Annual Session of the Executive Board 2024

May 31, 2024

As prepared for delivery

The Power of Development Cooperation 

Mr. President, members of the Executive Board, colleagues and friends, I am honoured to join you for the 2024 annual session of the UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS Executive Board.

Excellencies, we are at a pivotal moment in history, where the threads of our shared destiny have never been more intricately interwoven. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development illuminates our path, reminding us that our future is one of interdependence and cooperation.

Over the past two decades, the gap between rich and poor countries has narrowed, and the share of the world's population living in extreme poverty has plummeted from 50 percent in 1950 to less than 10 percent in 2019. Financial integration has quadrupled in the last 20 years, generating immense wealth, while nearly 70 percent of the world is now connected online.

However, as we emerge from the shadows of the COVID-19 pandemic, uneven recovery has spurred rising inequalities. UNDP's most recent Human Development Report reveals that more than a quarter of countries, mostly the poorest, have regressed to pre-2019 levels. Despite numerous advances, half the world's poor reside in middle-income countries - a ‘paradox of progress’. We also live and operate in a much riskier world - climate change, conflict, geopolitical tensions, economic uncertainty and unmanaged frontier technologies all threaten to undermine decades of hard-won development gains. The fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States has provided a stark reminder of countries caught in a ‘debt-disaster response cycle’. 

Profound changes, disruptions and polarization are testing the limits of development cooperation. Global cooperation has been declining since 2020, and a decades-long development architecture that has facilitated global progress is under pressure. Official development assistance (ODA) to the core development agenda for lower-income countries is falling, despite reaching a record high in 2022. Reduced ODA affects over 2.9 billion people in more than 70 developing countries, hindering economic development and improvements in human well-being.

But I ask you this: Do we still believe in the power of development cooperation to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Do we recognize its value in addressing the challenges we face? I stand before you today to say, unequivocally—yes, we do, and to share with you a snapshot of our collective achievements, made possible through development cooperation and partnership.

Overview of Progress and Partnership

Excellencies, the midterm review of the UNDP Strategic Plan, 2022-2025, including the annual report of the Administrator for 2023, affirms a Strategic Plan that has been anticipatory and transformational. The plan is driving UNDP's evolution into a modern, future-thinking organization, incorporating all facets of the Secretary-General's Quintet of Change, a vision for a ‘UN 2.0’ powered by digital solutions, innovation, data, foresight and behavioural science approaches. 

UNDP has evolved from delivering aid projects to co-creating integrated development solutions with our partners - programme countries, funding partners, UN sister entities, non-governmental organizations, civil society, academia and the private sector. We have supported governments to extend essential services to nearly 72 million people over the past two years, contributing to our moonshot goal of lifting 100 million people from multidimensional poverty by 2025.

Our capacity to bring stakeholders together helps address national and global challenges. UNDP's Climate Promise, with our partners, has supported over 125 countries to develop and implement bold climate pledges. As we look to Baku in 2024 and Belem in 2025, we are elevating this partnership to support countries meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and avoid the most severe consequences of climate change.

UNDP is increasingly requested to bring experiences from our integrated country programmes into global policy forums. For example, at the Group of 20 (G20), UNDP is supporting the Brazilian Presidency in developing recommendations to make the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) more investable. The Group of 7 (G7), under the Italian Presidency, has requested UNDP and the secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification to develop a Sustainable Land Management Hub. 

We have leveraged digital technologies, innovation and development finance as powerful enablers of progress.

UNDP has become more efficient and effective, allocating more resources to programming. Our efforts to modernize operations and invest in our people have led to demonstrable improvements in our ability to deliver results.

Excellencies, these highlights demonstrate the achievements of development cooperation and the valuable role that UNDP plays in advancing national priorities and shared global objectives.

Development Performance

UNDP is on track to meet our Strategic Plan objectives. At the midpoint, we have met or exceeded most development milestones, especially in providing inclusive services to marginalized groups. We have had notable success in supporting governments to enhance public administration and combat corruption, while assisting civil society in upholding civic space. UNDP has also made strides in key areas of risk-informed development: fostering social cohesion, improving conflict prevention, and bolstering resilience in health, food and water systems. We are exceeding milestones in bridging digital divides.

Our midterm review confirms that we are on track due to the power of integrated programmes and partnerships. Successful implementation of our signature solutions, for example, in developing the Climate Promise and Nature Pledge, requires a cross-cutting approach. Analysis has shown that more cross-linking between country programmes and signature solutions increases the achievement of results. We have deliberately invested in a ‘portfolio approach’, currently applied in over 50 UNDP country offices, to systematically create cross-linkages. 

These approaches allow UNDP to tackle multiple issues simultaneously, leading to more holistic and impactful outcomes. For example, in Cambodia, our integrated programmes supported the Government to enable 3.7 million people access social protection and 80,000 informal sector workers leverage health insurance. These approaches also lead to greater impact in terms of gender equality. In 2023, UNDP supported 28 million more women to access financial services, doubling the number from 2021. UNDP's Equanomics initiative deploys public policy tools, such as fiscal and tax reforms, to make economies more gender equitable. Over 20 countries are defining reforms to tackle in-built gender-biases in policies. And evidence shows that higher spending on gender-focused projects leads to better organizational performance.

UNDP is halfway to reaching our moonshot to help 800 million people to participate in elections, assisting 36 elections with 439 million voters in 2022-2023. In Nigeria, partnership with the national electoral commission and civil society made the 2023 elections more transparent, added over 9.5 million registered voters and protected against misinformation through the iVerify platform. We are innovating in justice and rule-of-law through the Justice Futures CoLab. In 2023, our Global Programme on the Rule of Law and Human Rights, working in partnership with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Office, the UN Department of Peace Operations and others,  provided catalytic funding to enhance the rule of law, justice, security and human rights across over 50 countries. With our first global strategy for environmental justice, we are committed to helping 100 countries achieve a clean, healthy and sustainable environment by 2030.

But the world has become riskier and more vulnerable over the past decade. The increase in conflict, political instability and natural disasters is taking an unimaginable toll on human lives - in Afghanistan, Haiti, Myanmar, Sudan, Ukraine, the Sahel, Gaza and elsewhere. Within this complex context, UNDP is bridging humanitarian-development-peace divides. In 2023, with our partners, we provided interventions fostering socioeconomic inclusion and social cohesion for almost 6 million people affected by crises.

  • In Ukraine, a full-spectrum response has helped maintain essential services, aided debris removal and established e-services for nearly 21 million people.
  • UNDP's Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (PAPP), with its humanitarian sister agencies, has undertaken emergency interventions, providing clean water, waste management and medical supplies in Gaza. With its partners, UNDP-PAPP is developing a comprehensive early recovery and resilience programme, and stands ready to scale up support as soon as security and access conditions allow.
  • In the Arab States, our partnership with UNHCR has created jobs for 500,000 Syrian refugees and host community members. The $1.6 billion Regional Refugee Resilience Plan, convening 270 partners, has developed the capacities of 40,000 civil servants in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Türkiye to meet the needs of refugees and host communities.
  • In Myanmar, after Cyclone Mocha struck Rakhine State in May 2023, our longstanding presence and engagement with communities allowed us to quickly reach over 700,000 individuals in 481 villages with basic needs and livelihood support, complementing humanitarian actors.
  • Following the devastating floods in Pakistan in 2022, UNDP’s technical expertise was instrumental in supporting government efforts to mobilize $6.49 billion of the $10.9 billion pledged at the Geneva Conference.

Excellencies, UNDP’s integrated programming has demonstrated its value in achieving impact. The challenge now is for UNDP, with our partners, to scale up and institutionalize such approaches, including in our operations.  

Enablers of Transformation

The midterm review has also confirmed that UNDP’s three enablers—innovation, digital and finance— have proven valuable in accelerating transformation. They enhance our ability to respond to evolving challenges and drive positive change.

Innovation as a strategic enabler is changing how UNDP works, collaborates and delivers results. We are supporting governments to reimagine how institutions navigate uncertainty and collaborate across sectors. UNDP’s Accelerator Labs have sourced over 6,000 development solutions across 115 countries andour new University Innovation Pods are supporting students and faculty in Africa, including in Lesotho, Mali and South Sudan, to turn ideas into entrepreneurial ventures.

UNDP is committed to digital transformation - helping to create a world in which everyone, everywhere has affordable access to connectivity and has the capacity to use it in meaningful ways. We recognize that digital technology has tremendous potential to advance the SDGs but also comes with significant risks. 

In 2022-2023, UNDP supported over 60 countries on national digital transformation, including through digital readiness assessments, digital public infrastructure and artificial intelligence (AI), up from only a handful in 2018. This has resulted in the creation of a digital identity system in Mauritania and the adoption of the Codex platform in Brazil; the latter has put data on 144 million court cases at the fingertips of judicial officials, improving the speed and quality of justice. In Antigua and Barbuda, the Government publicly committed to digitalizing all public services by 2030, following a digital readiness assessment. UNDP’s partnership with the World Health Organization, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Gavi and governments has helped expand digital health solutions; 45,000 digitalized health facilities in 13 countries can now reliably track and deliver over 2 billion doses of vaccines and routine immunizations – strengthening the resilience of health systems and pandemic preparedness.

UNDP’s work at the country level informs our thought leadership on digital development and engagement in global policy dialogues. During India's G20 presidency, we helped reach a consensus to make digital systems secure, interoperable and available to everyone. As a knowledge partner for Italy’s G7 presidency, UNDP is calling for collective action to ensure that all communities, everywhere, can better unlock the immense potential of AI to advance next-generation development solutions. 

On development finance, the Strategic Plan has galvanized innovation and scale, including for nature as the biodiversity crisis escalates. UNDP, with the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and other partners, supported the Government of Fiji to issue its first blue bond in 2023 for $10 million. UNDP is the independent verification agency for the first World Bank-approved loan in Uruguay, worth $350 million; it links reduced interest payments to environmental performance.

Our Private Sector Development and Partnership Strategy 2023-2025 includes a focus on investment-ready project pipelines and de-risking tools, which holds promise for sustainable energy. For example, in Sao Tome and Principe, this approach is helping to reduce investment costs and manage economic risks related to energy insecurity.

A Modernizing Institution Delivers

UNDP's institutional performance continues to be strong. The midterm review shows that modernizing operations, streamlining business processes and investing in our people have resulted in measurable improvements in development performance, risk-responsiveness and learning. UNDP exceeded 94 percent of the indicators in the UN System-wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, compared with 83 percent on average.

In 2023, its first year of operation, Quantum, UNDP’s new enterprise resource planning system, processed 1.12 million payments worth $5 billion. It provided payments and payroll services to more than 70 agencies. Quantum has improved data quality, internal controls and quality assurance by automating 3,000 business processes.   

June 2024 marks the fifth anniversary of UNDP's People for 2030 Strategy, which has strengthened our organizational culture, improved people management and built a diverse, skilled workforce. From 2019 to 2023, the share of UNDP resident representatives from the Global South has increased from 50 to 60 percent while the share of women in senior leadership has risen from 43 to 50 percent.

Implementation of our first dedicated Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Strategy is well underway. Initiatives include award-winning programmes to bring diverse, young talent from programme countries into UNDP, and an upcoming DEI Week to raise the profile of DEI actions across the organization. We are operationalizing UNDP's commitment to anti-racism in external programmatic and policy offers through the Anti-Racism Programming Action Plan 2024-2025. 

Management is listening and taking action. #UNDPListens uses new technology to measure employee engagement and collects feedback more frequently. Following the Engagement Survey in 2023, we launched the first Inclusion Survey in April 2024. It received more than 11,000 responses, with an overall score of 75 out of 100, suggesting that three-quarters of UNDP personnel perceive their work environment as inclusive. All offices are identifying concrete actions to improve the level of inclusion UNDP personnel experience within their teams. 

The Ethics Office continued to strengthen its outreach to all UNDP personnel. Requests for confidential advice and guidance to the Ethics Office climbed by 23 percent in 2023. May 2024 was Ethics Awareness Month, delivered by the UNDP Ethics Office and UN Women Ethics Function, with a range of sessions reflecting on impartiality in today's polarized world.

Underpinning all efforts is a commitment to accountability. UNDP has consistently exceeded targets to implement recommendations by the Board of Auditors, at 90 percent of action taken in 2023. The overall implementation rate of internal audit recommendations issued by the Office of Audit and Investigation stood at 84.4 per cent by the end of 2023. UNDP has implemented most recommendations from independent country programme evaluations. 

We continue to proactively manage risks in increasingly complex environments, enforcing a zero-tolerance policy for fraud and corruption and simultaneously implementing robust prevention, detection and mitigation measures. UNDP has launched a new Risk Management Module in Quantum to track and manage risks more effectively and rolled out strengthened project-level risk assessment guidance. Under the Associate Administrator, as the Chief Risk Officer, UNDP actively manages a corporate risk register across eight risk categories.

But, Excellencies, in the world and operating environment today, risks do materialize. UNDP also grapples with balancing agility and innovation with compliance. We will continue to invest in updating policies, upgrading systems and taking swift action to reduce risks and improve the responsiveness of the organization.

A UN Development System Partner

UNDP is fully committed to the evolution of the UN development system.

We remain the highest cost-sharing contributor to the resident coordinator system; we have fully implemented the management accountability framework; and all UNDP country programme documents are aligned with UN cooperation frameworks.

UNDP puts our development expertise and successful initiatives in the service of the UN system to accelerate achievement of the SDGs. We are supporting the implementation of 9 of 12 High-Impact Initiatives of the UN Sustainable Development Group and are a core member of the UN Futures Lab, sharing our strategic foresight resources with the UN system. Over 50 countries have indicated interest in our SDG Push initiative, following pilots in Indonesia, Moldova, Namibia, Peru and South Africa.

Relationships with sister development organizations, joint efforts and partnerships inside and outside the UN system remain at the heart of our operations. We have:

  • Delivered a $2.3 billion climate and nature portfolio across 142 countries in collaboration with over 35 partners. We continue to strengthen our partnership with the vertical funds, with the Global Environment Facility Council approving over $500 million for UNDP-supported initiatives in 2023.

  • Enabled UN country teams to conduct data-driven multidimensional risk analysis through crisis risk dashboards—50 countries were covered by regional and country-specific dashboards in 2023. 

  • Launched the Data to Policy Navigator tool in 2023, with over 10,000 users across various sectors.

  • Attracted more than 55,000 people, mostly from the Global South, to the Data Futures Exchange (DFx), UNDP's global, open-resource hub for data innovation.

  • Joined a coalition of 31 UN agencies through the Joint SDG Fund, supporting policy and financing shifts to stimulate investment in the SDGs.

  • Implemented $357 million in financing from 13 international financial institutions across 41 countries in 2023, an 18 percent increase over 2022, with 67 percent going to fragile and conflict-affected regions.

  • Created a coalition with 17 of the world's leading insurance companies through the Insurance and Risk Finance Facility, which leverages up to $5 billion in risk capacity in 22 countries. It is expected to expand to an additional 20 of the least developed countries by 2025.

UNDP continues hosting a number of entities that serve the UN system:

  • The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) Programme deployed nearly 13,000 volunteers to 56 UN entities in 2023.
  • In 2023, UNCDF delivered over $100 million for the third consecutive year. In 2024, it has already approved $18 million in loans and guarantees from its BRIDGE facility to invest in small and medium-sized enterprises promoting renewable energy, women's empowerment and financial inclusion in Sierra Leone, Uganda, Tonga, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
  • The Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office (MPTFO) disbursed over $1.05 billion to 47 UN organizations in 2023. 
  • The UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) delivered $38.51 million through its trust funds in 2022-2023. It continues to grow and is working with over 40 UN entities and all regional commissions to integrate South-South and triangular partnerships across programmes.

Ways Forward

Excellencies, the midterm review also revealed challenges and areas where UNDP needs to adjust and do more.

In crisis: With UNDP working more in fragile contexts, we need to continue to deepen efforts to address systemic risks and root causes of vulnerability and instability, as well as to forecast what lies ahead.

In climate: With 2023 the hottest year on record, UNDP’s Climate Promise 2025 has mobilized a UN-wide programme to support countries in redefining their national priorities and economic transitions. This must propel closer integration of climate, biodiversity and energy plans as well as finance.

In energy access: There is a significant challenge in expanding access to clean, affordable energy and a need for innovative financial solutions. To begin addressing this concern, UNDP has devised the Energy Pipeline Accelerator, which develops projects based on a framework to de-risk investments. 

In digital transformation: We can do more to pursue opportunities for last-mile services and inclusive infrastructure, and shape offers for least developed and crisis-affected countries. We will continue to build our capabilities to embrace AI and other emerging technologies to achieve the SDGs and keep the digital transformation safe and inclusive.

Finally, we must continue to strengthen ties with the international financial institutions and address operational constraints on partnerships with private firms. This includes changing outdated terms of engagement and strengthening UNDP’s partnership with UNCDF to better leverage its unique investment mandate. 

Excellencies, as UNDP continues to evolve, so must our funding model. In 2023, while non-core contributions continued to be robust and UNDP recorded our highest delivery—nearly $5 billion—core funding decreased by 4 percent and the share of core in total resources fell to 11 percent compared with 2022. This resource asymmetry limits UNDP's ability to scale up results, innovate, modernize and better manage risk. 

The new Funding Compact sets a strong foundation for a more strategic and responsive UN development system that can achieve more with high-quality, predictable core resources. UNDP appreciates increased core contributions in 2023from the Governments of Germany, Japan, Norway, France, Republic of Korea, Ireland, Spain, Austria, Liechtenstein and Andorra. We welcome the commitments to multi-year pledges of core contributions by the Governments of Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Qatar, Sweden, Switzerland and Türkiye. The achievement of UNDP’s results would not have been possible without the continued support from all our funding partners.

To navigate changes in the development landscape, I've initiated a 'business model review'. This analytical exercise will examine UNDP’s revenue and expenditure model, assess our unique contribution to development, and explore options for operational and funding models to support UNDP's continued evolution and viability. I look forward to engaging with the Executive Board once the results of the analysis are available.

United in Purpose

Excellencies, UNDP strives to improve people's lives and set conditions in motion to sustain and accelerate development progress. By linking and balancing issues and interests, and managing complexities and risks, we are showing ways to exit the development paradox and deliver the development promise.

At the outset I asked you whether we believe in the value of development cooperation to address our shared interests. 

Development cooperation is a recognition that the future of any one of us is inextricably linked to the future of all. 

In a world faced with unprecedented challenges, we cannot afford to stand alone. It is only through partnership, collaboration and a steadfast commitment to solidarity and our common humanity that we can build a future of shared prosperity and peace. 

So let us leave here today with renewed conviction in the power of our partnership. Let us reaffirm our dedication to the SDGs, our roadmap to a better world, as we move to the Summit of the Future and the development of the next Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review. And let us go forward together, despite our differences, united in purpose and resolute in our determination to leave no one behind.