Helen Clark: Remarks at the publication launch of “Empowering Lives, Building Resilience”

Jan 17, 2012

It is a pleasure to be here with you today to launch a new UNDP publication on our development work in countries covered by our Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States..

“Empowering Lives, Building Resilience” highlights successful projects of UNDP and our partners which promote inclusive, resilient, and sustainable development in Europe and Central Asia. From Albania to Tajikistan, from Turkey to Moldova, each story in this publication offers an example of how development co-operation can make lasting change to people’s lives, and offer solutions which can be replicated or scaled up in this region and beyond. It tells stories of overcoming adversity and recovering from crisis – these are stories of transformation through development.

Despite the relatively high average income in Middle Income Countries, large numbers of people in this region are poor or vulnerable to poverty. Growing inequalities, due to social, economic, and political exclusion, remain a challenge. Environmental degradation poses additional threats.

Thus these stories from sixteen countries also showcase UNDP’s role and ability to add value in Middle Income Countries. They demonstrate how, through partnerships, UNDP has contributed to building the capabilities of government institutions, civil society, and the private sector, by providing seed funding and expertise, and bringing different parties together to work for solutions.

Taken together, these stories highlight three principles on which UNDP bases its work:
1) We believe a key measure of our success as development actors lies in the contribution we make to improving people’s lives by empowering individuals and communities and reducing inequalities and marginalization.
2) We see transformational change able to be supported by our work to establish or strengthen institutions, structures, and human capacities - thereby ensuring that UNDP’s impact is sustained long beyond our presence on the ground.
3) We know that the greatest successes happen when we commit to long-term partnerships and national ownership.

Allow me to highlight these points by giving you a brief snapshot of some of the stories contained in this publication.

Empowering Individuals

In Serbia, as in many countries, people living with disabilities have traditionally been economically excluded and marginalized due to stigma and lack of social support systems. In Serbia, over seventy per cent of people with disabilities have lived in poverty, and only thirteen per cent have had formal employment opportunities. These figures are a striking example of how pockets of vulnerability can exist in otherwise relatively well-off countries.
As the report illustrates, however, over the last nine years, with UNDP support, the Government of Serbia has adopted laws for better protection of people with disabilities. In 2010, Serbia put in place a quota system in employment; that year, almost 3,700 people with disabilities found jobs (up from only 600 the year before).

Empowering Communities

At the community level, a UNDP project in Uzbekistan worked closely with local groups of citizens in the Farghana valley, empowering them to work together, analyze their needs, and make their case to central government through community development plans. As the publication highlights, some communities worked to install new artesian wells. Others chose to equip their kindergartens with solar heating systems so that children and teachers could have a continuous supply of hot water.

Through such small-scale infrastructure projects, relationships between local communities and authorities were strengthened, and more than 800,000 people have enjoyed improved access to water, sanitation, and energy.

Transformational change requires structures and capacities to be strengthened. As highlighted in the publication, UNDP’s work is targeted towards strengthening institutions, legal frameworks, and human capacities, to ensure that our impact outlives the projects. In Middle Income Countries, the support for which governments are looking is often highly specialized. UNDPs ability to draw on a global knowledge network, link partners, and help transfer good practice are among our unique contributions to development in these countries.

For example, in 2003 the government of Azerbaijan requested UNDP’s help to modernize its pension system. Many vulnerable people didn’t know about the system, and therefore did not pay into it. Retirees had to fill out a number of forms to access their pensions, and many waited for months for their payments. Under the project, new information and communication technologies were introduced, making Azerbaijan’s system one of the most modern in the world. As a result, between 2003 and 2010, payments into the scheme increased by over 400 per cent. By 2011, 1.9 million workers, ninety per cent of the target group, had modern social insurance cards. Pension payments have also increased.

Long after the end of the project, the positive impact on the lives of pensioners remains because capacities for management, use of technology, and administration of a modern system have been created.

In Croatia, UNDP set up a model for improving energy efficiency in public buildings. The framework included an energy efficiency law, and a web based information system to monitor energy use. It also included specialized training for more than ten thousand civil servants. As a result, some $18 million of public money has been saved on energy costs, and greenhouse gas emissions have been cut by over twelve per cent.

Similar frameworks have been created in Turkey to tackle climate change, including at the local level where UNDP has helped pilot cost-effective irrigation and other climate adaptation measures in collaboration with communities.

In all the stories highlighted in the publication, our national partners invested time, resources, and enthusiasm to ensure the success of these projects. It is not surprising that our greatest achievements have occurred where we have engaged over time – often, for a decade or more.

Building trust and achieving positive development outcomes takes time. Pilot projects must be evaluated, replicated, and scaled up to have significant impact. Changing policies and laws, and building institutions, takes longer than a two-year project cycle.

The JOBS project in Bulgaria has created 37,000 jobs since 2000. The project began as a small one, with $6.7 million to set up business centres to give advice for entrepreneurs. The success of the project was such that over time both the Government and international donors also made contributions. Today, 42 business centres exist, most of them in rural areas.

In Kyrgyzstan, UNDP has been supporting the government since 2000 to combat the spread of HIV. Today, over sixty per cent of drug users – who constitute the largest HIV-infected group in Central Asia – are being reached with prevention services. Kyrgyzstan is also the first country in the CIS to promote methadone treatment to help people overcome drug addiction. Meanwhile, HIV testing has been rolled out more widely: over 350,000 people now get tested each year. Strong legislation has been put in place to protect people living with HIV from discrimination. The battle against HIV is not yet won in Kyrgyzstan, but our engagement for more than a decade has certainly had an impact.


This launch is part of our ongoing dialogue with you, our partners, on what works in promoting inclusive and equitable sustainable development.

“Empowering Lives, Building Resilience” is not only the title of this publication; it is the vision and mission of UNDP.

As these stories show, our successes come in different areas and contexts, but common themes emerge from them. Strong partnerships with governments and civil society, national ownership, and building capacities, are not only theoretical principles of aid effectiveness highlighted in global conferences; they are also key elements of getting success on the ground.

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