Raising our impact in middle-income countries: What it will take
BY Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen | March 2, 2015|Comments 5
Conflicting emotions hit me today as I read of a man in Turkey who was given a life sentence after killing his wife for giving birth to a girl: revulsion, frustration and, also, pride.
As a former member of the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) in Turkey I am proud that we worked with women’s groups to help Turkish legislators increase the penalty for honor crimes and violence against women. Yet, I also feel deeply frustrated because, despite many years of UN support, Turkey remains one of the worst places in the world to be a woman.
I am hopeful that the new universal development agenda, including the sustainable development goals (SDGs), will increase the focus on inequalities, gender equality, as well as safe and just societies. This is clearly needed because, despite real development gains in middle-income countries (MICs) such as Turkey, inequality, social exclusion and democratic governance deficits still exist.
A changing dynamic
Today, partnering with MICs has become the new normal for the UN, driven in part by the following factors:
- numbers: over 100 MICs are home to 5 billion people and 73 percent of the world’s poor;
- projections: by 2040 most African countries will be MICs;
- the changing universal development agenda; and
- growing economic power and investment capability of MICs.
The UN is expected to support all countries reach the SDGs – including MICs. But how do we best support the development aspirations of governments and people in MICs? How do we support countries that have strong policies on paper, but where the real challenge lies in their implementation? And how will we respond to and fund requests for support as un-earmarked funds and traditional donor support for MICs shrink?
The answers, I am convinced, lie in integrating UN actions in all MICs across all dimensions: clarity and unity of stance on global norms and standards; joint analytics; coordinated strategic positioning; and effective joined-up operations, including pooling human and financial resources.
An urgent agenda
There is no time to waste. Greater relevance and impact requires the urgent implementation of a change agenda with the following transformative elements:
1) Consistent application of gender and human-rights based approaches (HRBA) to identify and focus UN activities on addressing the underlying causes of discrimination and abuse. UNCTs (supported by unwavering global and regional support – particular in moments of tension) must be driven by a strong commitment to the normative mandates of the UN.
2) Integrated country analysis across UN system entities, so that the core areas of inequality, vulnerability, human rights and climate change analysis, as well as political and humanitarian risks are joined up and support more integrated and shared policy outcomes.
3) Truly transforming the UN into a knowledge bank and broker. The goal is to build joint networks of high level experts from across and outside the UN system, which the UNCT can draw on when faced with specific requests.
4) The universal application of the Standard Operating Procedures for Delivering as One, enhancing the coherence, relevance, effectiveness and efficiency of our actions.
5) Extensive promotion of national ownership, transparency and accountability to beneficiaries. Becoming more ‘coalition-ready’ is a key immediate challenge for UNCTs.
6) New in-country funders (governments, philanthropists, private sector and individuals) are increasingly ready to fund UN activities in MICs. This makes a strong case for single window modalities, such as the One Fund.
7) Cost-reducing common services and operations are needed. The single UN operational back-office is a must in MICs.
8) A shift in results-based management systems to enable integration of UN ‘up-stream’ activities, putting increased emphasis on outcomes, rather than outputs and project budget-attributable results.
There is no doubt that MICs have enjoyed extraordinary progress alongside unacceptable — and unsustainable — levels of want, fear, discrimination, exploitation, injustice and environmental folly. These problems are not accidents of nature. They result from actions and omissions of people, public institutions, the private sector and others charged with protecting human rights and upholding human dignity.
A strong, integrated and coherent UN can help bring know-how and means to address these challenges, but we need urgent leadership and joint action now.
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