29 May 2020

United Nations Funds, Programmes Must Better Align Policies, Country Team Activities to Advance Development Goals, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Joint Executive Boards

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the joint meeting of the Executive Boards of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)/United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)/United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) and World Food Programme (WFP), in New York today:

It is my pleasure to participate in this joint meeting.  Over the last two weeks, we have had excellent discussions in the Economic and Social Council  Operational Activities Segment.  Member States took stock of progress on reform, voiced their support for the reforms, and shared clear guidance and perspectives on areas that require further attention.

I am confident that I speak for all of my colleagues present today when I say that we emerged re-energized from this Operational Activities Segment, and ever-more determined to forge ahead.

Now, with the holding of this joint meeting of the Boards only two days after the conclusion of the Economic and Social Council segment, we have an opportunity to ensure that the system-wide guidance by Member States lands effectively in each governing body.

You are leading the way.  The discussions in the Boards of New York have and will continue to reverberate and influence discussions in governing bodies in Geneva, Rome, Vienna, Nairobi and beyond.

This level of leadership by each Member State, and ownership across governing bodies, is one of the defining features of this reform process.  And it will continue to be crucial for success as we move ahead as the world recovers from COVID-19 and enters a Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Data from the ground, the Economic and Social Council discussions and accounts we heard from the field are all telling a consistent story:  the repositioned United Nations development system is starting to take off and results are becoming palpable.

I have absolutely no doubt that this progress was only possible thanks to the commitment of Executive Heads and their entities.  Working together, all members of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group have stepped up to help co-create new mechanisms, guidance and support for a new generation of United Nations country teams.

Within their entities, they have led the realignment of internal policies and tools to reflect the new structures and new levels of accountability.  They have helped strengthen the role of the resident coordinator, for example by ensuring that resident coordinators now have access to the performance assessment of United Nations country team members.

And every single member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group has provided financial contributions to the resident coordinator system.  The way these Principals have carried along their large entities and staff at all levels throughout the process reflects a heavy lifting.  I want to place on record our appreciation for these efforts.

But, as we all know, the job is not done.  With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing new urgency to our work, let us use this joint meeting as an accelerator for reforms.  Any step you take here will have significant effect across the system.  After all, the six funds and programmes you govern represent more than half the footprint of the United Nations operational activities for development.

Today, you will hear from my colleagues their perspectives and examples on how our United Nations country teams are working together to help countries win the battle against COVID-19 and recover better.  I want to draw your attention to specific areas where the leadership of our agencies — and their respective governing bodies — will be critical.

Let me flag five specific areas.  First, help us consolidate the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework as the main planning instrument for United Nations country teams.  We are making strides in rolling out the new Cooperation Framework globally.  Yet, adjustments are still needed by individual agencies to make sure we make the most of it.

We must ensure, in particular, that country programme documents derive directly from Cooperation Frameworks.  Some agencies have started using the outcomes of the Cooperation Framework, verbatim, in their country programme documents.  This is welcome, but not enough.  Alignment cannot be a cosmetic exercise, and while resident coordinators are at the centre of our planning process, Boards are the most effective space to reinforce this shift.

The timelines and procedures for the development and endorsement of individual country programme documents also need to be streamlined, to align with the United Nations Cooperation Framework process — which reflect fully the priorities of host Governments.   COVID-19, of course, adds complexity to the local planning process and this will require some flexibility down the line.

Second, we must continue to ensure alignment on results reporting.  It is critical that we continue to harmonize reporting indicators across entities, and do not get lost in the process of creating new, overlapping indicators.

This is important to ensure we can aggregate results.  It is also a necessary step for us to be able to automatically pull out data from the reporting systems of different entities, reducing transaction costs for our agencies.   The data platform “UN INFO”, which is being rolled out in all United Nations country teams, should progressively become a primary tool for the system at large.

Third, we must anchor the new resident coordinator system in strong and sustainable foundations, including through a sustainable funding base for the coordination function.

I want to thank Member States for their contributions to date, and for enabling cost-sharing contributions by all entities in the Executive Boards.  I am also grateful for the support and flexibility shown by agencies and donors to make the 1 per cent levy an early success.  The levy shows that much can be achieved when Member States join forces to find creative solutions to complex issues.

Moving forward, we must bridge the gap in voluntary resources.  I encourage all Member States that have not yet done so to consider a contribution to the Special Purpose Trust Fund for the resident coordinator system.  A broad funding base is critical to safeguard wide ownership of the coordination function across the membership.

It is also an imperative to ensure we can continue to run at full capacity at a time when the world is fighting COVID-19 and striving to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Fourth, we count on Executive Boards to continue to support the full implementation of the Management and Accountability Framework.  The data we have presented to Economic and Social Council confirms that the Framework has taken root.  I am grateful to all of you for being among the first agencies to make adjustments to comply with the new Framework.

While the Management and Accountability Framework’s implementation has been successful so far, some provisions are lagging behind, in particular the agreement for stronger coordination of fundraising efforts in country.  While it is critical that agencies retain the ability to fundraise for their own programmes and initiatives, we continue to hear repeated calls from Member States for coherence and coordination of resource mobilization.

What we want to see is that all resources entrusted to us — regardless of the strand — are pulling in the same direction to get results at scale.  It is important that we work together to adjust this in the Boards, and in the relationship between donors and United Nations agencies on the ground.

Executive Boards can also play an enabling role as we work with agencies to make our pool of resident coordinators even stronger and more diverse.  Agencies are already taking steps to ensure that their best and brightest can consider a career as resident coordinator.  In some cases, this may require changes to internal incentives, which will require your support.

Fifth, I would like you to consider putting a spotlight on the mutual commitments enshrined in the Funding Compact.  As I said to the Economic and Social Council last Wednesday, few reform elements better illustrate our spirit of mutual responsibility than our Funding Compact.  And the success of the Funding Compact will ultimately determine whether the funding base of the United Nations development system incentivizes coordination or competition.

The Compact is off to a good start and the majority of indicators are on track.  I am concerned, however, by the steady decrease in the share of core budgets of entities of the United Nations development system.  This really affects the quality of our support to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Reversing the current trend will require significant work from all sides; but, together, we can do it.  The structured funding dialogues you held recently have been helpful.  I hope these will continue and will provide entry points to accelerate progress on all indicators of the Funding Compact.

You can count on the commitment of all entities of the United Nations development system to deliver on our commitments in improving transparency and results reporting.

I am also pleased with the progress to date on efficiencies, under the able co-leadership of the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  We now have the foundations in place to start generating, monitoring and reporting on efficiencies achieved in our United Nations country teams.  This is unprecedented.

But, we need leadership from the Executive Boards to help take our efforts to the next level.  Individual agencies will need support, encouragement and investment to maximize the opportunities offered by common back offices and common premises.  We count on you.

Let me close with two words.  Gratitude and recognition.  Gratitude to Member States for their leadership in transforming the United Nations.  Recognition to my colleagues present today for their commitment, passion for our work at the country level, and for the efforts of their colleagues in United Nations country teams, day in and day out, on the front lines of sustainable development.

We all realize that this is only the beginning.  With the new systems and tools now in place, it is time to maximize the benefits of our reforms precisely when the world needs it the most.  Working together, I know we can do it.

For information media. Not an official record.