Making the UN “fit for purpose”

BY John Hendra | March 24, 2015|Comments 0

The new sustainable development agenda is transformative, rights-based and universal. Without a doubt, supporting countries to implement the new agenda requires a United Nations system that is “fit for purpose” and I see six steps we can take before 1 January 2016. We have a tremendous opportunity to re-position the UN system to maximize its unique comparative advantages in support of sustainable development.
What’s so different from the MDGs?

From the outset, it has been clear that the new post-2015 development agenda, set out in the sustainable development goals (SDGs), will be a very significant departure from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Where the MDGs were largely vertical and somewhat ‘siloed’, this new agenda has the potential to be much more integrated and horizontal.

Where the MDGs reflected and drove a largely North-South agenda, the post-2015 development agenda is universal.

It is also a much more transformative agenda, not least because of its rights-based perspective and explicit focus on tackling inequality and discrimination.

Dialogue on ″fit for purpose” is unique, unprecedented

What’s unique about the current discussion on “fit for purpose” is that is happening at three levels:  among Member States; in countries, with 45 countries now adopting Delivering as One ; and within the UN system itself, at the level of the Chief Executives Board (CEB), and its pillars – the UN Development Group, the High-Level Committee on Management (HLCM) and the High-Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP).

This level of attention is quite unprecedented and in many of the conversations I am having about the UN being more “fit for purpose”, I am really struck by the level of enthusiasm and willingness there is to reflect on this and to innovate.

What do we need to do next?

Build on the Delivering as One initiative and roll out Standard Operating Procedures in all programme countries. Deepen UN system efforts to develop more integrated and innovative business models. Ensure that a high-performing, mobile and diverse workplace is in place to support the new agenda.

More specifically, take these six steps

In my view there are six additional critical areas for immediate to medium-term action, a number of which have been integrated into the UNDG Strategic Priorities for the coming year:

    1. Provide integrated policy support at all levels, drawing on the expertise of different agencies in a cohesive and strategic manner anchored in international norms.  Support governments – and more broadly societies – to address complex, multi-sectoral challenges and implement a new post-2015 development agenda that is much more horizontal and integrated than the MDGs were.
    2. Drive forward the data revolution. Ensure that data and evidence are used much more effectively, more systematically and more transparently. And this means much greater disaggregation of data – by sex, ethnicity, age, disability, socio-economic status – to better understand and monitor inequalities and vulnerabilities, and track progress for the most marginalized and vulnerable groups.
    3. Take a much more systemic, system-wide approach to assessing risk, and promoting resilience. The implementation of the new agenda should encourage more integrated partnerships and collaboration between humanitarian action and development, build national and local capacity to manage shocks and stresses, and better coordinate emergency response and prevention work with sustainable development.
    4. Pool resources. Ensure negotiated, sustained and coherent financing for long-term support to the post-2015 development agenda. Pooling resources may also include bringing together development and humanitarian financing where this makes sense.
    5. Really open up the UN to be much more consultative not only with civil society but also with the private sector, Parliamentarians and other stakeholders. Build on the great work that has been done to date to engage millions of people in the UNDG-sponsored post-2015 consultations. At last count, over 7 million people around the world have participated in the “MY World” survey and the various UNDG-organized Consultations.
    6. Ensure much greater transparency and accountability. This includes resources (both financial and human) at country, regional and global levels, as well as sharing data, analysis and information about programmes and operations. Greater transparency and accountability to beneficiaries and stakeholders in the UN’s field-based operations will be key to implementing the new agenda.

Looking forward, a Member States-led process must provide the impetus for broader, structural reform of the UN development system that is more “fit for purpose”. The current ECOSOC dialogues on the “Future Positioning of the UN Development System” are very timely as are the final inter-governmental negotiations of the post-2015 development agenda.

To make this work will require all our efforts and commitment, most of all at the country level. We need the full engagement of staff – and real behaviour change – at all levels. All of us will need to engage fully to help get the United Nations ready to be more “fit for purpose” on 1 January 2016.

What do you think? What else can we do to ensure the UN is fit for purpose?

Photo: Andy Wagstaffe. Creative Commons


John Hendra John is Senior UN Coordinator, “Fit for Purpose” for the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Follow him on Twitter.

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