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Helen Clark: Statement to the First Regular Session of the UNDP Executive Board

Jan 30, 2017

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark at the first regular session of the UNDP Executive Board for 2017. Credit: UNDP / Freya Morales

Mr. President,
Members of the Executive Board,
Colleagues and friends,

I welcome you all to this first regular session of the UNDP Executive Board for 2017.

Let me begin by congratulating H.E. Mr. Ib Petersen, Permanent Representative of Denmark to the UN, on his election as President of the UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS Executive Board.

I also congratulate the new Vice-Presidents on their election: for the Latin America and Caribbean Group, H.E. Ms. Laura Flores, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Panama to the UN; for the group of African States, H.E. Dr. Omar Annakou, Ambassador, Mission of Libya to the UN; for the Eastern European States group, Ms. Carolina Popovici, Counsellor and Deputy Permanent Representative of Moldova to the UN; and for the Asia-Pacific group, Mr. Talal Aljamali, First Secretary, Mission of Yemen to the UN. 

Allow me also to thank most sincerely H.E. Mr. Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, the Permanent Representative of Armenia, and outgoing President of the Executive Board, for his committed stewardship of the Board in 2016. 

As well, my thanks go to last year’s Vice-Presidents for their valuable support – H.E. Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve of Belgium, and his predecessor H.E. Ambassador Bénédicte Frankinet; H.E. Ambassador Mamadi Touré of Guinea; H.E. Ambassador Khiane Phansourivong of Lao People’s Democratic Republic; and Mr. Tumasie Blair of Antigua and Barbuda. 

I also welcome two new senior managers:
–    Mr Mourad Wahba, Assistant Administrator and Assistant Secretary-General, who becomes the new Regional Director for the Arab States. Mourad will attend the Board in his new capacity for the first time on 31 May; and 
–    Mr Olivier Adam, who has just taken up office as the new Executive Co-ordinator of UN Volunteers.

This is an important year for UNDP as it works with the Executive Board to develop the new Strategic Plan which will guide its work from 2018 to 2021. By September, the Board is scheduled to agree on a high quality plan which provides the basis for our support to countries to achieve their development aspirations and the Sustainable Development Goals. 

As Board Members will be aware, I have advised the Secretary-General that I am preparing to leave UNDP at the end of my second term in April. I have loved my time at UNDP, but I am also acutely aware of the need for organizations to renew their leadership. Two terms is a good run. So I am passing the baton on, and will support the transition to a new Administrator in any way I can. I truly wish the Board and all UNDP staff well for the future, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for the support I have received over the past eight years. 

In my statement today I will update the Board on:
–    the outcome of major development-related processes since our September meeting, including the adoption of the new QCPR, and how they will affect UNDP’s work;

–    the development of UNDP’s new Strategic Plan; 

–    UNDP’s contribution to implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and its work in response to a number of crises around the world; and 

–    UNDP’s commitment to quality country programming, the importance it attaches to audit recommendations and evaluation, and the status of UNDP funding. 

Outcomes of major development processes

The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, agreed at the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants emphasized the need to address the root causes of these movements, the application of the 2030 Agenda as a framework for addressing the challenges, and the importance of harnessing the positive benefits of migration. UNDP will play its part in supporting Member States to deliver on these commitments.

In October in Quito, Ecuador, the Third UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development – or Habitat-III – unanimously adopted the New Urban Agenda. Fully aligned with the 2030 Agenda, it reflects the inherent links between urbanization and development, and outlines a vision for the world’s cities as inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable places. UNDP’s Sustainable Urbanization Strategy was launched in Quito, and outlines how UNDP’s work can contribute to realizing the New Urban Agenda. 

At the Climate Change Conference in Marrakech – COP22 – the Proclamation for Our Climate and Sustainable Development was issued. It welcomed the momentum on addressing implementation of the Paris Agreement. Progress was made on establishing the “rulebook” for the Agreement – including around implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), scaled-up finance, and modalities for monitoring, reporting, and verification. 

UNDP is the largest implementer of climate change initiatives in the UN Development System with a grant portfolio of $2.8 billion across 140 countries which attracts another $5.65 billion in co-financing. The outcomes of Marrakech and the new rule book will guide the support UNDP gives to programme countries. UNDP has partnered with countries on first the design and now on the delivery of their NDCs. Our efforts are greatly enhanced by the strong relationships we have with the Global Environment Facility, the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Fund established under the Kyoto Protocol, and other funding sources and partners. UNDP is also helping countries to link their NDCs to national SDG implementation.

In December the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity met in Mexico. This COP13 issued the Cancun Declaration which emphasizes the need to mainstream biodiversity into national plans and programmes. UNDP also has the UN’s largest biodiversity and ecosystems portfolio, consisting of around 400 projects across 120 countries, worth $1.6 billion in grants and attracting another $5.1 billion in co-financing.

Also in December, the Second High Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC) was convened in Nairobi, Kenya. It reconfirmed the importance of national ownership, a strong results focus, inclusive partnerships, and transparency and accountability in maximizing the impact of development co-operation. UNDP will continue its technical support and policy guidance to the Global Partnership.    

The UN Development Group welcomes the QCPR as a strategic and forward-looking resolution, which provides guidance to us on how to rise to the challenges of achieving the vision of the 2030 Agenda. 

Some features to highlight:

–    Throughout the resolution, the critical importance of national ownership of and leadership on the 2030 Agenda is underlined. Member States are taking the new global agenda very seriously. More than 100 have already enlisted the support of their local UN Country Team for their efforts. 

–    Member States want the UN development system (UNDS) to deliver coherent and integrated support to implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The overarching principle of the 2030 Agenda is to leave no one behind. In pursuit of that, the UN system will need to work across the Charter and overcome silos. To that end, we are strengthening our capacity for joined-up analysis and planning; the use of joint programming and multi-year joint funding, and of joint monitoring and evaluation, and enhancing the transparency and frequency of common results reporting; 

–    The central role of Resident Co-ordinators (RCs) in ensuring a co-ordinated UN response in-country, including when they carry the Humanitarian Co-ordinator hat, is clearly acknowledged in the QCPR. As manager of the RC system, UNDP is committed to supporting RCs to lead UNCTs to have clear development impact. Full implementation of the Management and Accountability System by all in the system is of crucial importance. UNDP itself would work to enhance trust and confidence in the system by ensuring delegation by RCs of UNDP’s day-to-day management and resource mobilization to Country Directors and Deputy Resident Representatives, to ensure that RCs can play the full role expected of them as expressed in the QCPR. 

UNDP continues to pay the bulk of all expenses of the RC system, which is appropriate given its leadership role. Getting support for a minor portion of the costs by all parts of the system has proved problematic, and the Secretariat entities have made no contribution to date. An independent review of the arrangement is being undertaken, and I hope it will address these issues; 

–    The QCPR recognizes that the integrated nature of the 2030 Agenda requires a more sustainable funding approach, and stresses the need for adequate, predictable, and flexible funding for UN operational activities for development. The UNDG is actively exploring diverse financing options for 2030 Agenda implementation. This includes promoting more predictable multi-year funding approaches and placing increased emphasis on pooled funding mechanisms. We are in the final stages of setting up a UNDG Joint Fund for Agenda 2030 which would facilitate giving integrated policy support to SDG implementation at the country level. Together with UNICEF and WFP, we are in conversation with the first donors who have expressed interest in contributing to the Fund. 

The QCPR provides for several further reviews this year under the guidance of the Secretary General. The UNDG is actively engaging with the SG and the DSG, in close consultation with UN DESA, on these. For UNDP, contributing to the Sustaining Peace agenda is also of particular importance, as is development of the “New Ways of Working” which aim to strengthen links between humanitarian and development actors.    

Now the QCPR will need to be incorporated into UNDPS new Strategic Plan – my next topic.

The UNDP Strategic Plan

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Climate Agreement, the QCPR, the outcomes of the other important processes I referred to earlier, together with major changes in the development landscape and challenges, form the backdrop for development of the new UNDP Strategic Plan. UNDP has a major contribution to make across these outcomes and emerging challenges, working in partnership with sister agencies and other stakeholders. 
Steady progress is being made on the new Plan, and tomorrow’s Board informal is an important opportunity for Member States to contribute to its design.  The approach we are taking is inclusive, based on evidence and analysis, and forward-looking to 2021 and beyond.

We will continue to work closely with the Board, and with other internal and external stakeholders and partners. As you know, UNFPA, UNICEF, and UN Women are also preparing their plans, and I am pleased to say that there is good co-ordination between the agencies.

From what we have heard so far, we deduce that the overarching vision laid out in our current Plan should be retained in the next one – to help countries achieve the simultaneous eradication of poverty and significant reduction of inequalities and exclusion. That is consistent with Member States’ conclusion in the QCPR that ‘eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development ….’

Since the last plan was developed in 2012 and 2013, a number of important global trends have required attention from UNDP. They include:
–    the need to respond to protracted crises, violent extremism, forced displacement, and major migrant movements; 
–    the deepening effects of climate change and the global commitments to address these, which call for supporting accelerated adaptation and new models of inclusive and low-carbon growth;
–    fast urbanization, particularly in developing countries, and its associated challenges and opportunities; and 
–    rising or high inequality within many countries and the ramifications for the economy, governance, human development, and social cohesion.
Across all these areas, we are looking at how we can incorporate addressing vulnerabilities, the management of risk, and enabling women and youth to play their full part in development.  

At the same time, we are also working in an environment where the number and range of development actors and partnership modalities continue to grow. South-South Co-operation is playing an increasingly important role as a complement to, and not a substitute for, traditional ODA.  It is important for UNDP and other parts of the system to be able to work with new partners and modalities.
Taken together, we believe there will need to be adjustments to both the ‘what’ of our strategic offer – to achieve sharper focus, and the ‘how’ of our work – including through continual improvement of our business processes, broadening our resource mobilization efforts, and enhancing our partnerships. 

All of this represents a natural evolution from the results UNDP has achieved in recent years.  The goal – and the challenge – is to build on that momentum by updating the Plan. We look forward to working with the Board on this, and count on your support towards that end.

A strong focus on the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs

UNDP’s strong focus on the 2030 Agenda and supporting countries to achieve the SDGs permeates our work. The 2030 Agenda is in its second year of implementation, and there has been growing demand from Member States for support – across mainstreaming the agenda into national plans, policy advice, capacity building, and advocacy. Lessons from the first year of implementation are important inputs into the development of the new Strategic Plan.

UNDP led “MAPS missions” to nine countries last year, in line with the UNDG-agreed Mainstreaming, Acceleration, and Policy Support approach to country support. These missions aim to assist governments to prepare SDG-aligned national development plans or road maps which reflect the integrated nature of the 2030 Agenda and are based on interdisciplinary analysis of the needs and bottlenecks facing each country. Another forty MAPS missions are planned this year.

UNDP is also contributing to a wide range of work on measurement of SDG progress, including on the development of specific global SDG indicators, supporting countries to assess and improve their national data capacities for the SDGs, and offering technical assistance to close to thirty programme countries which intend to present Voluntary National Reviews to the High Level Political Forum in July.  

As well, UNDP is managing the SDG Action Campaign on behalf of the UN Development System. This is an advocacy and partnership platform, based in Bonn with the support of the German Government. 

UNDP’s work in response to countries in challenging circumstances

Last week I was in Helsinki with the heads of OCHA and UNHCR to promote this year’s appeals for support for those impacted by the Syrian crisis. 

Despite obvious operating challenges, UNDP’s activities to support resilience in Syria reached more than 2.2 million direct and indirect beneficiaries in 2016, through the rehabilitation of basic services and job creation.
Resilience was also the focus of our efforts in neighboring countries last year; for example:

In Lebanon, improvements to the delivery of basic services which we supported benefited more than a million Lebanese and Syrians. We helped create livelihoods for vulnerable host and refugee populations through job creation and the development of micro, small, and medium enterprises.

In Jordan, UNDP supported the development of the Government’s Response Plan to the Syria Crisis 2017 – 2019 and has been helping with donor co-ordination and aid effectiveness. At the local level, we worked in fifteen municipalities impacted by the Syrian crisis to support improved municipal service delivery, livelihood creation, provision of solar panels for electricity generation, and rehabilitation of public buildings and spaces. 

In other crisis settings:

In Iraq, UNDP is helping the recovery of areas liberated from ISIL through a Funding Facility for Stabilization. This is supported by 22 donors who are contributing more than USD 400 million. Public infrastructure is being rehabilitated, and small businesses are being supporting by cash grants to get started again. Families are receiving help to rebuild damaged homes.

While the battle for Mosul is still continuing, UNDP is already working in the districts freed from ISIL control, and has prepositioned equipment to enable recovery once security conditions allow.

In Libya, UNDP established a Stabilization Facility in partnership with the Government of National Accord and international partners. It has begun to deliver results on the ground, including through improved infrastructure and rehabilitated schools and hospitals in Benghazi, Kikla and Obari, and soon in Sebha and Sirte. In addition, in the midst of a recent major power outage and to prevent the collapse of the health sector in major cities such as Tripoli, Benghazi, and Sebha, UNDP has brought in essential equipment, such as ambulances and power backup systems. Nine hospitals servicing approximately half a million people are currently benefiting from that support.

In Yemen, close to eight million people benefited, directly and indirectly, from UNDP’s resilience work last year. It included renovation of light community infrastructure, such as traditional water distribution systems; collection of solid waste and debris; and the provision of critical assets like solar water pumps and greenhouses to boost agricultural productivity. Our work will be scaled up through major World Bank funding – $300 million in IDA finance will be channeled through UNDP to support large-scale cash-for-work programmes, improvements to public services and the repair of critical infrastructure. This is a very significant development in our relationship with the World Bank.

In Somalia, UNDP works in line with the Federal Government’s Vision 2016 and the country’s peace and state building agenda. We supported last year’s electoral process, and look forward to supporting elections planned on the basis of universal franchise for 2020. The 2016 electoral process was a major milestone in Somalia’s transition, together with the constitutional review and the ongoing state formation process. Somalia has also prepared its first National Development Plan in more than thirty years. UNDP has been pleased to support its development, including through a MAPS mission.
The devastating conflict in South Sudan is now in its fourth year. UNDP’s support continues to focus on security and justice, delivery of basic services, and peace-building. In 2016, this included the establishment of seven Justice and Confidence Centers, through which legal services and advice were provided to around 70,000 people; a public outreach programme to combat ethnic polarization which reached over six million people; and  peace mediation conferences, which led to ten community level peace agreements. 

As part of its work as Principal Recipient of the Global Fund in South Sudan, UNDP is involved in broader efforts on health system strengthening. Specifically, UNDP helped to strengthen the capacity of the government to deliver maternal health services, benefiting close to 450,000 women. As a result, ante-natal care coverage increased from 53 per cent in 2015 to 61 per cent in 2016. This is an important achievement in a country where a woman has a one in seven chance of dying in childbirth.

In Central African Republic, UNDP continues to work on social cohesion, security and justice, youth employment, and state administration reform. An important part of our support has been working with the Government to deploy civilian administration, and police and gendarmerie forces, and to restart the judicial system.  We also supported the Government to produce the National Stabilization Plan which was presented at the donors’ conference in Brussels last November.

In North East Nigeria, which has suffered so grievously from Boko Haram, UNDP is establishing a sub-office in Maiduguri, and has deployed a surge team of staff there to support our crisis response. Our work focuses on investing for longer-term development and recovery through a resilience-based approach. 

In Gambia, UNDP supported the electoral process at the request of the Government. The election was won by the opposition candidate and, following resolute action by ECOWAS, backed by the African Union and the UN, a new administration is being formed. UNDP offers its full support to President Barrow and his Government in their efforts to consolidate democracy and address the major challenge of extreme poverty in the country. 

Quality Country Programmes

Four years ago, UNDP committed to improving the quality of its Country Programme Documents (CPDs) and to ensuring that they were well aligned with the Strategic Plan. Much progress has been made on this. All the CPDs coming to the Executive Board for approval in this session meet UNDP’s new quality standards for programming, as did all the CPDs submitted to the Board last year. 
This step change in quality has been confirmed by the Institutional Effectiveness Assessment led by the Office of Audit and Investigation and the Independent Evaluation Office. It found that the CPDs have become more strategic and improved in quality over the current Strategic Plan period. It also concluded that they foster UNDP’s contribution to the SDGs as agreed with national counterparts. The Performance Audit on Results Based Management has come to a similar conclusion. 
There is always room for improvement to the quality of programming. It will be important for UNDP to continue to focus on strengthening the capacities of staff and partners to meet rigorous quality standards. It is pleasing, however, that the hard work of the past three years has been recognized by evaluators and auditors alike.

UNDP Report on Implementation of Audit Recommendations

At this session, the Board will review the report of UNDP on the status of its implementation of the recommendations of the United Nations Board of Auditors (UNBOA) for the year ended 2015. The full audit report is posted on the Board’s website and on UNDP’s public website.

As I mentioned during the Board’s September session, UNDP received an unqualified (clean) audit opinion from the UNBOA for the year ending on 31 December 2015. That marks eleven years of clean audit opinions for UNDP. Senior management closely monitors and follows through on the implementation of audit recommendations of both UNBOA and the Office of Audit and Investigations. This is a key contributing factor in achieving the clean audit opinions. Senior Management is committed to continuous improvement in financial management, transparency, and accountability.


In January 2015, the Executive Board called for an evaluation of its pilot activities under the Direct Budget Support and Pooled Fund policy, the results of which will be presented later this week. 
In light of the evaluation’s overall positive findings, UNDP will request the Executive Board to extend the validity of the policy. Our request reflects the importance of sector budget support and pooled funds to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda; in promoting national ownership, transparency and harmonization in aid allocation; and in aligning support with national plan and budget priorities. Pooled funding is also a critical instrument in financing the UNDAFs.
The results of the evaluations of UNDP’s contribution to anti-corruption and disability-inclusive development are before the Board this session. As highlighted in the management responses, both evaluations are welcomed, and UNDP will take action on all their recommendations.
Let me take this opportunity to reiterate my message to previous Board sessions on the important contribution of evaluations to learning within the organization and to improving the quality of UNDP’s work.

UNDP funding

Finally, a few words on the state of UNDP funding. 

UNDP appreciates the support of partners to UNDP’s core funding, which amounted to US$619m from 53 core contributors in 2016. We would like to thank, in particular, those Member States which:  
–    increased their core contributions: Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Republic of Korea, Italy, India, Japan, and Saudi Arabia.  

–    joined or re-joined the ranks of core contributors: Antigua and Barbuda became a first-time contributor, while Colombia, Romania, Cuba, Mozambique and Pakistan resumed their support; and

–    committed to multi-year funding to core: the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Turkey, Antigua and Barbuda and Vietnam.
UNDP is grateful to those Member States which have already announced core funding for 2017. We look forward to the realization of those pledges and of those outstanding for 2016.
Beyond the support given to core funding, UNDP also appreciates the support of all partners to non-core resources which totaled US $4.3 billion last year. Eight countries contributed to UNDP’s new Funding Windows, providing a total of US$37m across four thematic areas. Our thanks for the latter contributions go to Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK.   

In 2016, UNDP took important steps to diversify its resource base:
–    Under the aegis of UNDP’s first-ever global International Financial Institutions (IFI) Partnership Strategy (2016-2020), we launched joint action plans with two development banks, the Islamic Development Bank and the European Investment Bank. 

Overall funding flows to UNDP from IFIs increased by 44 per cent last year ($168.4m), mainly as a result of new project collaboration with: KfW (the German development bank) to support stabilization and resilience In Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon; the World Bank Group, to respond to the crisis in Yemen; and with the Argentine Government, whom UNDP supported in the implementation of programmes financed by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank in sectors such as sustainable productive development, access to health, and remediation of environmental liabilities. We look forward to scaling up our collaboration even further with IFIs in 2017.

–    We began building our philanthropic partnerships through a pilot Major Gifts programme. A key milestone in that effort was UNDP’s inaugural Benefit Gala on December 5 in New York, attended by some 140 business leaders and philanthropists.  The Gala increased UNDP’s visibility with a new target audience. We look forward to building further on the Major Gifts programme in 2017; 

–    In November, with the generous support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we rolled out our new online giving platform, Digital Good, to encourage individuals to support SDG implementation by donating to UNDP. This year, we will launch various appeals through the platform, for work in countries in crisis and for support to UNDP core funding; and

–    In 2016 we received our first direct private sector contribution to core funding from the Japan Innovation Network. 
Overall, we believe that there is significant potential to attract new supporters and funding beyond UNDP’s traditional partnership base. These relationships take time to nurture, but over time can yield good results.


Whether as a significant contributor to major global development processes, a partner in UN reform initiatives, an enabler of SDG achievement, or as the emergency development partner which communities and countries can count on in times of crisis, UNDP is a major development actor by any measure.

UNDP is committed to continue to live up to the expectations of it from Member States. The new Strategic Plan will play an important role in positioning the organization in a dynamic development landscape. We look forward to the discussions in the coming weeks and months which will determine the final shape of the Plan, and take this opportunity to thank the Board for its continued commitment to UNDP’s success.