18 May 2021

Deputy Secretary-General Tells Economic and Social Council Repositioned Development System’s Efforts Are ‘Bearing Fruit’, Outlining Data in New Report

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed's remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the Economic and Social Council Operational Activities segment, today:

As the Secretary-General said earlier this morning, 2020 was a year like no other.  One that put us all to the test — individually and collectively.  The COVID-19 crisis makes evident that only by working together can we overcome the biggest threats to humanity and keep the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The same is true of the United Nations development system.  As the pandemic took hold, the boost in coordination capacities and the move to more collaborative ways of working owing to the reforms we embarked on together in 2017 proved crucial.  The results are captured in the report that I have the pleasure to introduce to you today on the United Nations Development Coordination Office.

The report gives a full overview of the activities of the Resident Coordinator system in 2020 and the steps being taken to ensure it delivers to the highest standards.  It also provides, for the first time, a snapshot of the contribution of the United Nations development system as a whole to the advancement of the 2030 Agenda — as requested by the General Assembly in its resolution 72/279.

The 2020 report catalogues the efforts by the Development Coordination Office to strengthen the ability of Resident Coordinators and their offices to deliver in their crucial roles.  I would like to mention four key highlights.

First, steps have been taken to ensure that Resident Coordinators have the skills and capacities needed to effectively lead the United Nations country team and meet Government expectations.  Improvements have been made to the Resident Coordinator appraisal system, including to strengthen the dual accountability between Coordinators and United Nations country team entity representatives.

Greater diversity within the Resident Coordinator pool is also key, and we are seeing improvements year on year in this regard.  Fifty-two per cent of Resident Coordinators are female, while 48 per cent originate from programme countries and from an increasing variety of United Nations entities, as well as from outside the United Nations system.  The Resident Coordinator assessment centre has also been fully redesigned.

Second, we continue to work to secure the right capacities in the Resident Coordinator system.  Resident Coordinator Offices and the Development Coordination Office are now almost fully staffed, with due regard to gender parity and geographical diversity.  Depending on country contexts, Resident Coordinators have also been able to count on additional capacities to advance key priorities, such as gender equality and youth empowerment.

We are also seeing clear improvements in the engagement of United Nations entities that are not physically present in country.  Regional economic and social commissions are members of 49 United Nations country teams, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are members of 53 and 28 country teams, respectively.

Third, the Development Coordination Office continued to play a critical role in the implementation of key reform agendas.  Multi-country offices have been strengthened through increased coordination capacities and a newly created office in the North Pacific.  Operational efficiencies have been advanced.  The new regional architecture is in place and the Regional Collaborative Platforms are off the ground in all five regions.

Fourth, the Resident Coordinator system has also contributed to a strengthening of the culture of the United Nations development system, rooted in accountability and transparency.  We have seen improvements in the quality of annual results reporting to Governments, and a strengthening of systems and online platforms to better collect and share data and information on the work of the development system.

We have also seen strong efforts to increase the visibility of both capitalization and spending of the Special Purpose Trust Fund of the Resident Coordinator system.  Feedback from Governments shows that these efforts to enhance the repositioned United Nations development system are improving our approach at the country level.

The vast majority of country Governments report that the relevance of the United Nations in their country’s development needs has improved since the reforms began.  Nine out of 10 Governments report that the system is providing evidence-based and integrated policy support, complementing technical assistance and capacity development.

We are also seeing a strengthened focus on the most vulnerable groups in Cooperation Framework and Socioeconomic Response plans, in keeping with the central principle of the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind.

The Resident Coordinator system is also helping to leverage greater funding for United Nations country team efforts.  In 2020, the Joint [Sustainable Development Goals] Fund — hosted by the Development Coordination Office — raised $50 million and funded 101 joint programmes.  The COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund mobilized some $77 million and United Nations country teams leveraged $51.4 million through the Peacebuilding Fund.

Resident Coordinators are also helping to better leverage the resources offered by pooled and thematic funding, both in country and globally.

In terms of support to Sustainable Development Goals financing, with Resident Coordinators’ coordination and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as the technical lead, 15 United Nations entities are directly involved in supporting Integrated National Financing Frameworks in 69 developing countries.  This is an area where we hope to see much greater results in the years to come.

For the first time, we are able to report on the United Nations development system’s collective contribution to Sustainable Development Goals results.  This year, given the central focus of Governments, we have centred our reporting on our contribution to the socioeconomic response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Guided by the United Nations Framework for the Immediate Socioeconomic Response to COVID-19, teams on the ground developed 121 plans covering 139 countries and territories.

The report before you provides a sense of what this response has delivered. 

  • 240 million people were supported with essential health services not related to COVID-19, including 114 million in least developed countries, 101 million in landlocked developing countries and 2 million in small island developing States.
  • One in 10 children worldwide were supported by United Nations-backed distance or home-based learning.
  • Over 17 million children received food assistance.
  • Over 36 million people were reached with critical water and sanitation supplies.
  • Nearly 120 million people benefited from social protection schemes.

A fuller account of our results is available in the report and on the COVID‑19 portal.

With the pandemic still raging in many parts of the world, and the Sustainable Development Goals now farther off track, we must step up our action, including in the rollout of vaccines under the leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

We will also seek improvements across the activities of the Resident Coordinator system.  The unfolding system review will dive deep into all these aspects and more.  But let me anticipate eight key areas where special attention is needed.

First, we must ensure that the Resident Coordinator pool continues to attract and retain the best talent.

Second, continuously refining the structure of the Development Coordination Office to maximize its effectiveness as the back office for the Resident Coordinator system, the engine room.

Third, our newly created regional arrangements must shift from process to action, particularly in rolling out the Issue-Based Coalitions that address country priorities across regional responses.

Fourth, the business models and policies across entities of the United Nations development system require further alignment to allow a collective, integrated response through the Cooperation Framework.

Fifth, we must keep focused on our efforts for a more dynamic, tailored and demand-driven presence of United Nations country teams.  In many places, the country team’s composition has not yet fully adjusted to changing country needs and the priorities determined in the Cooperation Framework.

Sixth, we must secure a decisive shift from small-scale projects, or “pilots”, to more integrated policy solutions and/or programmes at scale that are commensurate with the ambition of the 2030 Agenda and expectations of our countries.

Seventh, we need to continue to strengthen our capacities to convene in the area of financing and our partnerships with the international financial institutions.  Early steps are promising, but must now land them at the country level.

Finally, we need to scale up investments in a common data system for Sustainable Development Goals reporting across the system, harvesting and aligning the work conducted by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Regional Economic Commissions.  The experience with the COVID-19 response monitoring framework offers a strong basis on which to build.

Central to the success of the reform is the sustainability and the predictability of the Resident Coordinator system’s funding.  The total annual budget of $281 million for the system was not reached in 2020.  A significant funding gap is foreseen for 2021.

So far, this has not hindered our ability to operate.  Thanks to efficiencies achieved by the online and hybrid format of work and meetings and by staggered recruitment in line with the Resident Coordinator system implementation plan, we are now operating at full capacity.

However, the funding gap is not sustainable.  It will lead to reduced operational budgets and a chronic inability to fill all posts, ultimately hampering the ability of the Resident Coordinator system to support national Governments in their sustainable development efforts.  It may also affect the ability of development partners to engage strategically with the United Nations development system and see improvements to transparency and results of their investments.

The response by the United Nations development system to the COVID-19 pandemic shows that the investments made in the system, and in a new generation of country teams, are bearing fruit.

For this, I am grateful for the engagement and the commitment of the Principals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group.  We are aware that the results so far were only possible thanks to the tireless work of our Resident Coordinators, our United Nations country team colleagues, and the team in the Development Coordination Office, under the able leadership of Assistant Secretary-General Robert Piper.

I thank you, the Member States, for your continued leadership in the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and in governing bodies; in capitals and on the ground.  Together, we have come a long way.  But we still have so much more to do.  We must build on our success to ensure a robust and sustainable recovery.

This Operational Activities Segment is another milestone in our transformative journey.  Together with my United Nations Sustainable Development Group colleagues across the system, I look forward to hearing your reactions and guidance to further refine our approach to support Sustainable Development Goals acceleration throughout the Decade of Action.

For information media. Not an official record.