Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, Statement to the 2nd Regular Session of the UNDP Executive Board

Sep 5, 2017

Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator adresses UNDP's Executive Board for the first time at the Second Regular Session. Photo: UNDP/Freya Morales

As prepared for delivery.

Mr. President,
Members of the Executive Board,
Colleagues and friends,

I sincerely welcome you to the 2nd Regular Session of the UNDP Executive Board. While I have met many of you already, this is my first time addressing the Board at a formal session. Let me therefore take this opportunity to thank all of you for the warm welcome I have received, and underline how pleased and honored I am to have been entrusted with the responsibility to lead this important organization. 

I have joined UNDP at a time of significant challenges and opportunities, for the organization itself and for the global development agenda at large. 

Adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals presented a huge opportunity for our global commitment to put the whole world on a more prosperous and sustainable development path. But achieving it will by no means be easy.

Adopting a truly integrated approach, as the 2030 Agenda requires, presents complex challenges. It is hard to visualize “leaving no-one behind” in so many development contexts today. And wisely identifying and managing risks requires a different set of skills and approaches.

Meanwhile, the world is experiencing mega-trends which can affect prospects for achieving the SDGs. Persistent poverty and rising inequalities; rapid population growth and demographic transitions - including ageing; migration and urbanization; environmental degradation and climate change; shifting trends in development cooperation and financing for development; as well as rapid technological advancements, with the associated opportunities and challenges – are all realities of our times.

While positive developments in all these areas can radically enhance prospects for achieving the 2030 Agenda; negative trends can also have detrimental implications across the SDGs. This makes it essential for countries to have access to increasingly more advanced and context-specific advice and support. It is therefore critical that UNDP responds with high-quality integrated policy and programme responses, tailored to country-specific realities, and conducive to achieving the SDGs.

Equally crucial, is UNDP’s work with partners to ensure the UN Development System is optimally equipped to support the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.

The UN Secretary-General has made very clear in his reform proposals that business-as-usual is not an option. Our goal must be a 21st century UN development system that is more focused on people, less on process; more on results for the poor and marginalized, less on bureaucracy; more on providing integrated support across familiar silos, less on turf battles and competition.

UNDP shares the Secretary-General’s reform vision to make the UN far better at working together to deliver results for people. It will be for Member States to decide the way ahead. UNDP stands ready to help drive those decisions forward.  

The Executive Board plays an indispensable role in supporting UNDP to deliver on its full potential, not least in the context of the new Strategic Plan and UN reforms. It is also critical that UNDP provides the Board with the information, data, evidence, and results required to give strategic guidance and advice to management, as well as with timely documentation and systematic follow-up to decisions.

Looking ahead, I want to build a partnership with you that is grounded in honest, open, and continuous dialogue, common respect and mutual support. We all share the common objective of ensuring that UNDP becomes the best that it can be. By collaborating effectively, we can pave the way towards that end.

The UNDP Strategic Plan 2018-2021

Now, let me turn to our new Strategic Plan for 2018-2021.

Its development is in proceeding fast and well. I thank the Board sincerely for your helpful engagement and excellent feedback so far, in particular at our informal meetings last week. Let me assure you that all your comments and concerns serve as critical input into preparing the paper which will be sent to you as a first draft next week.

This work takes place against the backdrop of direction set by Member States in last year’s QCPR. It has also greatly benefitted from the independent evaluation of our current Strategic Plan, and the joint assessment of the institutional effectiveness of UNDP by the Independent Evaluation Office and the Office of Audit and Investigations. On the Evaluation, I would emphasize that we are fully committed to take on the recommendations, including those on gender equality and south-south cooperation. The Board will discuss the evaluation, and UNDP’s management response, in greater detail tomorrow.

As I have noted, the world faces increasingly complex and interrelated challenges. These call for multidimensional, sustained responses, from national governments and the international community, not least the UN’s development system.

This is very well reflected in the 2030 Agenda, which requires that we address the interconnections, linkages and choices across sectors, goals, and targets – as well as giving due attention to specific sectors.

At the core of our new Strategic Plan therefore are two interlinked objectives: to optimize UNDP’s capacity to help countries to achieve the 2030 Agenda; and to respond effectively to new and emerging needs in an increasingly turbulent world.

For UNDP to deliver on these overarching objectives - with a particular focus on reaching the poorest of the poor and the most marginalized members of society –the organization needs to enhance its responsiveness to diverse country demands, however varied their specific circumstances may be. In our response we need to be cognizant of our key strengths and competencies, as well as our collective capacity as UN agencies, funds and programmes to deliver - together. 

Doing this in the context of the 21st century global development landscape, also requires us to look at some of the main challenges that countries are facing, with a view to ensure that our response reflects their changing nature.

The challenges of poverty eradication, for example, are evolving. We have seen immense progress: global extreme poverty rate dropped from close to 35% in 1990 to just under 11% in 2013, with the number of people in extreme poverty falling by more than1.1 billion. And, this was at the same time as the world’s total population increased by some two billion people.

Meanwhile, poverty is no longer seen as primarily a developing country phenomenon. Indeed, the largest numbers of poor are now found in middle income countries (MICs). Furthermore, over 300 million people in developed countries – including more than one third of all children ‐ are also considered poor, as they live on less than 60% of median household income. 

Leaving poverty is not the end of the story; people must stay out of poverty. One of the greatest challenges we face is not to lose the significant gains made since 1990. The number of people falling back into poverty is equivalent to two in every seven who escaped it since 1990. This shows an enormous fragility in our social and economic safety nets, and the impact of shocks on the poorest and most vulnerable. If the world is to achieve zero poverty by 2030, we need dramatically to halt the downward slide – as much as to support upward mobility for millions still living in poverty.

Our Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean has undertaken significant analytics and offered sound policy advice on how to stop the backsliding into poverty through robust active development policies.

UNDP has much to offer to help countries meet challenges of the 21st century globalized world: extensive presence on the ground; long-standing and trusted relationships with governments and other partners; and a unique ability to develop and help implement the multi-sectoral and integrated development solutions that are so needed today – not least by being able to work with and through partnership with our sister agencies in delivering services.

The recent mapping of UNDS functions and capacities highlighted UNDP’s current focus on three broad clusters of goals: poverty, governance and planet. The poverty cluster (goals 1, 8, 10) amounted to 32% of UNDP’s expenditure in 2016; governance (goal 16) 23% and the planet cluster (13, 14, 15) 15%. This shows UNDP is both a people and planet agency, with deep thematic expertise in a targeted set of goals, as well as demonstrated capacity as an integrator and convener across the agenda.

Now, to fully deliver on our potential, we need to build on these assets and evolve our core offering to respond to current and emerging demands. This has to be done both in terms of the content and the systems we use for our work.

This is where our proposal of two core offers – country-level SDG support platforms and global development and advisory implementation services – comes into play.

Working through these two entry points, we envisage delivering development solutions for diverse contexts, helping countries pursue the development pathways of their choice, with the ultimate goal of achieving the SDGs.

Across different development settings, our support would range from the most fundamental development priorities, including poverty eradication, jobs and livelihoods, governance and institutional capacity; to broader policy-choices and synergies to accelerate progress. We must also continue to help countries and communities deal with sudden or protracted shocks and crisis, from man-made or natural causes.

We will always ensure that the following principles are at the heart of what we do:

• country-ownership;

• context-specificity;

• the commitment to leaving no one behind;

• upholding gender equality and rights; and,

• broad-based, inclusive partnerships, including with our sister UN agencies.

We will also present a number of signature development solutions, aimed at demonstrating tangible progress towards SDG achievement on the ground.

Each signature solution aims to generate positive transformations to help countries achieve their goals under the 2030 Agenda. They will encompass a range of UNDP’s competency areas taking into account inter-linkages between different interventions and sectors, and building complementarities with other UN partners.

Taken together, we believe our initial proposals for the forthcoming Strategic Plan, will provide a solid foundation against which UNDP can best support countries achieve the SDGs. We will share the first full draft of the Plan with you at the end of next week, and look forward to your feedback and guidance.

Now, to be able to deliver the Plan, we must also examine our future business model.

The question we face is whether UNDP’s business model is financially viable and, more importantly, fit for purpose to achieve the SDGs.

On the one hand, our focus on people and planet is clear. In 2016, UNDP spent close to $3.5bn on issues of poverty, jobs, governance, climate change, and related issues.

From the perspective of the UN family, in 2016 we disbursed $0.6bn in payroll for 41 UN partner organizations, administered benefits for over 16,600 UN personnel, and managed over 113 shared UN premises, amongst other activities.

And yet UNDP faces challenges. Core resources are declining in relative and absolute terms. Our cost recovery does not fully cover our real costs. We are not delivering our portfolio of projects fast enough. Our staff can feel frustrated by an administrative environment of compliance rather than empowerment and results. And our programmatic and administrative arrangements are standardized, while the typologies and needs of the countries we serve are highly differentiated. These are some of the findings we draw on from evaluators, feedback and dialogue with our partners.

With this in mind, I have started a systematic review of UNDP’s current business model with the aim of accelerating delivery of quality programmatic results for SDG achievement and developing scenarios and options for making UNDP financially more sustainable. We will work on three streams and expect to complete the work in the next 6 to 12 months.

A common theme in these three work streams will be a strong focus on partnership and adding value to the work of the UN family, both programmatically and operationally. Overall, this will be an inclusive process, working with colleagues across the UN family - at headquarters and in the field. We will of course keep the Board informed throughout this process.


Adequate and quality funding will be essential to deliver the new Strategic Plan.

In 2016 total contributions to UNDP reached $4.9bn, 8% higher than 2015. Bilateral, multilateral, domestic resources and vertical funds remained the main sources of funding, accounting for two-thirds of the total. I take this opportunity to thank all of our donors and funders, in the North but also in the Global South, who have entrusted us with their valuable development resources.

But 2016 was challenging for core funding, which fell 12% to $618m. Regrettably I have found that we expect a further drop this year, to about $600m. This falls short of our and your, expectations and needs, and jeopardizes our ability to deliver on our core mandate.

It is my hope that the new Strategic Plan will give Member States the confidence to raise both the level and predictability of core resources – which brings me to say a few words about the upcoming Integrated Resource Plan (IRP)

As you know, the IRP includes both core and non-core resources, and encompasses the Integrated Budget (IB) for the duration of the Strategic Plan 2018 – 21.

A number of key objectives have been established in preparing the IRP and IB:

• to accelerate delivery of top quality development results;

• to strengthen the link between results and resources;

• to leverage our Country Office presence to support UN and other partners;

• to articulate better the role of core funding and reverse the downward trend;

• to respond to crises in a timely and effective manner, and integrate pathways towards recovery and sustainable development;

• and to strive for continued efficiency.

The estimated resources included in the IRP are $23.9bn over the four-year period. This includes balances brought-forward of $3bn and projected new contributions of $20.9bn. These estimates are based on historical trends, and will be adjusted in line with changes in the Strategic Plan. The mix of core and non-core resources will also evolve on the basis of emerging programmatic portfolios. I would note that the IB may include a provision for strategic investments. These would be aligned with the Strategic Plan, as well as relevant Board and General Assembly decisions.

Following extensive consultations with the Board, and review by ACABQ, the Integrated Budget will be submitted to the Board for approval in November.

Beyond all this, we know that public resources will only go so far in securing SDG achievement, and that private resources are just as important.

Building on UNDP’s convening power, we are committed to strengthen our partnerships with the private sector and to help support the alignment of business interests and investments with the SDGs. Our partnership with international financial institutions is critical too. I am encouraged to see how this area of collaboration has been steadily growing in recent years, and expect it to progress even more in future.

At tomorrow’s Structured Funding Dialogue you will be able to discuss funding in more detail, including how our role is changing from mobilizing grant funding to helping countries plan, access, leverage and measure financing for the SDGs.

I hope that you use that opportunity to discuss candidly what it will take to make funding to the UN development system and UNDP more strategic and predictable, and to share bold ideas to address the underlying structural and systemic issues we face, including incentives, burden-sharing, transparency and accountability.

At the heart of this is the fundamental role of strong, open partnerships. Let me assure you of my commitment to make UNDP even more responsive, effective, transparent, and accountable. I see partnerships as an integral part of UNDP’s identity and a determining factor to deliver on our mandate and make the SDGs a reality for all. 

Commitment to global agendas

As I emphasized before, delivering on the 2030 Agenda is at the core of what we do, and it will be foundational for our new Strategic Plan.

To date, 114 governments have requested support from UN Country Teams on SDG implementation, ranging from general orientation and assistance to mainstream SDGs in national development plans, to SDG measurement and reporting, the broader issue of SDG governance in-country and its associated government architecture and participation opportunities, as well as financing. UNDP has been actively addressing these requests through its broad country presence.  

Through what we call MAPS missions, in close collaboration with other agencies and partners, we have provided integrated policy support to 19 countries, with ten more expected to receive such support through the end of this year. Applying UNDG’s common MAPS approach, we help these countries mainstream the 2030 Agenda and to identify bottlenecks and accelerators for progress, in-line with their own development priorities, as well as to monitor and report on progress. I would like to thank the 12 UN agencies and all the UN Country teams who have so far contributed actively to the MAPS Missions. 

We are also receiving growing demands for assistance in following up on and reviewing SDG progress. For example, in the lead up to this year’s High-Level Political Forum, UNDP supported 29 programme countries to prepare Voluntary National Review (VNR), and we are now supporting 16 countries to prepare their first-ever National SDG Country Reports in their national language.

With the principle of “Leaving No One Behind” being at the heart of the 2030 Agenda, UNDP is developing a conceptual framework to identify the main triggers of inequality. The goal is to help us sharpen our focus on reaching those furthest behind first.

UNDP is also fully committed to providing long-term support to the Paris Agreement by significantly scaling-up climate change action, building resilience and assisting countries to pursue zero-carbon, sustainable and inclusive development.

On NDC implementation, UNDP is working with partners to facilitate the transition from targets to action. This includes financial and technical support, capacity building, and facilitating exchange of national experiences. As one of the largest implementers of climate change projects in the UN system, UNDP supported more than 140 countries to access over $2.8 billion in grant financing for adaptation and mitigation from 2008-2015 – including financing from the Global Environment Facility, Green Climate Fund, Adaptation Fund and other multilateral and bilateral sources.

Here at headquarters, I am part of the Secretary-General’s Climate Core Group and Climate Principals Group, whose aim are to strengthen collaboration across the UN system on climate change.  This includes planning for the 2019 Climate Summit, which will be focused on pushing for ambitious implementation of NDCs. 

UNDP is also working actively with the Government of Fiji, as the President of COP, and the UNFCCC, to facilitate a successful outcome at COP23 in November. Our support includes upstream technical advice; building strategic partnerships and outreach; preparing policy briefs on the key issues at stake and communications strategies; and resourcing high-level events on the margins of the Conference.

Update on support in crisis contexts

Nearly eight months have passed since the Secretary General’s Call to Action to respond to and prevent famine in South Sudan, Somalia, North East Nigeria and Yemen. Since then, through concerted international efforts, humanitarian operations have been scaled up, famine has been held at bay, and we have been working together to address the needs of those affected, while also building resilience.

At the Secretary-General’s request, the Emergency Relief Coordinator and I co-chair the Steering Committee on Famine Response and Prevention, to ensure all parts of the UN work in tandem. Together we are organizing a high-level event during GA Ministerial Week to urge a continued strong, coherent response to the crisis.

At country-level, UNDP’s main point of departure is to help countries build longer-term resilience, working closely with our humanitarian partners. Specifically:

• In North-Eastern Nigeria, the humanitarian situation has grown increasingly complex, with the convergence of rising food insecurity and nutrition needs, growing insecurity and access constraints, and a spike in refugee returns. To respond, and under the guise of the New Way of Working, UNDP leads on early recovery. We are providing direct support to the most exposed and vulnerable through improved service delivery and strengthening of livelihoods – including through training of farmers and unconditional cash grants to over 80.000 of the most vulnerable conflict-affected people - and are also helping to reestablish effective community policing.

• In Somalia, UNDP is supporting the implementation of the National Development Plan, which has resilience-building, community recovery, and restoration of state credibility at its core. Our work is anchored in the New Way of Working, and focuses on the root causes of the crisis.

• In South Sudan, some 6 million people are affected by widespread food insecurity and malnutrition, a dire situation that is compounded by insecurity and conflict. UNDP response has focused on building local-level resilience and enabling conditions for peace, security and stability. To this end, we work with UNICEF, FAO and WFP, under the New Way of Working, to restore basic services and sustainable livelihoods and promote access to justice, peacebuilding, and reconciliation. We also work closely with UNMISS support the national dialogue secretariat and establishment of Joint Integrated Police force.

• In Yemen, UNDP is helping to improve the lives of millions – including women, young people and internally displaced persons – through access to essential services, rehabilitating infrastructure and implementing emergency employment programs. UNDP Yemen currently implements a portfolio of about $370m, most of which is IDA funding from the World Bank under the New Way of Working framework.

In other crisis contexts:

We continue to support the Central African Republic in rule of law, reconciliation, restoration of State authority, livelihoods, and durable solutions for returning displaced and refugee populations. UNDP also serves as Management Agent for the Central Africa Humanitarian Fund, to ensure continuity of humanitarian support.

In crisis-affected countries across the Arab States region, UNDP complements the work of humanitarian partners to strengthen resilience – from emergency employment and livelihoods support, to social service and infrastructure rehabilitation, to building social cohesion at local levels. These will be vital foundations to sustain peace in the region, and are central to the $4.6bn Regional Refugee and Resilience Response Plan for the Syria crisis, which UNDP co-leads with UNHCR. Allow me to highlight some of this work at country-level:

·     In Syria, UNDP complements life-saving humanitarian and protection efforts with measures to strengthen resilience of vulnerable and crisis-affected populations. To this end, we are supporting the rehabilitation of basic services for all Syrians, electric networks and early recovery projects, including the removal of a combined 1 million tons of debris and solid waste. Over the first half of this year alone, over 7,000 people with disabilities received livelihoods support.

·     In Jordan, UNDP has been supporting the Government develop its response plan and strengthen donor coordination and aid effectiveness. We have also helped strengthen infrastructure and basic services, benefitting 2.7 million people to date – for refugees and host communities alike.

·     In Lebanon, resilience-building is the focus of our efforts, specifically to strengthen livelihoods and social stability. Since 2014, approximately 1,000,000 Lebanese and 500,000 Syrian refugees have benefited from implementation of 473 projects in 180 municipalities.

• In Iraq, UNDP is pioneering a new approach to stabilization focusing on speed, functionality and scale. Through our Funding Facility for Stabilization, we work in 28 cities newly liberated from ISIL control and reaching over two million Iraqis returning home. Over 1,100 projects are currently underway, including 400 in Mosul. More than 95% of all stabilization projects are delivered through the local private sector, employing local labor, so enabling faster return of IDPs home.

• In Libya, UNDP leads the Stabilization Facility, which works to improve health, education, and other services for millions – for example, by rehabilitating and equipping hospitals, medical centers, and schools.

In addition, since 2015, UNDP has been supporting national efforts to prevent violent extremism in six countries: Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, and Tunisia. This work covers a range of priority areas, including support to national capacity and coordination, training and engagement with religious leaders, job creation with focus on youth, research and outreach, and engaging correctional facilities. 

A good example is the film Iman, produced by UNDP Sudan, which depicts real-life stories of young people drawn to violent extremism. It is being widely screened to raise awareness of how extremism occurs and the damage it causes.


In becoming UNDP Administrator, I was conscious of UNDP’s proud history, the evolution and different stages of its existence, and its place at the center of the UN development system, and the global development landscape at large.

And I was – and am even more so now – very much aware of the importance and trust that our programme countries place in us, and in our ability to provide them with high-quality and professional support, across the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

Throughout the years I have also had the opportunity to work with so many UNDP colleagues, in the field and at headquarters. And since I came into this position, I have learned to appreciate even more the commitment of our staff, and their dedication to fulfilling our mandates, often under very challenging circumstances.

I have also gained an understanding of UNDP’s critical role as a partner in the UN development system, to bring the system together around development solutions.

At the same time I am very well aware of how the parameters and expectations for UNDP, and the UN development system as a whole, are changing.

The global development context is becoming increasingly complex. Our partners require ever more sophisticated and integrated support. The funding environment is evolving. And our business model is showing signs of stress.

There is no room to sit back or for complacency. The pressure to evolve has been there for years, but the opportunity to do so has never been greater than now.

Our new Strategic Plan provides a platform to pursue exactly that.

I am excited to work with this Board to ensure the Plan provides the foundation on which UNDP can evolve and adapt, so we remain a development partner of choice in our common efforts to translate the 2030 Agenda into a reality for all.


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