Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS Second Regular Session 2021

August 26, 2021

As prepared for delivery.


1. Madam President, Members of the Executive Board, Excellencies, colleagues, and friends; welcome to the second regular session of the Executive Board in 2021.

Global context

2. These are extraordinary times. The world is facing existential challenges: a pandemic and a climate emergency, political polarization and challenged multilateralism, continued conflicts, natural disasters and forced displacement. Poverty increased in 2020. Progress towards gender equality has faltered. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reminds us that urgent, transformational action is needed to keep 1.5 degrees within reach. Biodiversity loss is increasing. As human and environmental systems become more interdependent, risks are accumulating, eroding our resilience. Recent weeks have shown, from Haiti to Afghanistan and beyond, the fragility of our communities, societies and economies in the face of rapid change.

3. The extreme shock of Covid compounded these challenges, worsened inequalities and destroyed lives, livelihoods and opportunities. The pandemic and its impacts are far from over. Yet by disrupting everything we considered normal, it also demonstrated the scope for choice in where the world goes from here. It opened up space to try new approaches and policies, like temporary basic incomes or emergency mass cash transfers. It showed human ingenuity and solidarity in action.

4. These are lessons we can use. This is a moment for the world to consider not just how we recover from Covid, but how we can come out of this crisis by doing things differently. As the Board prepares to adopt our new Strategic Plan, I want to share with you how I believe we – UNDP and member states - can make a difference.

5. Our mission, principles, global presence, programmes and staff have always been strengths for UNDP as a partner. But the last four years have seen a deliberate shift, a period of intense learning as we build NextGenUNDP. We have advanced our thinking, rediscovered our voice as a thought leader in development, become better managers, more transparent and accountable. We have deepened our engagement in the UN Development System, working closely with our sister agencies in UN country teams, strengthening the system’s collective ability to deliver as the UN reforms intend. 

6. All this makes us not just a natural partner or partner by default, but the partner countries choose, because of our relevance and our capacity to make a difference.

7. So we are starting today from a very different position than four years ago when the Board adopted our current Strategic Plan – and this emboldens us to aspire to change at the scale and speed the world needs.

Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures

8. This is a critical moment, and only a big push can get us back on track to deliver on the SDGs. Now is the time for collective ambition, not hesitation.

9. By ambition, I mean, for example, working with countries over the next four years of this Strategic Plan to:

a. expand human capabilities through which 100 million people can escape multidimensional poverty.
b. support 800 million people to exercise their democratic right to vote, many for the first time.
c. support access to clean energy for 500 million people.
d. promote the investment of over $1 trillion of public expenditure and private capital in the SDGs.

10. These are bold goals - and therein lies their value.

11. We believe these are goals the world can achieve. Learning from our Covid experience, and from the last four years of change, UNDP has shown we can make a difference where – and when - it matters. We have scaled up support to 119 countries on enhancing their pledges towards curbing greenhouse gas emissions (NDCs) – that’s 80% of all developing countries. We are catalysing significant investment capital to support the SDGs – most recently some $5.5 billion of SDG bonds issued by the New Development Bank and the governments of Indonesia, Mexico and Uzbekistan.

12. Transformations at this scale require substantial public and private financing. The world has sufficient wealth – but it is not yet put to work for the SDGs. That is why we intend to promote the investment of over $1 trillion of public expenditure and private capital in the SDGs. And we start from a solid track record: as technical lead in the UN on Integrated National Financing Frameworks (now in over 70 countries); in promoting SDG investment through SDG Impact; invited by the G20 to provide the secretariat for its Sustainable Finance Working Group.

UNDP’s direction and value

13. UNDP remains dedicated to our core mission of eradicating poverty and supporting sustainable development for all. UNDP will work with countries to expand people’s choices for a fairer, sustainable future.

14. The value we bring is our core development content textured by home grown solutions, and a commitment to stay and deliver. We are driven by a culture of strong partnerships, drawing on our expertise, neutrality and trust we enjoy from our partners.

15. To that end, the Strategic Plan is structured around a clear framework of where UNDP is heading and how we plan to get there:

a. Our purpose: supporting three directions of change:
i. structural transformation towards more inclusive, green and digital transitions
ii. leaving no-one behind, a rights-based approach centered on human agency
iii. building resilience in the face of systemic uncertainty and risk
b. Our core expertise: six signature solutions on poverty and inequality, governance, resilience, environment, energy and gender equality
c. Powered by three enablers for scale and speed: strategic innovation, digitalization and development financing.

16. Three directions of change, 6 signature solutions, 3 enablers: a clear proposition, yet flexible enough that all countries can find value in what UNDP is offering. The mix will be different for every country, but – thanks to our collaboration as we developed the Plan together over the last year - every one of our partners should be able to see themselves in it, recognize in it their priorities and aspirations, feel confident that this is a UNDP worth partnering with, investing in, building together.

17. Confident, too, that the Plan is founded on a strong and feasible financial basis. Matching our bold strategic goals, the integrated resources plan and the integrated budget are deliberately ambitious – but not unrealistic. They prudently define the financial resources we aim to mobilise, with you and our partners, to implement the Plan. They provide for the critical investments in innovation, digitalization, development financing, partnerships and our business model that will power us towards greater results and impact.
The power of integration.

18. To make a difference to people’s lives at this scale, we have to examine the systems and structures that shape development – not just the immediate challenges. Like digital: not just a tool for development, but a force changing the very context of development. Or the persistent structural causes of gender inequalities – these are what need to change in order to build more inclusive societies.

19. UNDP has learned that smart interventions are about using connections. What does that look like in practice? It means showing that gender equality is a powerful development accelerator – using data and analytics like the Covid-19 Global Gender Tracker, developed with UN Women. Working with partners like UNCDF to unlock public and private finance to reduce poverty. Working with young social entrepreneurs on innovative solutions. Supporting accountable, inclusive and effective governance systems that can pave the way for bold transformations. Or, like our Rising up for SIDS initiative, targeting the connections between climate action, blue economies, digitalization and disaster risk reduction.

20. Evidence shows how much more powerful is our impact when we design our offers and programmes by applying several signature solutions together – powered by innovation, digital tools and the right types of finance. In the next four years, UNDP will integrate inter-governmentally agreed governance principles across all our signature solutions, supporting people’s meaningful participation and agency, including young people and women. To use the power of digital to expand choice and opportunity, over 30 countries have already asked UNDP for support to their national digital transformation. Extending internet access in Africa, Latin America and south-east Asia, for example, could increase incomes by up to $600 per person a year.

21. Leveraging such connections is essential. Wouldn’t it be amazing if together we could help 100 million people escape multidimensional poverty in the next four years? UNDP will work with the UN Country Team to support governments to provide households in poverty “hotspots” with a basket of services (education, health, basic services, internet and housing) to build intergenerational resilience. By advocating for government budgets better aligned to these priorities, and for private capital that seeks social and environmental, as well as financial, returns. All to reinforce a pathway to greater prosperity for all.

22. And since access to energy is a precondition for prosperity (not least for women and girls, who still do most domestic work and suffer most from the lack of clean and safe cooking fuels), we’re aiming to more than halve the number of people without access to electricity in the next four years. The pace of innovation today in clean energy alone makes this a real possibility. One to which UNDP is contributing through efforts like the Africa Minigrids Programme, improving the financial viability of renewable energy mini-grids in 18 countries, where some 285 million people without electricity live. Or our work with solar energy in the Arab region, one of our largest global initiatives to restore energy to communities displaced by conflict.

23. Clean energy in turn is a source of economic recovery, job creation and decarbonization, from least developed to middle-income countries. IMF research shows that green policies could raise global GDP by some 2% this decade and create millions of new jobs: completing a virtuous circle back to greater prosperity for all.

24. We’re already engaging in these structural transformation and systemic approaches. Proving we can go beyond small-scale experiments, UNDP country offices are piloting “deep demonstrations” in entire sectors, from depopulation in Serbia to financial inclusion for informal food sector workers in Zimbabwe’s urban centres.

25. These integrated approaches rely on effective networks, connections to the many moving parts of a system that need to be engaged in order to effect transformative change. That is where UNDP as connector adds value: a platform connecting countries and communities, an integral part of UN country teams, sharing experience through the Global Policy Network, embedded in an extraordinary network of partners covering all the dimensions of development.

Crisis and fragile contexts

26. Finding these points of connection and opportunities for transformative change is equally vital in crisis and fragile contexts, where UNDP typically spends over half its annual budget, and where the World Bank estimates by 2030 two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor will live. Crisis contexts matter for achieving the SDGs. This means working at the intersection of humanitarian, peacebuilding and development action to recover from shocks and help build stable and resilient societies. As in the Sahel, where building some 1800 infrastructures and basic services in the Lake Chad Basin has brought life back to abandoned areas for almost 1 million people.

27. We are adopting a new approach to these contexts to get back on track towards Agenda 2030 and forge new pathways out of crisis and fragility. Our priorities:

a. Understand systemic, multidimensional risks – so we can build resilience and human security

b. Prioritize prevention: address the root causes of today’s crises, help to prevent tomorrow’s

c. Invest in data and analytics, early warning and horizon scanning; use foresight to uncover future trends and change drivers and protect and promote development pathways

d. Design and implement gender-responsive, risk-informed development solutions that bring different sectors together towards collective outcomes, strengthened by greater coherence among humanitarian, development, human rights and peace and security partners.

e. Develop a new business model that is fit for purpose for these complex delivery environments.

28. UNDP is investing in a future where the risks of crises and conflict are addressed before they escalate, where hard won development gains are protected from future risks and shocks, and where everyone should have choice and opportunity.

Development itself is changing

29. Development itself is changing. Digital is a pervasive force shaping our world, not just a tool. The impact of climate change is felt more deeply, in more and more places. Social and economic responses to trends like growing inequalities, or urbanization, or technological disruption, are driving broader change.

30. To address these systemic challenges that face us all, irrespective of wealth or geography, countries and communities have to collaborate towards mutual goals, co-invest in public goods.

31. Development is no longer a one-way transfer of funds or expertise, but rather equal partnerships rooted in shared interests, shared experience and multilateral responses. Still deeply grounded in human agency and human capabilities, as Amartya Sen and Mahbub Ul Haq defined human development 30 years ago. But now, as the HDR shows, with a much stronger emphasis on expanding people’s choices – within planetary boundaries.

32. No-one has got this right yet. No country has managed to achieve high human development with a light ecological and environmental footprint. Our current development pathways mean that countries are growing richer at the cost of the world’s ecological sustainability and future generations.

33. But that doesn’t mean losing hope. As the Secretary-General has said, “We are truly at a crossroads, with consequential choices before us.” Alternative futures are possible. The extraordinary disruption of Covid is an opportunity for transformation towards the kind of world defined by the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.

34. The NDCs, for example, have taken on new meaning in the context of the pandemic. The pledges under the Paris Agreement aren’t just about climate, they represent a national roadmap for investment across key sectors that can drive green recovery. With the Climate Promise, UNDP has been leveraging the NDC targets on energy, transport, resilience, protecting nature, food systems and more to help countries accelerate the transition toward the future’s economies. This is integration in action: for example Lao PDR’s NDC links to their 9th National Socio-Economic Development Plan, taking steps towards a circular economy to “design out” pollution and shape a low carbon future.

and UNDP is changing with it

35. Covid is showing the value, indeed the necessity, of taking new or unorthodox routes to tackle these complex challenges. Involving new voices, policies previously considered controversial or impracticable, experimenting at speed, deploying flexible funding quickly as needs arise.

36. The Strategic Plan is a further stage in our journey to build an organisation that works in this agile, creative way every day, not just in a crisis.

37. In a future of greater uncertainty and risk, no organisation can stay relevant without a culture of innovation and continuous learning. Our research on temporary basic incomes1, the HDRs2, our Covid-19 data futures platform, our digital strategy and finance sector hub - all demonstrate UNDP is determined to stay at the forefront of development thinking and action.

38. Our investment in the Accelerator Labs – now a network of 91, covering 115 countries – is proving its worth, expanding how we invest in, think about and deliver development. Using new tools like citizen science, geospatial and social media data, the Labs identified 1700 grassroots solutions in 2020 across all 17 SDGs, helping reimagine the future of development and keeping ahead of the curve of change.

39. This culture of learning and experimentation goes alongside our commitment to the highest standards of accountability and transparency. The Aid Transparency Index has rated UNDP the most transparent UN organisation every year since 2016. Our continued investment in robust accountability and oversight systems at all levels is vital for measuring our impact and building trust. If we do fall short, we will say so – and take action.

40. Accountability and transparency are more than just a means to an end. They are what UNDP stands for, the essence of our people and our principles.

41. Here is how we are continuing to invest in this NextGenUNDP:

a. Our People 2030 strategy is helping build the development skills and competencies of tomorrow, committed to excellence in people management and leadership. 80% of new recruits to the Accelerator Labs, data scientists to futures analysts, are new to the UN system. A new Graduate Programme and stipends to interns should attract diverse new talent. An independent agency awarded UNDP its second highest certification for gender equality in the workplace. 

b. Our new data strategy means we can collect, analyse and deploy data and knowledge much more purposefully, providing our partners with the multidimensional data and advanced analytics they need to optimize their choices in an uncertain future. The Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity, for example, developed with WHO, combines vaccine roll-out data with socio-economic information to illustrate why vaccine equity is critical to saving lives - and to driving a faster and fairer recovery.

c. We are learning to take a more proactive, dynamic approach to risk management: incentivizing innovation, while strengthening oversight and accountability. Insights from our internal auditors’ reports, advisory notes and risk alerts are helping us manage risk better. UNDP had implemented 95% of audit recommendations at the end of 2020 (compared to 90% in 2019). Auditors’ inputs were crucial to developing our new anti-fraud and money laundering policies and action plans.

d. Our dedication to operational excellence continues. UNDP’s clustering project, to be completed this year, is centralizing country offices’ finance, procurement and human resources transactions to build a more efficient, customer-focused organisation while reducing risk. To respond to the expectations of our partners - including new partners, not least the private sector - our teams need more flexible modalities that support new ways of doing business like portfolio management.

e. Similarly, we need new ways to measure our impact and track hard-to-measure transformative change. We are investing in a new enterprise resource planning platform, coming online in 2022, that will improve efficiency, results and resources planning, monitoring and impact measurement. The Independent Evaluation Office is adopting cutting-edge technological solutions and strengthening its data collection and analysis to better assess UNDP’s impact. From 2022 a completely new management platform, Quantum5, will provide an integrated view of our data and enable more comprehensive, results-based reporting, while making UNDP a more effective service provider to our partner agencies.

42. This more agile and anticipatory business model is especially important in high-risk, complex and fast-evolving crisis contexts – ensuring UNDP has the right people with the right skills in the right place, encouraging innovation and adaptation and taking considered risks, backed up by flexible funding, nimble programming and adaptive management.

Working in partnership

43. The Strategic Plan, guided by the vision in the 2020 QCPR, is grounded in working in partnership, with our sister UN entities and beyond. Through these partnerships we deployed nearly $1 billion to over 170 countries and territories as technical lead of the UN socioeconomic response to the pandemic.

44. Our country programmes in support of national priorities all start from the common analysis and goals in the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks. Meaning that we and our partners are deploying our respective strengths towards shared goals. We’re working with UNICEF, for example, on financing for development, building on UNDP’s strengths in innovative financing and UNICEF’s in social sector budgeting. And with UNEP, to build back greener and more equitably from Covid.

45. The resources and effort UNDP put into the smooth delinking of the RC/RR system are evidence of how highly we value this collaboration. And will continue to support it, from being the second highest contributors to cost-sharing, to the extensive services we provide to our system partners in payroll, procurement and more, to the system resources UNDP hosts on everyone’s behalf. Resources that strengthen our collective impact, like the UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office and UN Volunteers (turning 50 this year) whose 9,459 volunteers on the ground in 2020 in 158 countries played a critical role during the pandemic.

46. Our partnerships are not static. We are constantly looking not just for new partners but for new ways of collaborating. Our partnerships with IFIs and the private sector are evolving through pioneering models and new financing for development. We are encouraging deeper experience and knowledge sharing between countries through the UN Office for South-South Cooperation. We are promoting networked relationships across audiences and convening multi-stakeholder partnerships around shared visions or values. This is the logic behind our Accelerator Lab network: tapping into distributed, often informal or tacit, knowledge and then trying to capture and spread that collective intelligence.

47. We do not take our partnerships for granted. Governments have a huge array of potential partners, public and private. We want UNDP to be a partner with purpose, offering the greatest value to those we work with. Chosen for our deep local understanding and our capabilities in accompanying countries towards their development goals. Valued for our multiplier effect and our global reach, our capacity to connect to diverse partners, collective intelligence, shared experience, financial resources.

48. And we aspire to deliver more. We are starting from a strong foundation: the assets built – with your support – over more than 50 years. Our 20,000 people, teams across 170 countries, managing 4-5,000 projects, working with hundreds of partners and governments, at the hub of an extraordinary network of partners across all areas of development. An organisation grounded in UN norms and values; with sound financial management, increasingly efficient, 91% of its spending allocated to development activities.

49. All this gives us confidence that UNDP will not be found wanting. That we can deliver what’s required of us in these extraordinary times.

50. But that also depends on you. On your sharing our vision and continuing to invest in our mission. In 2020 contributions to UNDP rose by 16% to $5.6 billion. Core resources increased by 13% to $696 million. Government financing from programme countries increased by 43% over 2019 - that’s over one-fifth of our resources base. In an unprecedented year, these numbers are a real demonstration of your confidence and trust.

51. If UNDP is to step up, as we aspire to through this new Strategic Plan, and successfully support a serious SDG push and transformative change - then now is the time to recommit to providing additional resources that are flexible and predictable.

Choices towards a better future

52. The choices the world faces now are acute. The UN food summit, the high-level dialogue on energy, the COP at Glasgow are opportunities to take decisive action in the next few months. Governments, communities and individuals, too, face hard choices and uncertain prospects as the pandemic continues.

53. But these are choices. A universal commitment to vaccine equity can ensure no-one is left behind. The world can extract some good from the catastrophe of Covid by choosing more sustainable, inclusive economic, social and digital options. We can mitigate, even prevent, future crises by building stronger development foundations, now.

54. The world is at a pivot point where we can move back or forwards, depending on these choices. As I have often discussed with the Board, I see UNDP as a partner in that decision-making process. Empowering people and countries to make bolder transformative choices for their development. Building on over 50 years of investment from member states and our partners as a springboard for where we go next.

55. While we have all been shocked by Covid, we cannot let it defeat us. Brainstorming with Resident Representatives has already identified priorities for the first 100 days’ action. UNDP staff worldwide, together with our UN sister agencies and our partners, see new opportunities to build resilient, inclusive economies and societies, and start again in the right direction towards the SDGs. In the words of the Secretary-General, “The pandemic has revealed our shared vulnerability, our interconnectedness and the absolute need for collective action. We feel a new momentum everywhere for an unequivocal commitment to come together to chart a course towards a better future.”