Mr. Thomas Gass Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs

2017 United Nations Public Service Forum
Ministerial Conversation of the and Awards Ceremony

Minister Plasterk,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honor to welcome you to this session.

Minister Plasterk spoke about the four cross-cutting themes we just discussed in our reflection tables. In my turn, I will address the various dimensions of the Sustainable Development Goals we discussed in the eight Thematic Tracks of this Forum yesterday.

In each track, you heard how dedicated teams within public institutions are thinking “outside the box” and charting a different path to improve peoples’ lives.

I will take a step back and place our discussions in the broader global context.

One salient lesson we have learned from international development work, is that an absolute decrease in poverty does not mean that shared prosperity will ensue.

Likewise, globalization does not ipso facto equal a reduction in inequality, nor does it automatically lead to Pareto efficiency in pursuing development outcomes. Poverty averages only give us one facet of the story. The other speaks better to the real lives of people.

In fact, with the 2030 Agenda we are well beyond measuring poverty only in GDP terms.  In a manner of speaking, the 169 targets underpinning the SDGs are 169 ways of explaining how no one is to be left behind.

This implies that we need to know who the most vulnerable are, understand the threats and challenges they face, and systematically build their resilience and empowerment into our national, regional and local development strategies.

The 2030 Agenda has redefined sustainability: If a significant economic or social group is left behind, our development is not sustainable.

Thus, we need to ask the following:

  • How can we even aspire to eradicate poverty if half the population – that is, women and girls – are economically and socially disadvantaged in all countries? Moreover,
  • How can we sensibly talk about job creation if we do not take a head start in ensuring a life of dignity and fulfillment for every woman, man and child?
  • How can we do all this through well-rounded public health, public education and public participation systems and policies?
  • How can we have a glimmer of hope that our efforts at empowering people and promoting prosperity can prevail if we falter at guarding our planet through meaningful partnerships, and in line with the science-deduced facts related to climate change?

Our eight Thematic Tracks have shown that public policy can tackle these challenges vigorously.

Let me briefly explain how and why, by focusing on each track separately.

On Job Creation and Prosperity: labour strategies linked with social protection schemes can bolster inclusive growth … especially alongside innovative income dispensing systems, fair tax administration, generous migration policies and gender-sensitive capacity development programmes. One-sided focus on GDP can hinder more comprehensive understandings of development. Out-of-the-box reasoning, on the other hand, can interlink these multifaceted aspects with innovative developmental policy-making in the public sector.

On Public Health: successful social innovations and public entrepreneurship require inclusive and long-term public empowerment policies, and creating and maintaining integrated, solid and flexible health systems.  But they also require harnessing the force of e-health and data analytics while building on the traditional networks and know-how of local communities. While such endeavors require financial investments and capacities, we saw yesterday that simple interventions and tools, used creatively, can lead to enormous gains for some communities, particularly in remote rural and disadvantaged urban slums.  Progress in maternal and child health is just one example.

On Sustainable Energy: We need to act with the firm belief that the spill-over effects of switching to green energy will ultimately improve the well-being of our societies.  Some of the initiatives we heard about yesterday show that innovative public policy can help show the way.  More generally, we sometimes suffer – not from a lack of willingness to invest and cooperate – but from a dearth of quality actionable data. Our actions must be guided not only by our energy resources, but by our long term objectives and principles.

On Management of Water and Sea Levels, we clearly recognize the undue burden and threats faced by Small Island Developing States.  Addressing the challenges they face means having in place the right water management and infrastructure policies. But it is also about demographics, human settlements and urban planning. Various adaptation projects and promising collaborative initiatives at all levels must be given due visibility.

On Children and Youth, our discussions showed that young people of today are capable of, and aspire to be engaged actors and drivers of change, and that our systems of governance, public services and legal frameworks should recognize this.  As we did minutes ago, we must listen to and be inspired by youth, their vision of the future, their energy and determination.  Where there is a will, there is a way; and innovative public servants are well aware of this.

On Unlocking the Potential of the Furthest Behind: our discussions showed that we must adapt our support systems and frameworks to unleash opportunities for the most vulnerable. This means identifying vulnerability and championing inclusive and participatory approaches to overcome it. The core of the 2030 Agenda requires us to ensure, safeguard and strengthen access to adequate healthcare, education, employment, training and productive resources. In this age of wealth inequality, development strategies must address the concerns and frustrations of those left behind.

On Sustainable Cities, we need to make urban development sustainable through interlinked policies and local service delivery mechanisms that put accessibility, inclusiveness and justice at the center. And this includes public housing, transport and land use policies.  Climate resilience and preserving natural resources should also be top priorities.

Last but not least, on Circular Economy, we must further emphasize the role of recycle, reuse and reduce in sustainable resource management.  Let us weld innovation, technology and productivity together to help stave off unnecessary consumption and minimize waste. Let us think in terms of recovery and reconversion, through smart and integrated industries.  We have much to learn. Not only from the policy frameworks of the North but also from the innovations and practices in developing countries.


Minister Plasterk urged us to think actionably on how to move onwards and leap forward from The Hague.

Indeed, it is our shared responsibility to implement the 2030 Agenda.

I am looking forward to hearing your innovative ideas on how to make public sector into an even more active force in carrying out this responsibility. There is no time like present. Your actions today will shape and determine your success tomorrow.

Thank you.

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