the reforms a success. We all need to play an active role in transforming UNDP into a dynamic organization that brings new and innovative solutions to today’s complex development challenges. Each one of you in this room and our country and regional offices are part of that change, you all play an important role to achieve the new UNDP vision to be a partner of choice, an effective integrator, a competent connector, and an innovative thought leader at all levels.

As the UNDS reform and other UN system reforms unfold, we have to position UNDP as the backbone of the reforms and enhance our collaborative and comparative advantages through a new business model that can cater to the future/next generation UNDP.

Asia and the Pacific is indeed a dynamic region. It has mostly sustained a high level of unprecedented growth in recent years. Yet, it faces serious and complex challenges – from climate change to population growth and urbanization, inequality, and growing demand for improved public services. The region could test UNDP’s ability to respond to its emerging needs in the 21st century. The success of this region will have a defining impact on the world’s development landscape. For example, India and China are central to the global achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and their level of achievement will have a fundamental impact on global progress.  

UNDP Priorities:
•    As outlined in the Strategic Plan, UNDP needs to deliver a number of promises we have made to our partners.

•    UNDP’s role as the SDG integrator at all levels needs to be strengthened. A dual-track approach is needed to maintain the existing partnerships as well as to seek innovative and new ones.

•    SDG Financing and finding new and innovative financing channels is one of our important priorities and crucial to enable countries to achieve the SDGs. Many countries are unlocking innovative sources of funding and I am pleased to see the progress in Asia and the Pacific. For example, Indonesia issued the world’s first sovereign green sukuk (Islamic bond) of USD 1.25 billion and became the first country to issue a sovereign bond exclusively aimed to fund climate change in a manner where financing is compliant with Islamic law. This is a great starting point to unlock the Islamic Financing potential to support countries achieve the 2030 agenda. As another example, Sri Lanka just launched the Sri Lanka Social Enterprise Fund and the Social Impact Capital Fund in the margins of the General Assembly in New York. Many island countries in the Pacific are introducing the use of information technology for accessing government services, early warning in case of disasters and for access to banking services. However, a lot more needs to be done to unlock the untapped financial potential for the achievement of the SDGs.

The SDG country platform is another key element of UNDP’s effort to tailor our support to countries, bringing the whole of the UN together to provide a coherent support to our host countries. I am happy to learn that, earlier this year, RBAP launched its exciting SDGs country platform pilot exercise for every Country Offices across the region. This pilot spearheaded new approaches and methods to engage different partners, co-create and test development solutions and harness new technologies. For example:

o    The Philippines is responding to the challenge of effective and user-centered local public service delivery by developing prototypes to make services user-friendly, relevant and accessible by blending human centered design methods with the digital solutions.
o    Indonesia is shaping the whole ecosystem around leveraging Islamic Finance for SDGs with its experiment testing a blockchain-powered platform to mobilize Wakaf funds.
o    India is using a platform design approach to both formulate provincial policies and co-design joint projects to boost youth employment.
o    In Pakistan, the establishment of the SDGs Units at federal and provincial level, funded by the Government of Pakistan, is a very strategic step to provide a new and effective institutional framework that can lead and coordinate national efforts and international support to implement Pakistan’s own Agenda 2030.  
In the coming months, I hope to see inspiring results that could be further enhanced for the benefit of countries and people. Many could potentially be models for other regions to replicate as well. Likewise, there is opportunity for the active experimentation in this region to foster mutually beneficial exchanges of knowledge and ideas.

Innovation is a key priority for UNDP. I am very pleased to note the focus on innovation and innovative development solutions in the Asia-Pacific region. We are already making a difference. Through the Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN), UNDP’s support is transforming India’s vaccine supply chain, which is one of the largest in the world. I am particularly happy to see the ongoing efforts to transfer India’s experience and expertise to other countries, such as Malawi. The use of drones in Maldives helps mapping of areas at risk of rising sea across 160 islands.  The Access to Information (A2I) initiative in Bangladesh is transforming public sector service delivery already. It has generated more than USD 1.5 billion in citizens’ savings and over US$ 200 million annually in Treasury saving. In Myanmar, the “iWomen” application, using design thinking, built on a network of village women and volunteers, is helping rural women to become leaders in their communities. It is connecting more than 22,000 women from 2,000 villages across Myanmar. These are all great examples of innovative solutions. The challenge is how to scale these up to have a larger national impact and make innovation part of our everyday work.
UNDP is prepared and committed to partner with the private sector for the integration of the SDGs. I am pleased to see some preliminary progress we have made in the Asia-Pacific region, working with over 100 companies across the region and delivered 10 million USD in joint initiatives. For example, UNDP China launched a partnership with Panda Green Energy Group to promote clean technology and enhance engagement with young leaders to take action on climate change. UNDP is also working with private sector partners in China on big data and e-waste recycling.  

Elsewhere, the UNDP India-IKEA Foundation partnership is helping strengthen key dimensions of women’s empowerment- social, economic and political. The partnership, which began in 2009 with 500 villages in eastern Uttar Pradesh, is now being up-scaled to cover 2.2 million women in 17,000 villages across four states of India. UNDP Bangladesh is working with pro bono contribution by PwC on Impact Measurement and with Unilever on SDG6 dialogues. The Bangkok Regional Hub has been working with the City Foundation and Baoshang Bank of China to support UNDP’s youth initiatives in 18 countries across Asia-Pacific. This is just to mention a few. But the Asia-Pacific region has far greater potential for expansion and acceleration through these exciting partnerships.
The Responsible Business Forum, that meets this week, is another great example of our partnership with the private sector. We have private sector partners from the big countries, such as China, India and Indonesia, but also from smaller economies such as Laos, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka, to mention a few. The Responsible Business Forum is the biggest annual gathering with the private sector co-organized by UNDP in the region and presents an opportunity for both private sector and UNDP to work together towards the attainment of the SDGs. This year’s theme is #shape2030, how the SDGs can help business to align their business processes and contribute to the SDGs, specifically through innovation and SDG finance. The forum will focus on identifying solutions for circular economy, business and human rights, food and nutrition, climate action and urbanization.

To conclude, I count on you to steer UNDP’s integrated and dynamic assistance strategically bringing the system together as an effective SDGs integrator and a competent connector. We need to scale up our work on innovation and to transform UNDP to be a leader in bringing innovative ideas and solution to the table and be a thought leader.

Let us continue to be a trusted partner of the governments and other stakeholders in the region and a valued service provider.

Let me thank you all for your dedication and hard work. I wish you all a fruitful meeting.

UNDP Around the world