Our Perspective

The private sector as a game changer for reducing poverty-related health diseases

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Community Health Volunteers with Ebola prevention kits walking through West Point in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo: Morgana Wingard/ UNDP

The recent Ebola outbreak has witnessed a resurgence of global attention on health issues facing poorer nations. However, as Bill Gates cautioned in a recent interview, the energy poured into the Ebola outbreak could mean less attention is given to other deadly diseases in poverty stricken areas. In our recently published report, Barriers and Opportunities at the Base of the Pyramid, we not only look at the relationship between poverty and poor health, but also at how poor health is in and of itself a barrier to poverty reduction. The report delves into various factors affecting disease prevention such as accessibility, availability, acceptability, and affordability of health services for those living in poverty. This message was also underscored by Gates,  stating that the prevention of Ebola and other diseases in Africa is strongly linked to making basic healthcare more readily available. In the report we make a strong case on why and how the private sector can be a game changer when it comes to improving the overall well-being of individuals, particularly for those living in poverty. While corporate philanthropy and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes have popularized examples on how the private sector contributes to poverty reduction, there are other... Read more

Philanthropy as a partner in implementing the Post 2015 development goals

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Philanthropy has so much to offer. Photo: UNDP in Pakistan.

Philanthropy is evolving rapidly as a sector, taking new shapes and forms. Although philanthropic contributions are poorly measured because difficult to estimate, total philanthropy from Northern countries (DAC donors) was reported to be $59 billion in 2011. Traditional philanthropic giving, such as grant-making, have been complemented by innovative approaches such as impact investing and advocacy, and more voices are calling for strategic philanthropy to engage in the conversation on the Post-2015 development agenda, another new development within the sector that traditionally has been aside of global processes. When we first reached out to foundations asking their views on the future development goals, our conversation was mostly about explaining the MDGs. The language and the measuring mechanisms of the MDG framework have not been well known or used by foundations, despite enormous philanthropic resources committed to issues such as education and health. The Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF), dedicated to global development, did not mention MDGs during its annual gathering. But this conversation has shifted dramatically. Committed foundations and associations have stepped up efforts in mobilizing and educating peers about the importance of the conversation about the future global development goals and implications for philanthropic strategies. “Collaborative philanthropy” became the buzzword at the... Read more

Eradicating poverty: thinking beyond income

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Many countries have already started taking an important step towards a new way of thinking about poverty. Photo: UNDP in Peru

Today, the 17th of October 2014, marks 21 years since for the first time the International Day for the Eradication of Extreme Poverty was celebrated. Notable progress has been made since then. According to World Bank data, among the 115 low-income countries of the world, the proportion of people in extreme poverty (i.e. an income per person per day of US$1.25, adjusted for purchasing power parity) declined from 43.4 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2011; i.e. 912 million people were lifted out of extreme poverty over the past two decades. This drop was mainly concentrated in East Asia and the Pacific, where the incidence of extreme poverty was reduced from 57 to 7.9 percent during the same period (i.e. 750 million people). In Southeast Asia, it dropped from 54.1 to 24.5 percent (221.5 million people). In Latin America and the Caribbean, between 1990 and 2011, the incidence of extreme poverty dropped from 12.2 to 4.6 percent, i.e. 25.5 million Latin Americans no longer live in this extreme condition. Two decades ago, poverty was defined in monetary terms, based on a consensus around the concept that income was an adequate measure to represent wellbeing. Today, it is more readily acknowledged... Read more

Hands-free diplomacy on Ebola

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A guard checks the temperature with a thermometer that doesn’t touch the skin. Photo: UNDP

  While there seems to be some global hysteria about the Ebola virus spreading like a science fiction plague across the planet, I’m here in Ebola epicenter: West Africa. I’m on a delegation of UNDP senior managers to help the UN ramp up the battle against the health crisis in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Being UNDP and not a medical organization, our focus is mainly not on the direct treatment for Ebola patients. Instead, to complement the work of the many excellent organizations that are building and staffing Ebola hospitals, we’re working to prevent the further spread of the disease in poor communities, and helping to keep the countries’ economies and societies from collapsing in terror and paralysis. Am I scared for myself being here, in the countries where people are suffering an outbreak of a nightmare? Honestly, not much. I’m not a foolhardy person, but statistically and epidemiologically and rationally, I know that right now I have about as much chance of catching Ebola as of dying in a plane crash on the way home. Yes, I know Ebola is serious, but I know how it’s transmitted. The disease is very dangerous for those who are touching the very... Read more

Leaving no one behind and leaving no one out in Vietnam

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Vietnam’s fight against poverty is incomplete and it’s running out of steam. Photo: UNDP in Vietnam

Over the last decades Viet Nam has rightly earned a global reputation for rapid and sustained reductions in poverty. The positive trends have been driven by rapid, fairly consistent and high labour intensity economic growth, Viet Nam’s integration within global trade and contributory demographic changes. Yet, all is not so rosy in the garden. Viet Nam’s fight against poverty is incomplete and it’s running out of steam. Economic growth has declined considerably since 2008 and poverty is unevenly distributed - severe deprivation is experienced by particular groups and the Ethnic Minorities especially so.  Major gaps are also evident in other Millennium Development Goal outcomes, like in health and education. I have learned that to understand poverty in Viet Nam one has to look beyond the averages and the sound-bites.  As I’ve travelled around the country, I have had the chance to meet some of those who have been left behind, including young unregistered migrant workers in urban areas, the disabled and elderly and single-headed households. I’ve been struck by their resourcefulness and courage, but too many still struggle against extreme poverty and inequality. And this is in spite of the often genuine efforts of the Government. There are many things to... Read more

Volunteering the future: A call to arms

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Photo: Zaven Khachikyan/UNDP in Armenia

How does volunteering make a difference? These days, we are trying to do development differently: to partner with less usual suspects for outside insights, and tap into local energy and initiatives. The ethos of volunteerism is exactly the same – it is not a supplement to the work we do; it is a natural component within it. And with whom do we partner up to do this? The answer, of course, is young people. They are the natural choice. To be truly inclusive though, we have to work harder to reach women, minorities, and other vulnerable groups. Volunteerism can be an essential part of that reach. Today, we have the largest cohort of youth in human history. Fifty percent of the population is below the age of 30. We cannot shape an effective response to youth matters if we do not include the voices of young people themselves.  We see ample evidence of this already happening in our region. In Belarus, young people volunteer to give free city tours to blind children; others provide orphans with clothes for harsh winters. They don’t see themselves as volunteers per se, but as citizens passionate to create infrastructures for resilience in their communities. So... Read more

Biodiversity underpins sustainable development

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"Investing in and protecting biodiversity is an investment in the future of the one planet we all share". Photo: Aude rossignol/ UNDP Burundi

Biodiversity and ecosystems provide the basis for all life on earth. Yet rates of deforestation and the degradation of grasslands, wetlands and other ecosystems remain alarmingly high. Forests and other ecosystems keep air and drinking water safe. Fertile land provides food and medicine. Marshes and mangroves act as buffers against natural disasters. We depend on nature for survival and it provides a daily lifeline for millions of the world’s poor. A crucial meeting taking place in the Republic of Korea will look into the  future of the wealth of life on earth. Ministers and other representatives from over 190 countries are exploring how best to protect the environment at the 12th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The discussions examine global sustainable development and take stock of progress on conserving, sustaining, and equitably sharing the benefits that biodiversity has to offer. Countries must recommit to meeting the ‘Aichi Targets’ under the Convention on Biological Diversity. These targets were agreed in 2010, and run until 2020. They urge swift action to halt the loss of biodiversity by addressing the causes of this loss, reducing pressure on biodiversity, and promoting its sustainable use.  The Convention also aims to ensure that biodiversity... Read more

Preparing for disasters must include all citizens, especially the elderly

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On the international day for disaster risk reduction, let’s make sure that we include and empower older persons as well. Photo: UNDP Ukraine

Whenever a disaster occurs, be it Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or Hurricane Sandy here in New York, we stress the need to invest more in disaster preparedness. Early warning systems, contingency planning, evacuation routes and training for response teams – these are all things that can, and should, be set up well in advance of a disaster in order to save lives. However, we need to remember that there is no one-size-fits all approach. Everything we do, from early warning to shelter provision, has to be tailored to the needs and capacities of community members. Older persons in particular are disproportionately impacted by disasters, as they often have limited capacity and less access to available systems. Difficulties in hearing or seeing, for instance, may limit access to emergency announcements; chronic health issues or special needs may delay or prevent escape and evacuation; and an absence of transportation may limit the ability to stock up on food, water and supplies. For older persons unfamiliar or unaware of the gravity of the crisis, there may be reluctance to reach out or seek shelter. So what can we do? First, we can recognize the specific vulnerabilities of the older persons and take measures... Read more

Realizing the rights of indigenous peoples

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photo: Gaëlle Bruneau / UNDP

Indigenous peoples represent more than 5,000 distinct groups in some 90 countries, making up more than 5 per cent of the world’s population, some 370 million people. Yet, they are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. The first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples convened in New York, bringing together Member states and representatives of indigenous peoples in a high-level plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly to share perspectives and best practices on the realization of the rights of indigenous peoples, including pursuing the objectives of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Following the outcomes from the conference, the UN system has been challenged with a tremendous opportunity to ‘deliver as one’ through a proposed system-wide action plan (SWAP) aimed at realising the rights of indigenous peoples. Only through a coherent approach, in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples, and articulating a common vision, approach and plan of action, can we best harness our resources to establish clear objectives, timelines, indicators and accountability mechanisms. Fostering dialogue and promoting inclusive development planning processes between indigenous peoples, governments and the UN system will continue to be a priority for UNDP. We will build on positive examples of how we have... Read more

The open way


Governments and public institutions such as the United Nations are trusted with huge amounts of public funds.  We have an obligation to work in a transparent way to show that what we are doing is what we should be doing. The benefits of being transparent, or “working in the open”, go beyond curbing corruption.  Transparency sets the foundation for responsive, engaged organizations. And real transparency allows for the public to have a say in the way work is being done and to take advantage of the “wisdom of the crowd.”  Transparency improves efficiency, builds trust and sparks innovation. The International Aid Transparency Initiative is creating openness in the $200 billion area of international development by giving poor countries the information they need to better manage foreign assistance, and donor governments – and their taxpayers – a better understanding of where their money goes.  It is an “open data” effort with global standards for billions in public funds that UNDP has helped launch. At UNDP, we’ve worked to champion this effort with partner countries and other UN agencies, but we’ve also worked to deliver what we ask of others.  We’ve tried hard to make our internal systems more understandable and ensure the... Read more

Building peace with new technologies: PEACEapp competition now accepting submissions

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Photo: Tom Pietrasik / UNDP India

When I was in Liberia last year, my national colleagues were making fun of me because of my ancient Nokia, compared to their flash phones. I will admit that I could use an upgrade, but I was struck by how ubiquitous smart phones have become – even in developing countries. Of course there are big gaps and the spread of technology has not been completely equitable – but 6.8 billion people use mobile phones daily and mobile use in developing countries is growing at an annual rate of 7.5 percent. And in many developing and conflict affected places, phones, tablets and computers today offer a great opportunity for communities to interact and engage with one another – and especially to bridge gaps between young people. When I was growing up video games were all about killing aliens, shooting bad guys and jumping over barrels to save the girl from the angry gorilla. Today however, their scope has broadened. A new breed of games and smart phone apps are being designed to promote peace and development. As my friend Helena says in a recent blog “…is it a crazy proposition to suggest that digital games could also be venues for dialogue and... Read more

How well is the rich world supporting development

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Miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mining sector is characterized by conditions of extreme danger, without any security and health framework with negative consequences for the environment. Photo: Benoit Almeras-Martino/UNDP DRC

We all know that many factors influence a country’s progress on poverty reduction and development. Policies and institutions at the domestic level are probably the most important driver. But it’s also true that the policies and actions of other countries – and especially rich and powerful nations – also influence the developing world’s development prospects. In this spirit, MDG 8 was elaborated. This MDG differs from all the others; it measures the developed world’s efforts to do things like increase development aid, cancel the debt of the poorest countries, make international trade fairer and provide access to affordable medicines. These measures, many argue, are just as important as the steps developing country governments can take at home to ‘improve their lot’. Every year, the UN monitors progress on how well the rich world is doing and launched its latest ‘update’ report recently. UNDP partners in this annual monitoring effort. So what’s the verdict? Is the rich world living up to its MDG commitments? On development aid (ODA), the report notes that, despite an increase last year, ODA still was US$180 billion short of the commitment. It’s also heavily concentrated in a few countries; in 2013, just 10 countries absorbed over 34%... Read more

Rule of law : The key to the ‘virtuous circle’

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Policemen at General Kaahiye Police Academy in Somalia undergo training in criminal investigation, to equip Mogadishu with a team of police officers that will effectively be able to deal with criminal investigations. Photo: UNSOM

Does rule of law matter for development?  What role should it play in the post-2015 agenda?  It’s an important issue.  We, at UNDP, advocate for strengthened rule of law and access to justice, but the issue is how to get them prioritized among many competing targets and goals for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and get governments to put budgets and political will behind them.  We need to prove that human development can’t be achieved without them. We still have a long way to go to make the case.  One popular argument is that without good rule of law and secure property rights, countries cannot attract the foreign investment they need for growth.  But the empirical foundation for that claim is rather weak.  It seems that the economies of the Asian tigers began to boom long before they established rule of law, with China and Vietnam being just the most recent examples.  More importantly for us, this argument doesn’t help to understand whether rule of law will deliver better outcomes for the poorest and most vulnerable, who are the focus of our work. Recently, I focused on the work of Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, and in particular their recent book... Read more

Sustainability is the only choice

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Guaranteeing the long-term success of people, companies, businesses and countries while contributing to the conservation of natural resources and the environment requires more than the usual rhetoric. Photo: UNREDD

The term “sustainability” is increasingly being used among NGOs, governments, public sector and civil society, but unfortunately there is a huge gap between what is being said and what is being done. Looking at the most basic meaning of sustainability - meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations - the list of individual, collective, private and public activities that could be considered completely sustainable in this day and age is rather short. Guaranteeing the long-term success of people, companies and countries while contributing to the conservation of natural resources and the environment requires more than the usual rhetoric; it involves a social change based on an active, forward-thinking approach, which in turn drives a significant increase in the empowerment of all stakeholders. Besides improving their reputation, which also results in better yields and prosperity, both public and private organizations that include sustainability as an inherent part of their operations establish stronger, trust-based links with their stakeholders and partners, thereby ensuring loyalty in the medium and long term. How can we bring these same principles to the field of human development? What impact would this have on our societies? The concept of “strategic planning” has not... Read more

Translation’s broader purpose

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In Kosovo, a law protects the rights of non-majority communities to get public services in any of the official languages. Photo: UNDP in Kosovo

On 30 September, the world honors translators by celebrating Saint Jerome, the 3rd century Christian priest and patron saint of translators who is credited with translating the Bible into Latin and ushering in a flowering in intellectual activity. This year Saint Jerome’s theme’s is Language Right – Essential to All human Right. The International day of Translation is the opportunity to reflect on the importance of multilingualism and the work of language professionals. Because theirs is a specialized profession which takes place behind the scenes, translators, interpreters, and terminologists are often taken for granted or not given enough credit. Yet they are essential to large international organizations as they make the circulation of ideas possible. As the cornerstone of transparency, multilingualism’s basic purpose is to provide the same information to all people so they can make informed decisions, and be understood in their native language. At UNDP, we offer expert knowledge on sustainable development,  poverty reduction, and crisis prevention that would not be accessible to the public without reliable translation into its official and working languages (English, French, Spanish) and a growing number of official UN languages (Arabic Chinese, Russian). Translation should therefore be treated and thought of as a basic... Read more

Want to measure peace, governance and the rule of law? Africa may have the answer.

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Peace, governance and the rule of law can be and are already being measured in Africa. Photo: UNDP in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As leaders gather in New York to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will succeed the Millennium Development Goals after 2015, Africa’s priorities must be reflected in the outcome. As is the case everywhere, sustainable development in Africa requires peace, governance and the rule of law. Earlier this year, the African Union’s 54 Member States adopted the Common African Position on the post-2015 development agenda, which emphasises the importance of promoting good and inclusive governance, fighting corruption, increasing transparency and accountability, reinforcing rule of law frameworks, strengthening institutional capacity and addressing the root causes of conflict. Encouragingly, most of these priorities were reflected in the recently agreed Outcome Document of the UN Open Working Group on SDGs. However, if this call to action is to yield meaningful results in Africa we will need better and more reliable data to guide policies, track progress, and underpin transparency and accountability. Much of Africa still has a long way to go in developing such capacity, and gaping data gaps need to be filled in the areas of peace, governance and the rule of law. We will need considerable investment to improve the quality and quantity of statistical data. Such investment should build upon... Read more

Will global goals with national targets meet global needs

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Children between the ages of 12-18 learning about the MY World Survey in Rwanda. Photo: Mark Darrough/Girl Hub Rwanda

Some of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lend themselves to a discussion within each country on how, and how quickly, they wish to pursue global goals. For example, if the people of country A want to achieve free secondary education for all children by 2028 through recruiting more teachers, while the people of country B want their government to reach that aspiration three years earlier through other means, both are legitimate and should result from democratically grounded national discussions.  Critically, the level of ambition adopted by country A has little or no impact on the expected progress in country B. But what about the other SDGs that relate to the global commons, where actions are required by all countries to keep our human progress within the means of the planet?  What if the political contexts in each country lead governments to make commitments that, in the aggregate, do not sum to the global action required? Our experience with climate change and ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (CBDR) points to some of the immediate problems we can face.  The distribution of responsibilities between countries is incredibly complex and inevitably political, and more often than not we end up with a stand-off that... Read more

Do-it-yourself Sustainable Development: The SDGs go DIY

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Women participate in management training, part of a UNDP programme that aims to enhance the government’s effectiveness in fulfilling their mandate. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh

With the proposal for Sustainable Development Goals now available for all members of the General Assembly to consider further, the question on many of our minds is:  where to next?  Once global sustainable development goals are adopted next year, how can we best help governments, citizens, and the private sector take them from aspiration to reality? So far almost 5 million people in almost 100 countries have either voted on their priorities for a new development agenda through the MY World survey or engaged in face-to-face discussions on what is needed to improve their future. As part of our broader work supporting innovation for development (I4D), we are looking for new ways of inspiring action on these priorities. So far, some interesting approaches have emerged: Micro-narratives and qualitative research to learn more about complex issues    The World we Want consultations asked what people need for their future, engaging people who are not usually part of policy debates. For example, people living with disabilities in Belarus and youth at risk in Kyrgyzstan shared their experience through micro-narratives. This data was then used to advocate for policies better suited to meet their needs. In El Salvador the consultations provided data used to advocate... Read more

Reversing the “Silent Earthquake of the Century”

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The Carbon Sequestration Project's achievements prove that degraded lands can be economically and feasibly restored by, and for, local communities. Photo: Sadaf Nikzad/UNDP Iran

According to climate change predictions, the Middle East faces a hotter, drier future. Iran sits at the very centre of the Middle East.  About 80 per cent of its surface is already arid or semi-arid, and the challenge of desertification is literally creeping up on us.  Some have called it “The Silent Earthquake of the Century”. In many parts of Iran this has been caused by sheep herders letting their flocks overgraze the land.  Sometimes it is caused by villagers breaking off rangeland shrubs for firewood. Because much of this problem is man-made, it can be fixed. To re-green desert rangelands, what you need is to replant. Shrubs saplings are incubated and watered until they are ready to be transplanted into holes dug by the community.  When hundreds of thousands of these shrubs grow over hectares, this creates a small biosphere which allows other vegetation and wildlife to return.  Such newly-greened biospheres sustain people’s livelihoods in a number of ways. But, in order for these areas not to be overgrazed again or used for fuel-wood, you need the ‘buy-in’ of the community to preserve and protect them. I have seen this process at work successfully with the “Carbon Project”, a community-development-plus-environmental... Read more

Cambodia turns climate change crisis into opportunity

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Ms. Khel Khem, a member of the Older People Association Bak Amrek village of Battambang, shows how she adapted her home garden to floods. Photo: UNDP Cambodia

Cambodia is ranked among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change. This is not only due to climate risks, but also to lack of capacity to adapt and respond.  Eighty percent of the population lives in rural areas with limited knowledge, infrastructure and opportunities; and more than 70 percent rely on agriculture that is heavily sensitive to climate change, putting the country’s economic and social development at risk. Cambodia’s efforts to fight climate change began in 1995 when the country ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and later acceded to the Kyoto Protocol in 2002. In 2006, the Cambodia national adaptation programme of action to climate change (NAPA) was developed. In late 2013, the country launched its first-ever comprehensive Climate Change Strategic Plan, recognizing climate change as a challenge to development requiring urgent and joint attention. This is the highest political commitment in combating climate change in Cambodia. Now the crucial question is “What’s next?” – How will the strategic plan be effectively implemented in order to achieve its vision and strategic goals? We, at UNDP, have been providing technical and financial support to the Government to develop climate change policies and plans. One of... Read more

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