DESA News Vol. 11, No. 5 May 2007

Trends and analysis

Lands, territories and natural resources

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to convene in New York from 14 to 25 May

More than a thousand indigenous participants from all regions of the world will come together with government representatives, UN agencies, the academia and civil society to state their views, voice their concerns and suggest solutions regarding their lands, territories and natural resources in New York from 14 to 25 May.

The sixth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will address the issues of territories, lands and natural resources. According to Tauli-Corpuz, an indigenous Igorot leader from the Philippines and Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, “With the increasing desire of states for more economic growth, senseless exploitation of indigenous peoples’ territories and resources continues unabated.”

While the agenda has an emphasis on implementation of the Forum’s previous recommendations, the session will also include two half-day discussions on Asia and on urban indigenous peoples and migration. The migration of indigenous people to urban areas mirrors the global trend of urbanization yet indigenous peoples in urban areas face many challenges, especially unemployment, limited access to services, and inadequate housing.

Indigenous experts will have at their disposal the results of a number of meetings and workshops on urban indigenous issues, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s international regime on access and benefit sharing, and the formulation of indicators of well-being. In addition to these reports, a number of papers submitted by Forum members will be presented on traditional knowledge, analysis of the Forum’s previous recommendations and their implementation, the implementation of the human rights mandate of the Forum, and enhancement of the reporting by intergovernmental organizations.

Fifty-eight side events have been organized by governments, agencies, indigenous organizations, NGOs and others. The opening of the annual indigenous exhibit and a cultural event and reception will take place on Tuesday, 15 May, with an impressive array of works by indigenous artists from around the world. Over 1700 participants are expected to attend, in addition to representatives from some 70 countries and 30 intergovernmental agencies.

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Top economists to gather in Beijing to discuss global economic outlook

Global imbalances, China’s integration into the world financial and trading system, and South-South economic linkages on the agenda

The semi-annual expert group meeting on the world economy, also known as Project Link, will be held from 14 to 17 May in Beijing, sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. About a hundred economists from more than fifty countries and several international organizations will take part in the conference.

The outlook for the world economy will be a main point of discussion, including a presentation of the LINK Global Economic Outlook, prepared by DESA in cooperation with the national experts, and other major forecasting agencies such as the IMF, the World Bank and the OECD. Global imbalances, China’s integration into the world financial and trading system, and South-South economic linkages will also be examined. Professor Sir Clive Granger, Nobel laureate in economics, will deliver a keynote lecture on econometric modeling.

Project Link is a non-governmental and cooperative research activity integrating independently developed national econometric models into a global econometric model. It provides a consistent framework for undertaking quantitative studies of the international economic transmission mechanisms and of the effects of international and national policies, developments and disturbances on the outlook for the world economy. LINK forecasts are incorporated into the World Economic Situation and Prospects, a flagship publication of DESA produced jointly with UNCTAD and the regional commissions.

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Do traditional models for bank regulation apply to microfinance?

There may be a growing need for regulation as a result of strategic alliances between different financial institutions but not at the expense of clients and service providers

Financial services are a luxury only a minority of the population can access in the developing world. As a response, microfinance institutions emerged over the past three decades to address this market failure and provide financial services to the poor. Yet at this point, finding ways to effectively regulate microfinance appears a major challenge. To what extend the traditional criteria for bank regulation apply to microfinance?

A panel discussion on regulation of microfinance was jointly organized by the DESA Financing for Development Office and the UN Capital Development Fund on 10 April in New York. The panel was moderated by José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and featured panellists such as Joselito Gallardo, Counsellor, Business Outreach Center Network, Arnaud Ventura, Vice President, PlaNet Finance and President and CEO MicroCred, Mark Bienstman, Senior Adviser for Institutional Relations, World Savings Banks Institute, and Richard Weingarten, Executive Secretary of UNCDF.

Under-Secretary General Ocampo highlighted the tasks undertaken during the International year of Microcredit in 2005, jointly coordinated by DESA and UNCDF, including the publication of the blue book on Building Inclusive Financial Sectors for Development. He indicated that inclusive finance includes a continuum of financial services that the poor need. This includes of course credit but goes beyond credit.

The panel discussed the expansion of microcredit into inclusive finance and the emerging need for regulation as a result of strategic alliances between different financial institutions. There are many reasons why microfinance should be regulated, among them improved sustainability of microfinance institutions, protection of savings, safeguarding the stability of financial systems, mitigation of risk due to currency mismatches, prevention of money laundering, and funding of terrorism. However, several participants noted, regulations should not restrict access to finance by crowding out clients and/or providers.

Several key issues related to regulation of microfinance were mentioned, starting with whether different agents should be subject to the same type of regulation or whether tiered regulation should be implemented. Another point that was raised is whether regulation should target agents or activities. Who regulates and who supervises are also pertinent questions, especially in developing countries where there are multitude of small institutions and limited supervisory capacity. The need for coherence between regulation of microfinance and other national policies was also stressed.

Recent observations of country experiences seem to indicate that it takes a long time, eight years or so, to establish a regulatory framework for microfinance. The process includes laying down rules, expanding oversight capacity, transforming institutions and resolving political conflicts. Private companies investing in microfinance institutions that are outside the legal framework are regulated by new or temporary laws or fall under inappropriate banking regulation confront many challenges – such as uncertainty because of changing regulatory environment and limitations in access to funding. Savings banks face restrictions on the services that they can provide and are constrained by uneven application of regulation. They favour regulation based on activities rather than institution and based on activities risk profile.

There are many international programmes to support improvement of regulatory environments to expand access to finance. UNCDF has assessed financial sector development in Africa, including the legal and regulatory framework, and developed nationally owned policy and strategies along with their implementation.

Regulation of microfinance appears, in sum, a technical and complex issue. It touches upon the interests of many different stakeholders and is very much embedded in each national context. It is thus extremely difficult to design a set of detailed common guidelines for different countries. Policy makers in developing economies are seeking advice from different actors. Coordination among them is, indeed, crucial. Advice should target the principles of maintaining soundness of financial sectors, protecting savings and expanding access to financing.

DESA has initiated a project entailing regional comparative studies and regional multi-stakeholder conferences. The ultimate aim is to elaborate good practices in regulation of microfinance on a regional and international basis. The Financing for Development Office in DESA is taking a lead role in this project in collaboration with PlaNet Finance and World Savings Banks Institute.

For more information and to view a webcast of the event:

Elimination of discrimination against women

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the human rights treaty body in charge of monitoring implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, will hold its thirty-eighth session in New York from 14 May to 1 June 2007. Under article 18 of the Convention, States parties are requested to report periodically on the legislative, judicial, administrative, and programmatic measures they have taken to put the Convention into practice, and on tangible progress achieved in the elimination of discrimination.

During the upcoming session, the Committee will examine the initial reports of Mauritania, Serbia and Syrian Arab Republic, and the combined initial and periodic reports of Mozambique, Niger, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, and Vanuatu. The Committee consists of twenty-three independent experts elected for a four-year term.

The Committee welcomes country-specific information from NGOs in the form of alternative or shadow reports which can be submitted prior to or during the session concerned.

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Setting goals and targets for youth development

UN system experts and youth to meet in New York from 29 to 31 May

Since the adoption of the World Programme of Action for Youth in 1995, many Governments, the international community and other stakeholders have embarked on steps to give priority to youth issues. The international community, however, has yet to set specific goals and targets to guide the development and implementation of these activities. The Commission for Social Development at its forty-fifth session in February this year requested the Secretary General, in consultation with organizations, programmes and specialized agencies of the United Nations system, to identify goals and targets for the World Programme of Action cluster on youth and the global economy, covering globalization, employment, education and hunger and poverty.

To this end, DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development will hold an expert group meeting in New York on fro 30 to 31 May to try to come up with an agreed set of goals and targets fore presentation to the General Assembly in the fall. The expert group meeting will be preceded by preparatory forum on 29 May that gives young people the opportunity to explore the issues before the main meeting the next day.

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Census mapping and use of geographical information systems

Expert group meeting to review technologies’ capabilities in census mapping

An expert group meeting on contemporary practices in census mapping and the use of geographical information systems, organized by DESA’s Statistics Division, will be held from 29 May to 1 June in New York. Experts will contribute to a technical report on best practices to be used as input to a series of broader regional workshops in September, as well as an update to the UN Handbook on Geographic Information Systems and Digital Mapping. Participants are expected to review approaches to census mapping and the use of advanced digital technology – such as geographical information systems, global positioning systems, remote sensing, and the internet – in support of census mapping operations. Concepts and techniques in geo-coding, global positioning, digital delineation of enumeration areas, and spatial analysis will be discussed, along with institutional issues.

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Follow-up to the World Summit on the Information Society

Consultation meetings to assess progress on WSIS plan of action

In connection with a cluster of WSIS-related events to take place in Geneva, the Division for Public Administration and Development Management together with the Office of ECOSOC Support and Coordination will hold a briefing on 23 May for ambassadors on success, failure, and management of e-governance initiatives. The purpose of the briefing is to inform high-level delegates about the do’s and don'ts for successful e-governance in developing countries, with an emphasis on least developed countries. A second consultation will be held on 24 May to assess progress made by stakeholders on the role of public governance authorities and all stakeholders in the promotion of ICTs for development, on ICT applications and e-government, and on international and regional cooperation.

In addition, consultations will be held on parliaments in the information age. The meeting will bring together high-level representatives from legislatures, the private sector, civil society, international organizations and academia to exchange ideas and experiences on current initiatives relating to the role of parliaments in the development of the information society and the use of ICT to modernize parliamentary practices. Special attention will be paid to recent experiences on the use of open source in parliament and ongoing efforts to develop a continental open source parliamentary information system in Africa.

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Role of NGOs in the achievement of the development goals

How can NGOs be included in UN processes aimed at poverty reduction? Participants in a meeting on 2 May are expected to shed light on best practices in the field of poverty and hunger as part of preparations for an Innovation Fair, a side event of the Economic and Social Council that will be held in Geneva in July. The preparatory meeting, and the Innovation Fair, are being organized by the DESA Office for Economic and Social Council Support and Coordination.

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Harnessing ICT for social development

Infopoverty World Conference stresses the potential of ICT for social advancement

The UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development hosted the seventh Infopoverty World Conference 2007 on harnessing the use of ICTs for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals from 19 to 20 April in New York. Participants spoke of the digital revolution as pivotal to promoting broader markets and increased social utility. The final declaration noted the current gap between digital haves and have-nots suggesting that better connectivity, development of new products, increased competition in ICT services, and interoperability standards were possible solutions. Bearing in mind the need to improve conditions in disadvantaged communities, the declaration stressed the importance of the social use of ICTs, stating renewable energy, e-learning, and telemedicine offer considerable opportunities for social development through ICT.

The conference was organized by the Observatory for Cultural and Audiovisual Communication, with the support of the UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development and the Infopoverty Institute at the University of Oklahoma.

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