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Helen Clark: Keynote speech at event celebrating Japan’s 60th Anniversary of Official Developmental Assistance

17 Nov 2014

Tokyo, Japan

It is a great honor to join the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) programme. My thanks go to Foreign Minister Kishida and to Professor Tanaka, President of JICA, for inviting me to speak at this special event.

Over the past sixty years, Japan has been a leading actor in international development co-operation through its advocacy, its strong commitment to global partnerships, and as one of the world’s major providers of Official Development Assistance (ODA). Indeed, from 1991 to 2000, Japan ranked as the world’s largest donor nation.

Japan’s programme began with technical co-operation and with supporting infrastructure projects in developing countries, and has evolved to its current emphasis on providing assistance based on the principle of human security. The quality, reach, and focus of Japan’s ODA has been an important driver of development for many countries and at the global level.

Much has changed in our world over the past sixty years, and many critical milestones have been reached in international development co-operation – not least as a result of pursuing the MDGs over the past fourteen years.

Around the world, the MDGs were widely embraced as global development priorities. They set out to tackle extreme poverty and hunger; protect the environment; expand education; advance health, gender equality, and women’s empowerment; and foster global partnerships for development.

At the global level, there has been significant progress towards a number of the MDG targets. For example; there are at least 900 million fewer people living in extreme poverty today than there were in 1990 – the baseline date against which progress is measured; on average around the world, gender parity in primary education has been achieved and most children now enrol in a primary school; and levels of infant and child mortality have decreased significantly.

Japan’s strong commitment to action in areas from poverty reduction to health, education, and agriculture has played an important role in driving MDG progress. UNDP is proud to have been a long term partner of Japan in many ways. These include:

• Our partnership in the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) for over twenty years. As a co-organizer of TICAD, UNDP is committed to the Yokohama Action Plan 2013-2017, working with Japan and other partners to promote inclusive and sustainable growth, resilient nations, and human security.

• For almost two decades, Japan has supported UNDP’s Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (PAPP), providing support for our work across governance, poverty reduction, environment, and infrastructure.

• Through “NERICA” – the New Rice for Africa project, we have together promoted sustainable rice production in 31 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. What began as a bilateral technical co-operation initiative in the late 1970s has now, through Japan-UNDP collaboration, been successfully scaled up to become a major Triangular and South-South Co-operation effort.

Despite the strong commitments by development partners like Japan and the important progress already made on the MDGs, many critical development challenges remain and new ones are emerging.

It is well established that progress has been uneven within and between countries, with many poor and vulnerable people being left out of development gains. As well, the MDG targets set for 2015 did not aim to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, but only to halve the proportion of the world’s people living in those connditions – meaning that many people are still experiencing serious deprivation in their daily lives.

Development progress is also often impeded and even reversed by natural disasters, conflict, and/or by other serious turmoil in society. The devastating earthquake in Haiti, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and countless conflicts and upheavals bear witness to that.

Disaster risk reduction, conflict prevention, and recovery have long been a key area of Japan’s development assistance. Many countries have greatly benefited from Japan’s unwavering commitment to fostering resilience in the face of such challenges.

UNDP is proud to partner with Japan in many of these efforts; for example:

• Our work in the difficult environments of Afghanistan, Somalia, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Iraq, and Syria;

• Our transition support to several countries in the Arab States region, focusing on key areas such as governance and youth employment; and

• Our post-disaster emergency response and early recovery support in countries suffering from natural disasters, for example in the Philippines and Haiti.

UNDP is also actively supporting Japan in the preparations for the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which will be held in Sendai in March next year. The convergence of global discourse on the post-2015 development agenda, a new climate agreement, and the post-Hyogo Framework of Action presents important opportunities to ensure that building resilience and human security are at the center of the new development paradigm.

The good news is that the post-2015 development agenda, set to succeed the MDGs at the end of 2015, promises to be bolder and more transformational than what preceded it. Already, UN Member States have agreed that it should have a “single framework and set of goals – universal in nature and applicable to all countries, while taking account of differing national circumstances and respecting national policies. It should promote peace, and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality, and human rights for all.”

The role of ODA will be important for implementation of the post-2015 agenda, in particular for many low-income countries and small island developing states. Commitment to ODA is also critical for building trust in the post-2015 negotiations.

Compared to implementation of the MDGs, however, the next global development agenda will be much more about making good policy choices. ODA these days is also dwarfed by domestic resource mobilization, and by funding flows from trade, investment, and remittances. Increasingly, therefore, ODA must be used in catalytic ways, which enable these other flows of finance to make their full contribution to development.

All of these issues will be on the table next year at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, the outcome of which will be critical for finalizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is hoped that these SDGs will be able to be endorsed by world leaders in September 2015.

Let me suggest four key principles which are vital to maximizing the potential impact of ODA in the new development agenda: 1) building partnerships, 2) ensuring national ownership, 3) the importance of people-centred approaches to development, and 4) the need for inclusion and equity.

These four principles have long been central to Japan’s approach to development assistance. They are also prominent in UNDP’s new Strategic Plan, and will guide the future of the Japan-UNDP partnership.

Allow me to elaborate briefly on each of them:

Building Partnerships

In a crowded global development landscape, it is important to strengthen existing partnerships and build new ones. Currently efforts are often fragmented, which is very burdensome for developing countries. There also needs to be much more policy coherence on development – across issues from trade and migration to taxation and greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Japan’s ODA has long been used in ways which bring together a diverse range of partners – traditional donors, South-South partners, multilateral organizations, the private sector, and civil society organizations.

The TICAD process, for example, encourages the engagement of a wide range of development partners, including from Japan’s Asian neighbors, Africa’s traditional bilateral partners, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society, and it emphasizes South-South and triangular co-operation.

Another example is Japan’s Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT), through which the public and private sectors have come together to help bring new health technologies to the world’s poorest people. UNDP is very pleased to be a partner in GHIT.

Ensuring National Ownership

Development priorities need to be defined by the aspirations, needs, and demands of developing countries themselves. Aid can be catalytic in addressing development challenges, but sustainability will only be achieved when national capacities, systems, and institutions are strengthened and national ownership is strong.

Japan has consistently demonstrated its commitment to national ownership by investing in close dialogue with developing countries as they identify their own development priorities. This is reflected in TICAD’s twin principles of “ownership” and “partnership”, which have been acknowledged as being fundamental to its success. The inclusion of the African Union as a co-organizer for TICAD V is an important reflection of the ownership by Africa of TICAD’s approach.

This approach has also been at the center of Japan’s and UNDP’s collaboration. For example, through the Japan-funded Africa Adaptation Programme on climate change, we have worked together to help strengthen the capacities of a number of African countries to be better equipped to address this major challenge.

Japan has been very willing to share its own experiences and expertise with others in ways which build capacity. Since 1954, more than 100,000 Japanese professionals have gone to developing countries to help strengthen national capacities. As well, over 500,000 professionals from developing countries have come to Japan. Such exchanges of experiences and knowledge are central to Japan’s commitment to nurturing local talent and industries in developing countries.

People-centred Approaches to Development

Expanding the capacities and opportunities of people and their communities needs to be at the heart of all we do.

Under the guiding principle of human security, Japan has been a leader of people-centered development. The human security concept provides a very useful lens for deeper analysis of the root causes and consequences of the insecurities which impact on people’s lives, and for addressing the actual needs and capacity requirements of countries and their peoples.

This approach is very relevant across UNDP’s work – from that on poverty reduction and food security to rule of law, citizen security, human rights, conflict prevention, gender, youth, and climate change and other environmental issues. It shares the same core principles as the concept of human development – the paradigm within which UNDP has worked since 1990.

Japan has been a major contributor to the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security, and UNDP is the largest implementer of projects financed by the Fund, working collaboratively with other UN agencies.

For example, in northern Ghana, the UN Joint Programme on Human Security brought together six UN agencies – FAO, UNDP, UNICEF, UNIDO, WFP and the UN University – to strengthen local capacities for community-based conflict prevention. In the Aral Sea region of Uzbekistan, five UN agencies have been working together to improve the economic, food, health, and environmental security of local communities.

Inclusion and Equity

Focusing on economic growth per se does not eradicate poverty and deprivation. By focusing on inclusive and equitable growth, however, the gains of growth can reach those who have been excluded or marginalized. I know that Japan pays close attention to the needs of more vulnerable groups.

Japan is also strongly emphasizing gender equality and women’s empowerment. Japan has supported UNDP’s work in Afghanistan, Egypt, and Timor-Leste on voter education targeted at women; on training of women police officers in Afghanistan and Somalia; and on the employment of young women in Yemen and Egypt.


UNDP congratulates the Government and people of Japan on the past sixty years of their development co-operation.

Your solidarity with developing countries continues to be vital as we look forward to a future in which poverty is eradicated and human security can be assured around the world.

UNDP looks forward to a continued strong partnership with Japan on development for many years ahead.