The System is Changing

Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) operational activities for development segment

New York, 21 May — This is the main message of UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the ECOSOC Operational Activities for Development Segment, where he briefed Member States on the progress of repositioning the UN development system.

“We pivoted to a new era for the UN development system – and as my report observes, we are well advanced on this transformative journey,” he said in his opening remarks.

In presenting his report on the repositioning of the UN development system, Secretary-General said that the Resident Coordination (RC) system has been reinvigorated, the Development Coordination Office (DCO) is up and running, supporting the RCs and the UN Sustainable Development Group. We are moving ahead in establishing a new generation of UN country teams, with more integrated, responsive and accountable functions. Internal platforms and tools are being strengthened in the work of the UN Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG) -- such as new guidelines for Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks and a Management and Accountability Framework that clarifies the new relationships between UN Country Teams (UNCT) and Resident Coordinators. And the changes proposed to our regional architecture, multi-country offices and funding base are critical to maximize the impact of the reform.

“You have agreed on a remarkable global blueprint for sustainable development, and a bold and clear General Assembly resolution to usher in the most ambitious reform process in the history of the United Nations”, Secretary-General told Member States.

But what did change in the UN development system on the ground? Member States heard from Resident Coordinators in Mali, Lebanon, Costa Rica, Thailand and Bosnia-Herzegovina who shared their experiences since they took office on 1 January, as the highest-representatives of Secretary-General on development issues in countries.

There is a “high degree of trust within the UN country team, and with the Resident Coordinator, an established confidence and a shared sense of responsibility,” said Deidre Boyd, Resident Coordinator in Thailand. With a better structured office and a shift in the mindsets of UN country team members to embrace the changes, the government has a better understanding of what to expect from the Resident Coordinator. The new Joint SDG Fund has also brought the UNCT closer as they develop joint programmes for integrated policy support to countries towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030.

Sezin Sinanoglu Resident Coordinator in Bosnia & Herzegovina said she felt uplifted by her new role as facilitator and coordinator of the country team and acknowledged that, “change is happening within the UN”. In a country fragmented by post-war division and that must find its own shared path to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, she noted positive change and more openness in the relationship with the RC - from being asked by Government to mediate joint programming among entities, joining regional meetings of different UN development system entities, to more genuine collaboration within the country team.

In terms of efficiency gains, Ms. Sinanoglu noted in her case a 20 per cent cost savings just by sharing common premises in the UN House, implementing a vehicle pool across UN entities in the country, and improving the technological infrastructure. This speaks volumes to the significant efforts to bring the system together to make it more efficient. As Secretary-General stated: “Our objective is clear. It is not to seek savings simply for its own sake. Our goal is to strengthen our response to the 2030 Agenda. Every dollar saved is a dollar that can be reinvested in development activities”.

“We have to capitalize on what works and make the paradigm shift from individual action of agencies to working together as a UN development system”, said Alice Shackelford Resident Coordinator in Costa Rica. She noted that the government fully embraced the central role of the RC as facilitator of the country team and gives strong support to the RC office.

The new Cooperation Framework offers the space necessary for alignment of national strategies, the common country analysis and humanitarian plans, particularly relevant in countries hit by protracted conflict. Assistant Secretary-General Mbaranga Gasarabwe, Resident Coordinator, Humanitarian Coordinator and Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Mali, welcomed the “participatory approach” brought by the reform, enabling the country team to communicate results and speak with one voice. The reform cannot be delivered by any entity alone. The implementation of the reform goes hand in hand with a major culture and behavioural change, a shift in the mindsets of all involved, UN Country Teams, Resident Coordinator offices and Member States alike.

While burgeoning change is recorded throughout the reform streams, there are bumps in the road ahead and inherent resistance to such a transformational change that must be overcome. RCs highlighted few areas where we can do better as a system and stressed to Member States the importance of their leadership, national ownership, and keeping open communication channels, which are essential to help Resident Coordinators in bringing the UN development system together.

While communication flows worked well from headquarters to the field and within the countries, information sharing at regional level could be improved. Member States were called to impress a sense of urgency upon agencies’ executive boards as to avoid misinformation and ensure development partners are fully on board.

Much more needs to be done on accountability, financial transparency, resource tracking and allocation and data for development. To this effect we need to incentivize collective effort, joint programming and leverage finance innovation. Change is also needed in the approach of donor partners to reduce fragmentation in funding to incentives more joint action by UN development entities.

The work within the nexus between development, peace building and humanitarian affairs remains a challenge for many countries. We need to shift in the way we are doing business and expand our partnerships. “This reform is not just internal, but a shared responsibility and we need to engage outside our zone of comfort”, said Philippe Lazzarini, Resident Coordinator, Humanitarian Coordinator and Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Lebanon, adding that his office was looking at establishing a group of partners to engage with the UN development system at country level.

The 2019 ECOSOC operational activities for development segment will take place from 21 – 23 May 2019 at UN Headquarters in New York. The segment will look at key elements of the response to the 2016 General Assembly resolution on the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review and the 2018 General Assembly resolution on repositioning the UN development system.

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