What do member states want? A UN system that is “fit for the future”

BY John Hendra | November 3, 2015|Comments 0

The first phase of the ECOSOC dialogue on the longer-term positioning of the UN development system captured Member State’s views on UN functions, funding, governance, organizational arrangements, capacity, impact, partnership and change-management.

The recent UN Summit heralded a global agreement on the sustainable development goals (SDGs). In the final outcome document, Member States highlighted “the important role and comparative advantage of an adequately resourced, relevant, coherent, efficient and effective UN system in supporting the achievement of the SDGs and sustainable development”, and stressed the “importance of system-wide strategic planning, implementation and reporting in order to ensure coherent and integrated support to the implementation of the new Agenda by the United Nations development system” They also welcomed the ongoing ECOSOC dialogue in the lead up to the 2016 QCPR.

The first phase of the dialogue – a series of sessions and workshops open to all Member States and other relevant stakeholders – ran from December 2014 to June 2015, as summarized in the Vice-President’s report.  “UNDG perspectives” papers developed for the first phase of the dialogue are available on the QCPR site.

So what are Member States saying and what – at least to date – are their expectations of the United Nations?

  1. Clarity on emerging UN system functions The UN must be ‘purpose’ driven in the era of the sustainable development agenda. Form must follow function. In other words, funding and organizational arrangements (form) must follow the UN’s fundamental functions: universal normative role, integrated policy support, convening and leveraging, and a stronger focus on partnerships and South-South and triangular cooperation. This goes along with greater integration of the pillars of the UN  – peace & security, humanitarian action, human rights, and development.
  2. UN functions must be adequately funded The UN will need to much more proactively leverage resources. Funding must support the UN’s functions, including funding of the ‘platform’ of work at the country level. Ensuring adequate and sustainable core funding for the UNDS will be key, though innovative use of non-core resources can also be improved including through increased use of pooled financing mechanisms.
  3. Improve system-wide governance There’s a clear call to improve not only the representativeness but also the effectiveness of system-wide governance across the United Nations.
  4. Different models for different countries The need for greater agility and flexibility has been repeatedly highlighted by Member States.  There’s a strong call for much greater differentiation of country support, tailoring the UN’s presence and capacity on the ground to country needs and demands. ODA should be targeted to where it’s most needed, in least-developed countries and fragile and conflict-affected settings.
  5. Delivering as One is the “floor” for country support Member States increasingly accept Delivering as One as the ‘floor’ for the work of the UN at country level.  But at the same time, they are asking what more is needed to enable the UN to effectively support countries to implement the SDGs. Strengthened measurement of collective contributions to results, more integrated policy support and a modern, highly-skilled, mobile workforce are needed to deliver the post-2015 development agenda.
  6. Strengthening of partnerships It’s clear that partnerships are going to be central to delivering the SDGs. Member States are strongly calling for greater investment in, and focus on, South-South and Triangular cooperation, as a critical function of the UN.
  7. Integration Also, discussions highlighted the protracted nature of crises in many humanitarian and conflict-affected settings. There’s general consensus about the need for much greater integration of humanitarian and development efforts – including joint analysis, planning and programming, leadership and financing.UN New YorkISSUES FOR THE SECOND PHASE OF THE DIALOGUEThe second phase of the ECOSOC dialogue will commence in late 2015 or early 2016. Member States tabled some key proposals and flagged some critical questions that will need to be taken up:
    • Proposal for an overarching strategic framework for the UN’s overall contribution to the SDGs;
    • Call for development of a theory of change to guide change-management efforts,
    • Proposal that Member State deliberations during the second phase of the dialogue be supported by an independent advisory group of experts;
    • Need for a much more strategic QCPR, informed and shaped by the ECOSOC dialogues – that is more about ‘purpose’ and less about ‘fitness’, (i.e. giving high-level guidance is more important than micro-managing the UN’s day-to-day operations.).

    We are at a unique moment in time. Where the MDGs were siloed, and did not demand that the UN system be coherent, the SDGs very clearly do.  The ‘UN we want’ must be truly system-wide at the national, regional and global level.

    To do so it will be critical that the UN has the substantive capacities, knowledge, leadership and mind-set change needed to deliver the post-2015 development agenda and the SDGs.  The 2030 Agenda is an agenda for change, and we need to be ready.

Authors


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

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