A Bittersweet Birthday


My son turned 3 years old the other day and was super excited about the presents and the cake. He already can’t wait to turn 4 and 5 and 6.

Next week, on February 24, we are celebrating UNDP’s birthday. And not just any birthday, but its 50th. Hip Hip Hurray! There will be a big commemorative event in New York looking back at the important contributions the organization has made. A 50-day photo countdown online has illustrated the length and breadth of the distance we’ve come.

I can’t help but feel bittersweet as well. Wouldn’t it have been great, if at 50 we could have closed shop? If we could have said ‘Our work here is done’? For an organization that works on issues such as poverty reduction, 50 just does not have the same ring as 3.

But alas, poverty is still widespread and there are a host of other issues that UNDP is helping to tackle, some of which simply weren’t talked about 50 years ago. Climate change, environmental degradation, gender inequality, HIV/AIDS, etc.; the world is not short of problems.

To address these problems, world leaders signed on to an ambitious, integrated vision for development in September 2015. UNDP is throwing its full weight behind this Agenda 2030, which contains the Sustainable Development Goals.

This agenda is remarkably different from what has existed in the past. It asks to ‘leave no one behind’, to put the social and environmental issues on par with the economic, to increase our ambitions, and to treat all countries, and people, as equal development partners. The first goal: to end poverty in all its forms everywhere.

Unfortunately, UNDP has problems of its own. Our core budget has been shrinking while demands continue to grow. We need to catch up with a world where ODA is a marginal source of financing, where geopolitical relations continue to shift and where cross border issues are challenging the confines of the nation state and our traditional ways of working.

This requires nothing short of an overhaul. UNDP’s Director for Asia-Pacific, Haoliang Xu recently said: “The future role of UNDP in SDG implementation will depend on the reform of its governance structure and funding mechanism”.
But it is more than that. Big structural changes are needed, just as much we need to change our organizational culture, our established thinking and our day-to-day practices.  We need to do so for the relevance of UNDP, and to be able to honor the vision of the new Agenda 2030.

This will be difficult. UNDP has to reinvent itself, without fully knowing yet what the new version might look like. And that is ok. The organization of the future will need to constantly adapt to new challenges, learn, and work with partners to become the best it can be at any given time.

So while we celebrate UNDP’s golden anniversary give us your advice. How do you see UNDP in the next fifteen years? By the deadline of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2030, what should UNDP have achieved? And how?
SDG 1 aims to retire poverty in 2030. That same year, my son will turn 18 and UNDP 65. It could be a truly momentous occasion.

Blog post Sustainable development partnerships Poverty reduction and inequality Inclusive growth Climate change and disaster risk reduction

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