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A New Role for Development Institutions in the 21st Century

Sukehiro Hasegawa
Director, UNDP Tokyo office

Presentation at the Conference on "The Kyushu-Okinawa Summit: The Challenges and Opportunities for the Developing World in the 21st Century," co-sponsored by the United Nations University, the Foundation for Advanced Studies in Development and the University of Toronto's G8 Research Group, Tokyo, July 17, 2000.


  1. Paradigm Shift
  2. New Challenges and Requirements
  3. New Upstream Support Services

A. Paradigm Shift

A host of new development challenges have emerged around the turn of the century. Globalization has led to new complexities as governments are called upon to manage the opportunities and pressures created by global trade, increased capital flows and economic integration. At the same time, within many countries a broad array of newly empowered social groups expect to join the mainstream of social and economic life, which creates compelling, difficult and often contradictory demands. In other countries, exclusion rather than empowerment, often combined with extreme poverty and weak governance capacity, has created conditions of open conflict. As a result, the number of countries in special development situations has grown.

With the rapid growth of civil society, an increasing number of players have become involved and there has been a striking convergence around the goals of human development and poverty eradication. A competitive and specialized market for development services has emerged, offering developing countries unrivalled opportunities for quality support from multiple sources. In addition, through the 1990s, a paradigm shift in development cooperation has taken place, with the emphasis now on national ownership. It is increasingly recognized that the governments of developing countries should drive their own development process, with various partners providing support on the basis of comparative advantage.

B. New Challenges and Requirements

Given the pace of change and the scale of new challenges, governments everywhere are struggling to identify and fully utilize the best knowledge and advice available to support their own development goals. Most recognize that integration with the world economy and open, participatory approaches to development offer the best possibilities for human development and poverty eradication. Additionally, managing globalization and the pressure it engenders requires equitable public policies and effective, accountable and decentralized institutions. Yet these are often sensitive areas, closely tied to individual circumstances. There is an obvious needs for capacity-building that is impartial, professional and tailored to country-specific contexts.

In addition to growing demand for more effective governance activities, the developing countries are increasingly asking UNDP to provide upstream activities such as capacity-building, knowledge-networking and support for empowerment. UNDP is responding to these regards that necessitate more and more regional, multisectoral and participatory approaches. Within the area of capacity-building, policy, regulatory and legal frameworks, support for increased social cohesion, institutional capacity and data collection and monitoring formed the core of the anticipated outcomes.

C. New Upstream Support Service

These kinds of upstream support, in whatever policy area, be it environment, gender, public administration, or any other, are the kind of development activities where UNDP can have its greatest impact. This is because they play to the unique strengths of UNDP. Such support requires a unique appreciation for local contexts, where the involvement by any outside body may be delicate. To this context, UNDP brings the blue United Nations flag and the stamp of multilateralism and impartiality: from its long experience of working in partnership with programme countries worldwide, UNDP is committed to finding solutions appropriate to their unique development challenges. This is as true for those countries that have been priorities for bilateral cooperation as it is for other countries, particularly in Africa, where UNDP is often a lifeline. The old and new approaches incorporating the paradigm shift are shown below.

Old New
Project driven Policy driven
Process orientation Results orientation
Low-level specialized expertise Clear competency profile
Low-knowledge-based capacity Innovative and information technology networked capacity
Risk aversion Risk-taking
Introverted, sceptical of partnerships Outward looking, partnerships oriented
Bureaucratic culture Merit-reward and initiative-driven culture
Cumbersome decision-making Flexible and real-time decision-making
Weak management accountability Responsive leadership management

Specializing in activities higher up the development equation also plays to the other major strengths of UNDP. The global advocacy power of the Human Development Report and its national counterparts is expected to provide the enabling environment for country-specific policy dialogue and institution-building. A greater role in policy dialogue and institution-building likewise goes hand in hand with the United Nations coordination responsibilities mandated to UNDP and makes UNDP uniquely positioned to help to mobilize public and private sector resources directly to the development priorities of programme countries. The resource mobilization role, in turn, is complemented by global advocacy, as UNDP helps to shape the case for new private and public investment flows. Finally, in special development situations, upstream support around appropriate development policies can help countries to avoid, mitigate and recover form crises.

The key to this kind of corporate cultural transformation now taking place in UNDP is a commitment to new policy expertise and results-oriented partnerships as well as a strong focus on leadership, accountability and people.

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