UN ‘convening’ power can help bolster development initiatives

12 July 2005 –

With the development field becoming more and more crowded, the comparative advantage the United Nations system had over others was its ability to organize an unparalleled force of actors to carry coordinated activities, according to senior representatives of a host of UN programmes and funds.

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) continued its 2005 substantive session yesterday with a review of operational activities for development cooperation. Jose Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that increasing the volume of financial contributions and improving the ways in which those contributions were secured was essential to the UN system’s capacity to help Member States achieve their goals and objectives – including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – that constituted the UN Development Agenda.

The UN’s development role focused not on financial aid, but on building national capacity. To maintain that capacity, three essential ingredients were necessary: strong “unearmarked” or “core-funding;” good management practices and corresponding reforms within the UN system. The latter two were driven, in part, by a concern for greater efficiency. That greater efficiency, in turn, was as crucial in the use of development aid as increasing aid levels, he said.

Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director, UN Population Fund (UNFPA), stressed that development was a human process that needed to stay focused on people. “Yes, development is about building capacity. But it is also about building trust, building relationships and building momentum to unleash energy and accelerated action.”

She went on to describe a number of challenges ahead, as the UNFPA used its experience and responsibility to leverage national and international resources to help meet the internationally agreed-upon goals and targets and the priorities set by the international community.

One challenge was setting performance measures as incentives for staff to make the necessary shifts, as the agency provides an environment that supports and motivates them. Another challenge was achieving the right mix of staff and skills at the country level, away from project-based to sector-level working. Yet another challenge is placing more attention on enhancing south-south cooperation and enhancing collaborative regional support for capacity development and technical assistance.

Bruce Jenks, Assistant Administrator and Director, Bureau for Resources and Strategic Partnerships (BRSP) of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), said that deep, underlying tensions within the current development financing system could not be easily resolved.

In looking at development financing, it was necessary to focus on “critical mass funding”, or simply what was needed to get the job done. Conflicts sometimes arose between development ownership and concerns about delivery and capacity, if new sums of funding arrived. The starting point was not a funding crisis in the UN system, but to assure that the critical mass of funding would do the job. It was fine to have broad discussions about reform and structures, but challenges often lay in particular countries, rather than in the general sense.

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