Shoko Noda, Former Resident Representative, UNDP India
Thank you, India
November 8, 2023
After living and working in Pakistan, Nepal and Maldives, finally I was in India – the heart of South Asia, a land of captivating contrasts and diversity.
India is a republic of 1.4 billion people, the largest democracy in the world, and one of the fastest-growing economies, lifting millions out of poverty. It's a place where ancient and modern coexist, where tradition meets innovation. A place where ultramodern highways run alongside traditional farms and where cycle rickshaws share the road with electric vehicles.
Within this landscape of progress, there are stubborn challenges – pockets of deprivation, declining women's labour force participation, and a growing youth population hungry for jobs.
This makes India and its growth story so unique.
I had been waiting for this opportunity – to work with one of the largest UN country teams in the world, lead a diverse portfolio at UNDP, and support India in her incredible journey – embracing its many contrasts as catalysts for progress.
This was 2019 and I was filled with excitement.
Triumph amidst challenges
2020. A time that still looms large in our collective memory.
As the pandemic spread fear, disease, and destruction, countries across the globe went into lockdown. I vividly remember the day I asked my colleagues to work from home, feeling a sense of anxiety. At first, it seemed difficult to pull the team together, especially when everyone was experiencing some form of loss.
In the face of adversity, my colleagues and I learned how to navigate in a new virtual world. Fear gradually turned into commitment, and Team UNDP stood with India.
Together with the Government of India and our partners, we worked long hours to serve the people of India.
We supported the development and roll out of Co-WIN and embarked on a mammoth task of training more than one million frontline workers on using the Co-WIN app. We established eleven oxygen generation plants in the Northeast region. We helped one of the most marginalized and vulnerable communities with social protection and livelihood opportunities. We imparted digital literacy to the elderly and people with disabilities, and helped lessen the impacts of climate change to ensure green recovery from the pandemic. We made efforts to make COVID-19 response third gender inclusive.
Hope shines through
As I conclude my time in India and move to New York, I am reminded of the many triumphs and challenges we have shared over the past four and half years.
Take, for instance, Co-WIN. In the thick of the pandemic, India built the app in less than three months. Then in record time, launched the world’s most extensive vaccination campaign, delivering over 2 billion vaccines – a testament to the nation’s innovative prowess.
India's remarkable success in localizing the Sustainable Development Goals is a lesson for the world. The country has translated Agenda 2030 into concrete local actions, bringing development gains on a massive scale. Once again, UNDP stands as a proud partner in this transformative journey.
In my travels across this vast nation, I have seen communities living in harmony with the natural environment. In Ladakh, I met Yuki, a snow leopard, nurtured and protected by the locals after he was injured as a cub. The relationship between Yuki and his caregivers is an endearing one, which also goes to show the commitment people – young and old – have toward the environment. Coupling that with the Government’s ambitious climate leadership and commitment to net zero, India is on the right track.
For us at UNDP, gender equality and inclusion are our guiding principles. We are committed to creating a more gender-equal world, and I'm immensely proud that we've earned the coveted gender equality gold seal.
None of this would be possible without our partners.
India is on a transformative journey – not only for its people but for the world. India is fast emerging as the bridge between the global North and South. India's G20 Presidency was a monumental achievement for the nation - amplifying the voice of the Global South and fostering consensus on sustainable and inclusive development, financial reform, women-led development, and climate justice - at a time when it seemed nearly impossible. India’s digital public infrastructure also emerged as a success story for the world, with India offering DPI free of charge.
I had the privilege of participating in numerous G20 meetings and discussions, where we wholeheartedly supported India's impressive human-centric presidency.
The world order may be fraying at the edges, but India demonstrates strong leadership to foster international and South-South cooperation. India’s donations of vaccines and equipment during the pandemic, facilitating technology transfer and knowledge sharing for climate action through institutions like ISA and CDRI, and insights and lessons emerging from SDG localization demonstrate its principles of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or the world is one family. UNDP is proud to support India in these initiatives.
In my work and travel here, I met countless exceptional people and communities, who epitomise the spirit of India – resilient, adaptive, innovative, transformative and inspiring. That was the motivation behind our flagship magazine, Inspiring India.
Whether it’s our work on just transition, circular economy, innovative financing solutions for the SDGs, or One Health, our programmes integrate systematic and future-alert thinking to support India in its vision to achieve the Agenda 2030. At UNDP, we are making our systems more efficient, ensuring diversity in our teams, strengthening our state presence, experimenting, and innovating to bring new solutions and new thinking to development.
My heart goes back to the beginning, to my earliest pictures of India - to its vibrant contrasts and relentless triumphs as I see my imminent departure
From the bustling streets of Mumbai to the quaint villages of Nagaland, and from ancient temples that have stood for centuries to the gleaming towers that reach for the sky – these vivid contrasts and diversity are the very heartbeat of India.
India has its challenges, but the country embraces them, recognizes its differences, and works tirelessly to script an incredible future for all its people.
The lessons I've learned from India are invaluable – that amidst the complexities and contradictions, it's the indomitable spirit of the people, the resilience in the face of adversity, and the ability to transform challenges into catalysts for progress that define the true essence of this remarkable nation.
Even from afar, you will continue to inspire me.
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