The EU and UNDP on a learning journey to embrace complexity in economic development

October 28, 2021



Brussels/ New York/ Istanbul/ Skopje – The joint European Union (EU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) internal Partner Forum sought to provoke new ways of looking at our possible futures, with approaches that enable building fresh lenses, new narratives and adaptiveness when working in a highly uncertain and changing world.

Co-organised by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) and the UNDP’s Istanbul Regional Hub, the event brought together world-class change-makers and policy makers, biotech executives and civil society leaders.

Mathieu Bousquet, DG NEAR acting Director for Directorate ‘Thematic Support, Coordination of Policy and Financial Instruments’, stressed that the EU has designed ambitious agendas and economic investment plans to support resilience, recovery and reform as well as harnessing the green and digital transitions in enlargement and neighbourhood countries. He called on UNDP and EU to support breakthrough innovation to ensure that our enlargement and neighbourhood partners develop resilient economies that work for people.

Ben Slay, Acting Deputy Regional Director for UNDP Europe and Central Asia said that development agents, including the EU and UNDP, are coping with the emerging crisis in times of uncertainty when agile approaches are needed to address fragility and complexity of new challenges. The nexus of systems thinking coupled with holistic partnership and strategic innovations should bring partners closer to a stronger basis for accelerating learning, adaptation and provoking new ways of looking at the future.

Building on this, the Forum fostered a partnership dialogue on embracing systems thinking and exploring new approaches to tackling complex challenges. The “new normal” reality has shown the limitations of linear planning and single-point solutions, and is now urging key actors to seek new solutions in the region and worldwide. Development agents have called for integrating complexity in development strategies by looking into the cross-cutting drivers, in order to avoid facing often intractable confluences of difficult problems.

In the Eastern Partnership countries, Mathieu Bousquet and Ben Slay also highlighted the opportunity of relying on a network of 350 local authorities under the new EU-funded Mayors for Economic Growth Facility as a key element to introduce new approaches and accelerate systemic transformation while boosting resilience and recovery at the local level.   

In this context, the Partnership Forum underlined the EU and UNDP’s commitment to continue this joint learning journey of dialogues and exploration together, for a stronger neighbourhood and a better world.


The Partnership Forum is part of a series of strategic dialogues between the two partners on working in complexity in February and May 2020. In December 2020, the EU and UNDP signed an agreement to apply portfolio approaches as a way to accelerate system transformation and build resilience at the local level under the initiative Mayors for Economic Growth. These dialogues have highlighted the speed of change and the need for development institutions to adapt their ways of working to allow for testing and discovery, while maintaining a high level of rigor. 

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