13 March 2012, New York, USA – About fifty delegates gathered at UN Headquarters for a UNITAR workshop on the “UN System in a changing development cooperation landscape,” organized in cooperation with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations. The workshop consisted of presentations by: Mr. Bruce Jenks, former UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the Partnerships Bureau of UNDP, now Senior Fellow at Harvard University; H.E. Le Hoai Trung, Permanent Representative of Vietnam to the United Nations; and, Mr. Bjorn Gillsater, Chief, Multilateral System Analysis Office, UNICEF. The discussion was moderated by Mr. Navid Hanif, Acting Director, Office for Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Support and Coordination, open and closed by head of UNITAR New York Office, Yvonne Lodico.

In his presentation, Mr. Jenks emphasized that the United Nations continues to be confronted with the changing role of states in the context of emerging global challenges, such as ensuring sustainable development, coping with conflicts in fragile environments, and dealing with the globalization of crime. Mr. Jenks observed a fundamental change of the relationship between states, markets, and individuals. In the context of development cooperation: While the total value of ODA has increased, its relative position has shifted. Civil society influence on policy-making has increased substantially and scientific innovation has become global. Also, the UN needs to ask itself what it means to be a knowledge institution, when technology companies such as Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia are the main providers of global knowledge.

Against this changing landscape, Mr. Jenks drew the conclusion that the UN needs a strategic realignment. The UN’s core function in development, Official Development Aid, is “no longer big enough to solve all problems.” Rather, the UN needs to use ODA strategically to achieve pre-defined goals. Also, the current system of financing the UN sets incentives for agencies and programmes to compete for money rather than on performance. Changing this system for the positive “will require more partnerships and a more competitive model.” Finally, the UN system of governing development cooperation “does require a serious look at what governance is supposed to achieve.” Mr. Jenks suggested that UN should focus on improving country development in close partnership in country steering committees rather than through remote decisions at Headquarters.  To this end, he called for improving collaboration among UN agencies to improve social and economic conditions.

Mr. Bjorn Gillsater shared the results of a UNICEF survey, suggesting that multilateral organizations could better consolidate their cooperation. H.E. Le Hoai Trung echoed Mr. Jenks’ observation of the increased role of civil society, emphasizing that “civil society could play a major role through consultations, repositioning, implementation, and monitoring and support a government’s actions.” Hence, a common thread in this sessionwas the ability of the United Nations to adapt to new situations. Navid Hanif, expressed his belief that the UN can indeed adapt its structures to face the challenges of the 21st century.

(Photo: Amb. Le Hoai Trung is discussing Bruce Jenks' presentation)