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August 1999


By Ashali Varma

Mr. Mark Malloch Brown assumed the leadership role of Administrator for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in July of this year, succeeding Mr James Gustave Speth. Malloch Brown served as the World Bank’s Vice President for External Affairs and United Nations Affairs  for five years before taking the helm at UNDP.  In his first interview with CHOICES magazine, Malloch Brown expresses his views on UNDP’s current role in the international development arena and his vision if how that role may evolve. He elaborates on UNDP’s strategic advantages as a provider of development assistance.

What do you believe is UNDP’s strategic advantage as a provider of development assistance as it approaches the new millennium?

UNDP’s strategic advantage lies in the universality represented by its presence in 137 countries and in its closeness to the governments of those countries. These unique attributes allow UNDP a role in helping countries to grapple with the challenges of change in the new millennium. Such challenges run the gamut from globalization, decentralization, the emergence of civil society and post-conflict situations, to whole new sets of management choices concerning the environment, social programmes, economic policy-making and international trade arrangements. As countries face these challenges, one firm friend will be there with advice and technical assistance to help them build the capacity they need to succeed, and that friend in UNDP.

Critics say there is duplication of effort in development programmes by international agencies; and there are calls for more cooperation among the multilateral institutions involved. What are your thoughts on these issues?

They are right, and I think we owe it to our development partners to take a hard look at what we do best and to acknowledge what they do best. While I completely subscribe to UNDP’s central mission to reduce poverty and promote sustainable human development, other agencies, including the World Bank, have a similar mission at this point. It’s part of UNDP’s success to have brought many others to a common vision, but we must define where, within that vision, UNDP’s particular value-added lies. Indeed, this is a central element of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s reform programme, and I look forward, as chair of the United Nations Development Group, to close coordination with our United Nations partners in providing clear, strategic direction to operational activities for development.

I believe UNDP’s value-added lies in the area of advice and support for capacity building and not in funding- many different projects that would be better financed by others with deeper pockets or more particular expertise. We have to be very tough-minded in choosing not just what to do but what not to do.

Given your experience of the World Bank, what do you think would be an appropriate form of partnership between UNDP and the Bank? Do you see discussions on this issue taking place in the near future?

Jim Wolfensohn, the Bank’s president, and I have agreed to meet as soon as I have had a chance to really engage with  UNDP, both at Headquarters in New York and, even more importantly, in the field. After the first months, we will have a “mini summit” to decide the priorities for partnership. The two institutions already have one very strong area of partnership, which is working together in Latin America, particularly in those countries where UNDP is already a major partner in a tripartite relationship with the Bank and the government.

There are also two new areas of partnership that I think will be of enormous importance. One is with governance. The 12th Replenishment of the International Development Association (IDA), the Bank’s concessionary lending arm, includes governance among the criteria that determine how the Bank allocates its funds. Because borrowing countries obviously want to maximize their access to IDA funds, they will have a real incentive to use UNDP’s assistance to build up their governance capacity. UNDP and the Bank agree that this incentive will also be driven by the fact that governments recognize that governance is a critical criterion for successful development.

The second new area that I see UNDP working very much in partnership with the World Bank is under the Bank’s Comprehensive Development Framework. It calls for catalytic consultation and participation with civil society to ensure that the government of a country  is not only in the driver’s seat regarding development strategies, but also that it speaks for a much broader developmentconsensus in that country. UNDP is very well placed to help countries capitalize on that consensus building, participation process.

Good governance and transparency have become key issues in sustainable human development programmes. How can one achieve them without compromising UNDP’s universality and impartiality?

UNDP’s universality and the confidence that governments have in the organization are absolutely critical to its success, so we should not jeopardize either. That doesn’t mean that, on a friend-to-friend basis, we cannot tell governments when there are issues we believe they should be emphasizing more. We must also recognize that countries will put different priorities on different elements of governance incapacity building. Some may think that building a system of environmental management is a much higher priority, for example, than assistance in election management. We should respect countries’ rights to choose the capacity-building services they want to draw on from UNDP.

Given your expertise in communications, do you have any thoughts on ways to  strengthen the recognition of UNDP in donor countries?

Over time, UNDP will put a lot more emphasis on communications. But first it must get the issues of business strategy and organization right. At present there is a blurred public perception of what UNDP is doing, as well as many questions about where its comparative advantages lie. One can’t solve these communications problems in isolation from the bigger issue of where the organization is going. When we solve that issue, communications will flow naturally.

That said, we will put a lot more emphasis on relations with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and with the private sector, constituencies that we have to carry with us. The success the Bank has had in the media, for example, is because NGOs and the private sector speak well of it. Earning that respect is not just a matter of briefing journalists more frequently, it’s making sure that NGOs and the corporations working, say, in Africa, also view and support UNDP as a -critical element in their vision for successful development in those countries.

Many legislators feel that significant amounts of money have been spent in developing countries with very little to show for it. What do you think you can do to counter donor fatigue?

This is a very real problem, and it’s obviously one I have been grappling with a great deal in my years at the Bank and during the intermediate years when I was on the Board of a number of NGOs. For NGOs, fund raising has been quite difficult in recent years because of donor fatigue. My own view is that much of today’s donor fatigue comes from our trying to push institutions rather than issues. It’s an easily illustrated point in the commercial world. We are all interested in Coca Cola, not in The Coca Cola Company, just as we are all curious about the General Motor’s motorcar we do or don’t buy, and not in General Motors the corporation. And yet in the world of international organizations, we get caught up in trying to promote the institution rather than the issues.

We should be pushing the issues that we care about. For example, if we care about improving the capacity of developing countries to manage environmental challenges, that issue should carry us, as an organization, rather than trying to get the press to write stories about internal reform processes that aren’t that interesting.

I think we have to be very outward looking and results-focused in our communications strategy. We must be able to go to parliamentarians and speak about what we have achieved together with our developing country partners. At the moment there is not enough talk about

real results: successes and achievements.

To what extent do you think the private sector can be relied upon to counter donor fatigue?

If misunderstood, the private sector becomes a mirage in the desert; too many think that somehow the private sector can plug the vast hole in official development assistance but it can’t. It’s not a substitute for public sector funding.

The reality is that funding trends go up or down collectively. If government funding falls, then private corporate funding is likely to fall too. If you can reverse the downward trend in one, then they all go up, and that’s what our vision has to be. We have to reverse the trend and to strike some partnerships with the private sector. But those partnerships cannot be about lending our good name to narrow commercial goals.  We must find common ground where the private sector can exercise its commitment to development and to good social citizenship in partnership with us. And, certainly, these ventures must extend to NGOs and to a four-way relationship with our partner governments as well.

We just have to find ways of bringing the private sector into development on terms of benefit to all. We also have to find some breakthrough ideas on which we can operate: perhaps some big ideas for providing new information technologies to developing countries. Those are the

kinds of innovations for which there is an appetite in the private sector.

In the past decade UNDP has based itself at the centre of the development policy debate

with publication of the Human Development Report (HDR) and other studies. Do you feel this focus on development policy has been fully appreciated by donors and partners?

UNDP suffers from what always happens when a really good idea is so successful that people everywhere think they invented it. If it’s any comfort, UNDP has a new administrator who knows exactly how significant the first two human development reports were and how important they continue to be. I refer specifically to the role of the HDR and of UNDP in the area of the concept of sustainable human development. I recognize UNDP’s innovative role is not as broadly acknowledged as everybody would like. Being an old consultant, I know you have won when other people think your best ideas are theirs.

UNDP has experienced a major drop in the voluntary contributions to core resources made by its member countries. In contrast, contributions to non-core resources, which are earmarked for specific purposes, are growing. What do you think can be done to restore the strength of the organization’s core resources?

I actually welcome the growth of non-core funding because it reflects confidence in many UNDP offices around the world. Not many development agencies can say that a lot of their money is raised locally with the strong support of the national government. This is an extraordinary vote of confidence. But I also hate the decline of core funds because it’s really about a reduction of resources to Africa, and that is completely unacceptable for an institution committed to poverty reduction.  We have to reverse this trend.

And I think we’ll see core funding turn around. But again I would say that it will come out of getting the business strategy right and getting the communications to flow out of that; all these things work together. You don’t go and fund raise first and then get the rest right afterwards. When the donor community sees that we are marching in step towards a common

set of goals, and that, in a very businesslike way, we are measuring our progress towards those goals, then we become very results oriented, and funding levels will be restored.

Raising resources will take some time, and we are going to do it under the pressure of a budget crisis. I hope we can at least capture the silver lining of that crisis, meaning that we will have a real sense of urgency about demonstrating improved performance. It’s a market test for UNDP. If we do better, our core funding situation will turn around.

Where would you like to see UNDP be at the end of your first term as Administrator, in

terms of programme focus areas and in terms of resources?

What I’d like to see in four years’ time is UNDP as an organization that is talked about, that has a lot of buzz about it because it’s at the centre of change management efforts in every country in which it operates. And I would like those countries to recognize that they have a companion, confidant, friend, and coach in UNDP. This is especially important over the next few years as those countries adjust to new globalized forces around them and to pressures coming up from an expanding civil society and a growing private sector. I’d like to see a UNDP whose signature services in its focus areas are recognized as distinct contributions to development. I would also like to see the United Nations Resident Coordinator system deliver a single effective UN service at the country level.

If UNDP can credibly perform those roles, then I promise you, we won’t be worried about funding but about how we can keep on top of the growing workload. It means that we have this market incentive, this imperative to improve our performance. And I thinkbecause of what Gus Speth has done in terms of reorganizing UNDP, we are on the verge of capturing the real benefits and successes and going forward.  If we can do that, this is going to be a wonderful four years for UNDP and for the development community.