Building Financing momentum: The investment case for ICPD

Remarks at the Nairobi Summit marking the 25th Anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development

November 12, 2019

As prepared for delivery. 

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to participate in this Nairobi Summit marking the 25th Anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25).

Twenty-five years ago, 179 world leaders gathered in Cairo and adopted a landmark Programme of Action which set out to empower women and girls both for them -- and for their families, communities and nations.

I believe that by marking their commitment and all the work that has happened since -- including by our sister agency UNFPA to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person's potential is fulfilled -- this ICPD25 is much more than just a summit.

It is a moment for us to come together to demonstrate our collective responsibility to women and girls’ empowerment.

It is a way or us to interpret our responsibility on complex issues at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) -- gender, health and human rights -- to learn from each other and create new partnerships to accelerate progress.

It is a time to defend the norms and values that Member States have previously agreed.

Last year, UNFPA launched a plan to achieve three Transformative Results -- ambitions that would change the world for every man, woman and young person. They are:

  • Ending unmet need for family planning;
  • Ending preventable maternal death; and
  • Ending gender-based violence and harmful practices.

The need to invest in this ambition is clear-cut, and it would cost much less than one would imagine.


The “Investment Case” for the ICPD Programme of Action

Indeed, the costs of not ending preventable maternal deaths; and not meeting family planning needs; and the costs of continued gender-based violence and harmful practices are far greater.

  • UN Women points to research that indicates that the cost of violence against women could amount to around two per cent of global GDP -- approximately, the size of the economy of Canada;
  • The World Bank estimates that countries are losing $160 trillion in wealth because of differences in lifetime earnings between women and men
  • While the total cost of achieving the three UNFPA Transformative Results is US $370 billion. Breaking that down, as UNFPA points out, the US $114 billion needed to end preventable maternal deaths in 120 priority countries by 2030 is the equivalent to the cost of 4,200 military tanks.

Put another way, investing in what UNFPA has put in front of us today is very feasible, and it could unlock trillions of dollars of potential. And it could accelerate progress across the SDGs.


Finance: Gaps and Opportunities

With just over a decade left until 2030, we need to help countries tackle complexity more effectively; to achieve big results, fast, with a focus on systems rather than just sectors.

Finance is the system at the heart of it all, and financing the ICPD Programme of Action will take renewed thinking in both public and private investment.

Because the challenge of the SDGs is not just about closing a gap – it is deeper and more systemic – it is about the re-orientation of how public and private actors interact with each other.

For example, Public finance systems do not always account for the benefits accrued by investing in health. However, not only is investing in the health workforce a direct investment in gender equality and women’s empowerment – given 70 per cent of health workers global are women -- but delivering better family planning and reproductive healthcare can deliver increased benefits in economic productivity and reduce social protection costs.

These benefits can be factored into how health services are prioritized in government expenditures. But the transformational ambition of Agenda 2030 presents significant challenges for governments, in particular in their traditional fiscal planning, budget capacities and performance.

Enhancing effectiveness and accountability of current investments in this area, therefore, is critical first step. Enhanced transparency, accountability and public participation, with strong budget monitoring and oversight mechanisms can enhance the effectiveness of public spending.

We worked together to this end in Mongolia, where UNDP, UNFPA and UNICEF, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Asian Development Back, worked with the Government to identify and address bottlenecks in service delivery through institutional strengthening and public finance management.

We saw it in Albania, where we worked together to ensure a full-funded system of social care services at the local level for the most vulnerable people.

We see it under the auspice of the Tax Inspectors Without Borders initiative with the OECD with 36 countries to increase their tax collection by $470 million.

Looking ahead, as part of our investment in UNDP working as part of the UN System to support governments put in place Integrated National Financing Frameworks (INFFs), as called for by the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, to help countries strengthen policies and actions for mobilizing different types of finance for economic, environmental, and social returns into a single coherent framework .

UNDP looks forward to working with UNFPA, UN Women and our partner governments to ensure that targets on progress on the health and gender equality goals are included within INFFs.

Minimizing the cost of investing in such services is another step.

With support from digital finance, for example, governments are also able to increase the efficiency by which they make government-to-person transfers with specific benefits for women. For instance, UNDP and UNCDF have helped to digitalize welfare payments for over 20,000 very low-income clients, mostly women, in Fiji.

However, in Low and Low Middle Income countries, fiscal constraints will hold back the scale of investment that is needed – even with the most efficient and effective of budgets.  And meeting modern family planning needs in Low- and Middle-Income countries alone will cost nearly US $100 billion dollars between now and 2030.

Therefore, the continued role of Official Development Assistance (ODA) in boosting public finances remaining critical.

At the UN we do our part to raise the bar on accountability and transparency measures for ODA, too. UNDP works closely with UN-Women and UNFA to enhance the comprehensiveness and timeliness of data publications in accordance with the standards of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), for example.


Private sector

However, as we know, conversations on financing sustainable development have diversified dramatically over the past five years – one of the early signs of the potential to achieve the SDGs, even if we are not yet on track.

And the good news is that there is no shortage of private capital in the world: global financial wealth increased to $137 trillion in 2018. Attracting just a small portion of this would start a systemic change in the financial system.

For this to happen – to achieve UNFPA’s three transformative goals and all the wider SDGs – we need to change the conversation with the private sector.

We need to invest in an “enabling environment” for the private sector to adequately assess the risk and realise the return on its investment in SDG-oriented sectors and encouraging the private sector to realign its finances for the SDGs.

This is why UNDP has launched a new flagship initiative, SDG Impact. It works to provide businesses and investors with much-needed country-level data and a map of SDG investment opportunities where they can realise profit whilst also promoting the achievement of the Goals.

It is why, in the pursuit of conservation and habitat protection, the Lion’s Share has come into existence with the corporate world, where marketing departments contribute a percentage of their budget each time an animal appears in their ads.

The topic of focus of the Lion’s Share may be different, but the logic is the same: there is growing interest in the private sector to invest in the world we collectively want, and as the United Nations, we can and should create the space for everyone – public and private -- to sit around the same table as they think it through.



This upcoming SDG Decade of Action is a time when we stand in solidarity with the chorus of voices across the globe calling for the world to move faster to “lift up” women and girls, their families and communities, and create a better world with rights and choices for all.

And in 2020, we mark the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, -- the most visionary agenda for women’s rights and empowerment everywhere. It offers new opportunities to reconnect; reinvigorate political will and commitment; and mobilize the public.

Innovative financial models and more and more effective resources -- from governments, international financial institutions and even private sector partners -- are required to realise the ICPD agenda by 2030.

That we are all together here in Nairobi is a demonstration of the political will; the “investment case” for the ICPD Programme of Action is clear.

It is time to take the next step.