Helen Clark: Opening Statement to the Annual Meeting of the UNDP Executive Board

Jun 10, 2013

 Helen Clark UNDP Administrator
Statement to the Annual Meeting of the UNDP Executive Board
United Nations, New York, 10 am, 10 June 2013


Mr. President,
Members of the Executive Board,

I am pleased to welcome you to the UNDP segment of the 2013 Annual Session of the Executive Board here in New York.

These are exciting and challenging times for UNDP. As our draft Strategic Plan notes, UNDP needs to change continually with a fast changing world, building on its core strengths as the lead UN development organization.

The new Strategic Plan will give us important guidance, and so will the evolving post-2015 development agenda and the implementation of the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review of late last year.

A major agenda item at this Board meeting is consideration of the draft Strategic Plan. I hope the deliberations now will move us towards reaching agreement in September on a new Plan which is both ambitious and realistic in the objectives it sets for the organization’s contribution to development.

In my statement today I would like to:

  • provide a brief update on MDG acceleration and the post-2015 development agenda;
  • discuss UNDP’s performance and results over the course of the current Strategic Plan;
  • introduce the draft Strategic Plan for 2014-2017;
  • brief you on UNDP’s resources and progress on transparency and accountability; and
  • highlight important advances in UN development system reform.

Accelerating development progress towards 2015 and beyond

At the Chief Executives Board (CEB) meeting in Madrid in April, the Secretary General kicked off a “last 1,000 days” campaign on MDG achievement. The CEB agenda had a strong focus on MDG acceleration, with reports on the application of the UNDG-endorsed Acceleration Framework in Ghana, Niger, and Tanzania. The Resident Co-ordinators from Ghana, Niger, and Tanzania were joined by World Bank Country Directors from the three countries to give joint presentations on the acceleration action plans and how to push them further. 

The President of the World Bank has thrown his weight behind MDG acceleration, which is good news for all 46 countries where UN Country Teams have been applying the approach. Matching the Bank’s resources and expertise with that of the UN development system is a powerful combination. The CEB will be keeping MDG acceleration on the agenda at its twice-yearly meetings until the end of 2015.

UNDP is launching a ‘One country, One MDG report’ initiative. The aim is to produce a final round of national MDG Country Reports which will assess progress and lessons learnt in striving for MDG achievement. The evidence from these reports and from experience with MDG acceleration can feed into the design of the post-2015 development agenda and sustainable development goals.

Executive Board members are well aware of the large global conversation the UN development system has been facilitating about that future agenda and goals.

An initial report on those consultations to date, "The Global Conversation Begins", was released in March, and a final report will be made available to Member States in time for the Special Event on the MDGs on 25 September. By that time we will have a comprehensive picture of what hundreds of thousands of people have to say about both current challenges and the future they would like for our world. This exercise has been a significant contribution to the global multilateral policy process. It is the first time the UN has undertaken a consultation of this magnitude.

Feedback from the consultations has affirmed the importance of tackling the unfinished business of the MDGs – of which there is a good deal – not least in poverty eradication. There has also been a call for a focus on the quality of services, like education and health, and not just on the quantity delivered.

The need to tackle inequality in all its dimensions and to promote inclusive growth and job creation have come through strongly. So has a call for a broader range of issues to be considered in a future framework, not least governance, peace and safety from violence more generally, access to justice, stronger attention to environmental degradation, and more integrated approaches to achieving sustainable development.

One striking finding is that while many development actors tend to work in sectors, people express their concerns and desires in a more integrated fashion. For example, a woman who must walk several miles to a clinic once a week to get her anti-retroviral medicines, yet risks the danger of violent attack each time, needs a comprehensive solution to the challenges she faces.

The Report of the High Level Panel on post-2015 was presented to the Secretary General at the end of May. It makes the case for a unified and universal agenda, which builds on the MDGs and puts sustainable development, inclusive growth, and eradicating poverty at its core.

At UNDP, we are strongly committed to supporting Member States to define an evidence-based, universal, and concrete post-2015 development agenda, with poverty eradication in the context of sustainable development at its core. Commitment to that objective is also clearly reflected in UNDP’s draft Strategic Plan, which I will address shortly.

UNDP’s performance and results– the cumulative review of the UNDP Strategic Plan 2008-2013

First, though, let me highlight some key points in the cumulative review of the current Strategic Plan – the most comprehensive review of UNDP’s work so far. Much has been learned since our last Strategic Plan was launched in 2008. Those lessons, along with the conclusions of the Independent Evaluation of the Strategic Plan, which I understand were discussed by the Board last week, inform our proposals for the next Strategic Plan.

The cumulative review is based on analysis of the available evidence on UNDP’s progress and results over the last five years, covering all the countries in which we worked. It affirms that the organization makes an important contribution to advancing human development, and responding to the needs of programme countries.

We recognize that the Independent Evaluation of the Strategic Plan and the cumulative review sometimes show some variance in conclusions. On this, let me emphasize that the two reports analyze progress from different perspectives and across a different set of countries. Therefore, UNDP management feels such variance is not contradictory but rather highlights important aspects to take into account as we continually develop a deeper understanding of the complex processes which underpin long term development impact.

Four overarching messages from the cumulative review are:

  1. It reaffirms the value of a multidimensional human development approach, and of “triple win” policies aimed at simultaneously advancing social, economic, and environmental objectives. It shows that effective responses in one area reinforce results in others: for example, that early recovery from conflict enables development progress to resume; that access to energy is a vital driver of poverty reduction; and that empowering women and girls is a powerful multiplier of development progress.
  2. Using evidence and knowledge to support policy and programme design, and to measure development impact, is highlighted as critical for achieving development results.
  3. The review confirms that development challenges cannot be successfully addressed through short term, fragmented solutions, but rather that achieving transformational impact and sustainable results requires a long-term perspective and sustained engagement from all partners.
  4. The review highlights capacity development as UNDP's core contribution to programme countries, and underlines that firm commitment to results at the country level, supported by strong national ownership, are critical for lasting development success. As well, recognizing progress already made, the review emphasizes the importance of continued integration of gender equality in our work, as well as the need to deepen our links with south-south and triangular co-operation.

The cumulative review comments on key results in each of UNDP’s mandated and inter-linked areas of work.

On poverty reduction, that work has been strongly focused on MDG achievement. The review shows how UNDP has helped place the MDGs at the top of national development agendas around the world.

UNDP has analyzed MDG progress in 146 countries, identifying gaps, challenges, and opportunities for further progress. The review highlights the important contributions we have made to MDG-based planning, budgeting, and policy-making – all of which are critical enablers of MDG progress.

In Africa, for example, we supported 35 countries to mainstream the MDGs and pro-poor growth into national development strategies. In twelve Asia-Pacific countries, we strengthened capacities for costing the goals.

By the end of 2012, the MDG Acceleration Framework (MAF) had been applied in 44 countries, helping to form partnerships and generate momentum for action on lagging MDGs. This year, two more countries were added. Overall, the cumulative review identifies strong country ownership and inclusive partnerships as critical preconditions for successful application of the MAF. 

The review highlights how UNDP’s work has contributed to food security, job creation, improved livelihoods, and stronger social protection systems. Over the past five years, for example, we supported establishing or raising social protection floors in thirty countries.

UNDP worked in 49 countries on HIV responses, helping to ensure that HIV is addressed as a development issue. With our support, and in partnership with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, over one million people received life-saving antiretroviral therapy, and nearly forty million people received malaria treatments. One example, in South Sudan, our support over the past five years has enabled more than 700,000 people to receive HIV/AIDS education, and 189,000 people to receive voluntary counseling and testing.   

Over the past five years, 149 countries requested UNDP’s support in the area of democratic governance, reconfirming UNDP’s leadership in this area within the UN and the broader multilateral system.

Overall, the review shows that UNDP contributed to more participatory and just societies. Our work reduced the barriers in the way of women and young people voting and being candidates for election, and increased access to justice and public services, especially for vulnerable groups.

Since 2011, UNDP’s work has contributed to the strengthening of 10,250 institutions across levels of government, legislatures, and civil society organizations advocating for greater inclusiveness. Over the course of the Strategic Plan we supported the establishment or strengthening of seventy national human rights institutions. In Africa, since 2008, more than fifty elections and referenda have been carried out with UNDP support. Each year we have supported electoral-related activities and processes in more than sixty countries around the world.

An example: in Libya, UNDP worked with partners to promote women’s participation in the national elections – both as voters and candidates. Around 1.3 million women voters were registered – 46 per cent of the 2.8 million total; and 630 women candidates contested the elections. In the elections, 39 per cent of the voters were women and 16.5 per cent of those elected are women. While that outcome falls short of the MDG3 target of thirty per cent, in my view it must be seen as an impressive start.

Expanding access to justice has been a priority for national partners across all five regions. In fifty countries, this work has focused on increasing access for excluded groups.  In Africa, fourteen countries were assisted to increase women’s access to justice. In four countries in the Arab States region, we improved the outreach of the judicial system through mobile courts, legal aid clinics, and e-justice systems.

Examples of our work include Colombia, where UNDP supported national consultations around preparation of the Victim’s Reparation and Land Restitution Law, which is bringing reparations and land restitution to victims of the conflict. More than five million victims have now been registered under the new system.

Strengthening the capacity of governments and local authorities to deliver services in ways which reduce poverty and promote inclusive and equitable development has been another key priority for UNDP. An example:  in rural areas of Bangladesh, thousands of UNDP-supported e-Service delivery centers provide access to vital information and services to nearly 4.5 million hard-to-reach beneficiaries every month.

Our work in crisis prevention and recovery took place in 106 countries over the past five years.

In line with our UN General Assembly-mandated responsibility to co-ordinate “operational activities for natural disaster mitigation, prevention, and preparedness”, we supported vulnerable communities in more than seventy countries to prepare better for future natural disasters and/or to “build back better” in response to the impact of natural disasters.

An example: in Pakistan nearly 1.3 million people benefited from UNDP-supported emergency employment following the devastating floods of 2010. After the earthquake in Haiti, UNDP and other UN partners were directly responsible for work schemes which removed some one million cubic meters of rubble. With our support, Bangladesh and Mozambique have become providers of best practices in natural disaster preparedness.

Through its crisis prevention programmes, UNDP supported 47 countries to mitigate and manage underlying structural causes of conflict and tension. In Lesotho, for example, UNDP facilitated successful mediation by the Council of Churches which contributed to the first-ever genuine, multi-party consensus on electoral law and rules of procedure, ending years of political gridlock.

We also worked to rebuild the lives of peoples and communities affected by conflict, including women suffering from gender-based violence. In Afghanistan, more than four million people in rural areas were provided livelihood opportunities, and regained access to basic public services through new or rehabilitated schools, maternity clinics, roads, and micro-hydropower plants. In Sierra Leone, UNDP has supported “Saturday Courts” since 2011, which enabled the justice system to improve access for victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

Building national capacities to strengthen citizen security and the rule of law is also a vital area of our work. In thirteen countries, we helped to reintegrate 87,000 ex-combatants. In twenty countries, we assisted with the development of national frameworks to address small arms and light weapons, and in the implementation of disarmament campaigns which took many weapons and munitions out of circulation.

UNDP is by far the largest implementer of environment and energy programmes in the UN development system, with 153 countries receiving our support in this area. Throughout our work we strongly advocate for addressing poverty reduction and environmental management as mutually reinforcing objectives which need to be tackled in a comprehensive way. 

A Poverty-Environment Initiative side-event will be held on June 12 on the margins of the Executive Board. It will highlight UNDP and UNEP’s joint support for mainstreaming poverty-environment linkages in national development planning in more than twenty countries.

We have supported strengthening the energy sector in 83 countries and brought access to clean and renewable energy for 3.5 million poor and vulnerable people. With the support of the Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative, there is potential to bring off grid, decentralized solutions to scale – such solutions often have the greatest positive impact for the poor and those in rural areas. Our programming includes measures to expand access to reliable and modern sources of energy, promoting energy efficiency, and investment in renewable energy.

In India, for example, UNDP’s efforts to improve energy efficiency in the small-scale steel re-rolling sector have contributed to savings of up to forty per cent on energy consumption in that sector. This initiative is currently being scaled up and is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 1.5 million tonnes annually in the coming years.

Energy savings programmes, financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), in which we were engaged helped avoid over 42 million tons of CO2 in emissions over the past five years - contributing to climate change mitigation.  Overall, we helped 146 countries to access US$ 1.8 billion in grant funding from the GEF, matched by US$ 6 billion in co-financing, including from national governments, the private sector, and other development actors.

Demand for UNDP’s support in tackling climate change issues has increased steadily over the last five years. We have been engaged with climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies in 91 countries. From that work, 78 countries have incorporated adaptation and/or mitigation policies in their national agendas, and 62 have incorporated them in their national budgets. Working with UNEP and FAO, UNDP has been supporting 42 countries to prepare national REDD+ strategies.

Helping countries both to conserve biodiversity and use ecosystems sustainably has been an important part of our work through the course of the current Strategic Plan. 116 countries have been supported to include management of biodiversity and ecosystem services in their national plans. We have also had programming in more than 1800 protected natural areas, covering 252 million hectares, around the world.

For example, in Kazakhstan, UNDP assisted in securing protected status for more than 1.6 million hectares of wetlands. In initiatives related to that, residents from 692 villages, with a total population of more than one million people, have access to support for business ventures; illegal fishing has fallen by up to 62 per cent in the protected area; and more than US$ 3.2 million was raised for sustainable biodiversity projects in those communities.

On institutional effectiveness, the review notes that UNDP has, over the last five years, made big strides in its results capture systems, and has become a more evidence-based and data-informed organization. Recruitment and succession planning has improved – but can improve further, and sound investment policies have safeguarded our financial resources. A comprehensive internal planning system is now in place. Transparency and accountability have increased through better monitoring, reporting, and disclosure.

Overall, I am pleased with the picture portrayed in the review, which shows that UNDP is doing good work in support of its partners. Nevertheless, both the review and the independent evaluation of the Strategic Plan show that there are opportunities in both our organization and our programming to do better. The new Strategic Plan will help us to focus our efforts and improve our performance.

The new Strategic Plan

Following the clear direction set by the QCPR, and other important legislative mandates, such as the outcome of Rio+20, finalizing the new Strategic Plan is a key focus for UNDP in the coming months.

UNDP has been engaged in extensive outreach around the plan at a number of levels, including my own. I thank the many Permanent Representatives who personally took the time to meet with me to discuss the plan.

I understand that the inclusive and transparent process we have followed has been well received, and that there is broad support for the direction set out in the draft plan. I thank the Board for its active and constructive participation in the process to date, and in anticipation for your ongoing engagement leading to an agreed plan in September.

Sharpening UNDP’s focus is a key objective of the new draft plan. Feedback has been positive on the vision proposed, and on reducing the number of development outcomes - from the 25 we have at present to seven. This should help to improve the quality of what we do.

The proposed outcomes and areas of work should position UNDP to help developing countries transform their growth and development pathways, improve governance, and manage risk, with the aim of maximizing progress on poverty eradication. 

The draft Strategic Plan has been designed as a “global offer”, setting out the areas in which we will be able to offer expert assistance.  Ultimately, what we deliver in any one country will be based on national priorities and needs. The objective is to have each country programme focused on no more than four outcomes.

UNDP’s strength, relevance, and effectiveness depends on being able to meet the varied needs of the wide range of programme countries, whether they be LDCs, LICs, LLDCs, SIDS, or MICs, or whether they find themselves in stable settings, or, at the other end of the spectrum, in crisis or post-crisis settings. I am confident that the “global offer” we are proposing is broad enough to cover this spectrum, while, at the same time, being focused enough to allow the organization to build the depth of its expertise.

The draft plan also challenges us to break free of limitations imposed by our existing internal architecture. We must respond to development challenges in integrated ways – across our economic, social, environmental, and governance work.  The plan signals a move away from the existing somewhat rigid practice architecture to a more flexible solutions-oriented approach.

The rapidly evolving partnerships landscape is also recognized in the draft plan. It emphasizes the importance of expanding our involvement in South-South and triangular co-operation. The recent evaluation of UNDP’s contribution to both suggests that we have a good basis on which to build.

UNDP also has a significant leadership role to play in improving the effectiveness of the UN development system as a whole, an area of importance identified in the draft plan. At country level, UNCTs need to be more focused on impact and the delivery of results, and not drowned in internal processes. 

Accompanying the draft Strategic Plan is the draft Integrated Results and Resources Framework (IRRF). It is a major step forward from the last results framework. Feedback from Board members to date has been encouraging. We will continue to refine and streamline the framework over the coming weeks.

Overall, the draft Strategic Plan signals a higher level of ambition, and a determination to renew UNDP which is such a central pillar of the multilateral development system.  This demands action on institutional transformation, both through continual improvement in efficiency and effectiveness, and through streamlining our structures.  The message we are hearing from Board Members is to do whatever it takes to enable UNDP to deliver on the Strategic Plan.

There is still work to do to bring the Plan back to you in September for final approval. Since its publication on the website, a number of you have raised both large and small issues which require further attention.  We are listening carefully, and believe we can address most concerns in formulating the final plan. I understand that a number of the bigger issues were discussed at the Board’s informal meeting on 30 May.

Those issues included suggested changes to the wording of the vision, and better recognition of issues such as structural transformation of productive capacities, job creation, the positioning of South-South co-operation, and adherence to international protocols on biodiversity. As staff indicated at the meeting we are working on improved language on all these issues, and will continue our consultations with the Board.

We have come a long way on the draft Strategic Plan since last year. I hope that the decision which the Board adopts this session will enable us to keep moving ahead and make the necessary improvements, so that the September Board meeting will be able to approve the new Plan.


Despite fiscal challenges, many of UNDP’s traditional funders have gone to great lengths to maintain their contributions. We are very grateful for all the funding we receive.

In 2012, we saw a continuation in the downward trend in contributions to UNDP’s regular resources, with core contributions reaching $846.1 million. This underrepresents the bigger picture, however, as one very substantial payment was received after the end of the year. That payment is recorded in this year’s books, which then over-represents this year’s figures. Unfavorable exchange rate movements are also a factor currently.

The 2012 level of non-core resources remained strong at $3.79 billion – showing that UNDP remains a partner of choice for many contributors. It is important, however, to enhance the quality and predictability of non-core contributions.

As I have emphasized on many occasions, and as was emphasized in the QCPR, a stable and critical mass of “core” resources is the bedrock funding for UN agencies, funds, and programmes. Sufficient, untied, core resources allow organizations to plan ahead, be strategic and responsive, and provide predictable and differentiated services across programme countries – particularly the poorest and most vulnerable.  Core resources finance our long term expertise, corporate management and oversight systems, country office network, and the substantial support we give to the Resident Co-ordinator system. The new Strategic Plan will need adequate resourcing - if it is to be successfully implemented.

As reported at our January session, we have been acting to keep expenditure within the new resource planning figures. Fifty million dollars have been cut from previously planned spending levels to ensure that we continue to meet our ongoing target of a minimum liquidity balance of three months at the end of 2013.

The reductions have been achieved through a combination of short-term measures, such as a temporary freeze on recruitments and the suspension or discontinuation of lower priority activities, and of more strategic changes in the way we organize, manage, and fund UNDP programme and operations’ support services, such as procurement, IT, travel, and others. In short, just as Member States have had to make critical decisions about spending priorities, UNDP is doing the same.

While continuing to value and nurture UNDP’s existing partnerships, we are also actively strengthening and building new strategic partnerships with an extensive range of development actors, including governments, the private sector, foundations, and NGOs around knowledge, advocacy, expertise, and funding.

In the current resource-tight environment, we recognize the need to make every dollar count for development. The efforts we are making to ensure that our programmes and operations are even more results-based, efficient, cost-effective, and transparent are of the utmost importance. This has been a key consideration in the development of the new Strategic plan.

Transparency and Accountability

Following the Executive Board’s support for UNDP publicly disclosing its internal audit reports, disclosures began in January. Already, some 51 reports have been published on our public web site.

We also continue to enhance the publication of information in accordance with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).

In 2011, an initial set of project expenditures was published online in accordance with IATI’s global transparency standard. In 2012 we surpassed the IATI requirements, and in 2013 we are publishing additional information more quickly than ever before, at open.undp.org.

Along with partners, we have also worked to enhance transparency in aid flows. That has included providing programme countries with technical support and advice to achieve the adoption of the IATI standard. As a further measure of our commitment to transparency, UNDP has been selected to host the IATI Secretariat in a consortium with UNOPS, Sweden, Ghana, and the UK NGO Development Initiatives.

Delivering together for results

Let me conclude by updating you briefly on important work underway in the UN Development Group (UNDG).

  • Funding of the Resident Co-ordinator system: The UNDG has agreed on an approach to system-wide cost-sharing starting in 2014, in addition to the ‘backbone’ which UNDP will continue to fund – albeit that the shrinking of our current core funding is making this more difficult. The aim is for a centralized and predictable method of funding to replace current ad hoc arrangements. We look forward to Member States represented on the wide range of agencies, funds, and programmes, supporting the cost sharing allocated to each when it comes before respective governing bodies for approval.

On top of UNDP’s ongoing $88 million per annum backbone funding, $33 million per annum, which has been funded by donors, is to be cost-shared, including by UNDP. That represents less than donors have been funding, as it was not possible to obtain UNDG agreement for the full amount. That will put pressure on the co-ordination system at the very time when the QCPR calls on the system to be more co-ordinated and coherent.

  • Standard operating procedures for countries wishing to adopt delivering as one: Streamlined procedures have been agreed to by UNDG, with a focus on getting and reporting on results and impact. These new procedures should drive a new generation of UN Development Assistance Frameworks.
  • Business operations reform: Work is accelerating on addressing bottlenecks at the headquarters level, and on introducing multi-year business plans at country level to ensure that UNDAFs are delivered on effectively and efficiently.
  • Continual improvements of the functioning of the RC system: We are giving priority to rigorous selection, training, and appraisal of RCs, and to diversity in the pool. The Secretary-General is strongly supporting our drive to appoint more women RCs - the female proportion of the total now exceeds forty per cent.

Each of these initiatives is significant in its own right. Taken together, they move us towards the development system the QCPR called on us to deliver.

The UNDG has adopted a QCPR action plan. It identifies priority actions, with clear targets, timelines, and responsibilities, so that the QCPR resolution can be systematically implemented.

The Secretary-General will submit his first report on the implementation of the QCPR to ECOSOC in July. UNDG is working closely with UNDESA to ensure that the report is informed by the latest evidence from the country level.


I began my statement today by emphasizing that UNDP needs to change with a changing world – and indeed with changing expectations.  

Our new Strategic Plan will play a central role in ensuring that UNDP can do just that. It will help make the organization fit for purpose in the 21st century, and ensure that we remain a partner of choice for Member States.  

We look forward to continuing to work with the Board to produce a high quality Plan, and we thank you for your strong commitment to and support for achieving that.

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