ECOSOC Dialogue Considers Functions of UN Development System
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As part of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) dialogue on the longer-term positioning of the UN development system, ECOSOC held a one-day workshop to discuss the functions of the system, in particular lessons learned, innovations, and expectations in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.

ECOSOC17 April 2015: As part of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) dialogue on the longer-term positioning of the UN development system, ECOSOC held a one-day workshop to discuss the functions of the system, in particular lessons learned, innovations, and expectations in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.

Opening the meeting on 17 April 2015, in New York, US, María Emma Mejía Vélez, Permanent Representative of Colombia and ECOSOC Vice-President, noted that the workshop was the first in a series of informal events taking place between now and May 2016. The workshops and retreats will focus on six areas of the dialogue, she said: functions; capacity and impact; funding practices; governance structures; organizational arrangements; and partnership approaches.

James Cokayne, Head of Office, UN University Office in New York, and workshop moderator, clarified the notion of function as ‘what’ the UN system does rather than ‘how’ it does it. Cokayne later clustered several functions mentioned by participants into: direct assistance and support (direct operational, technical and policy assistance); transfers (capital and financing, technology transfer, knowledge and norms development and transfer); influencing other actors’ behavior (e.g. partnerships); and broad protection (of human rights, resilience and disaster risk reduction (DRR), and the global development challenges related to the post-2015 development agenda).

In the session on ‘Lessons learned and innovations,’ Navid Hanif, Director, Office for ECOSOC Support and Coordination, UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), presented potential key functions of the UN development system in response to the post-2015 development agenda, including: offering normative and technical support; investing in conflict prevention, DRR, peacebuilding, humanitarian assistance, recovery and resilience building; supporting South-South and triangular cooperation; building partnerships and engaging stakeholders; and integrating policy advice and advocacy.

John Hendra, UN Senior Coordinator ‘UN Fit for Purpose for the Post-2015 Development Agenda,’ said “functions must be driven by purpose, not only by fitness.” He called for integration instead of working “in silos,” and remarked that the UN is more effective when it works horizontally. Antonio Molpeceres, UN Resident Coordinator-Chile, raised questions about the UN’s added value.

In the session on ‘Expectations for functions in the context of the post-2015 development agenda,’ Khalid Mali, Resource Person, noted that, in the growing context of connectivity and globalization, people increasingly demand more from the UN as “the essential universal organization,” while what governments expect from the UN is increasingly different from what people expect from the UN. He described universality as “shared responsibility about shared problems,” noting that differentiation between MICs, high income countries (HICs) and other groups might not be useful anymore, as poverty and vulnerability affect all countries. He suggested looking at clusters of needs and impediments instead.

Responding to the presentations, the US noted that “even though there is no competitor for UN’s overarching function of universality, on particular functions there are emerging competitors that are very good” and cost less, and queried whether the UN will go out of business. She urged Member States to agree on the role of public-private partnerships (PPPs), explaining that “if we don’t agree on that, that train will pass us by and leave us behind.” Norway proposed a few functions, including: norm-setting; providing evidence-based global knowledge to agree on common priorities; and ensuring global monitoring.

Switzerland stressed the need for setting clear principles to guide the UN’s engagement in different areas, also suggesting that ECOSOC and the High-level Political Forum on sustainable development (HLPF) should be responsible for oversight aspects. Timor-Leste underlined the need to “cut back on duplication,” “keep things simple,” and for the UN system to offer support for national programming.

Viet Nam said the UN should be a source of ideas and innovation, strategic policy advice, and convening power. Ghana noted the importance of sharing technology to bridge the gap between developed and developing countries, broadening partnerships, and strengthening the role of stakeholders.

Brazil invited delegates to think about: existing gaps beyond the “encapsulated categories of countries;” mechanisms that could expedite transfer of knowledge and technology on the South-South and South-North axes; potential changes in the governance of the UN system at the regional levels; and strengthening the role of the Resident Coordinator.

Other issues raised by other Member States included: the importance of voluntary funding; better tailoring UN’s delivery to the particular needs of countries such as small island developing States (SIDS), the least developed countries (LDCs), and land-locked developing countries (LLDCs); embedding gender issues; leading multilateral action on global issues such as poverty eradication, climate change, and growing inequalities; and the need for strengthening the coordination with the national governments.

Delegates also debated if changes should be incremental, occur in cycles, or “a Big Bang” reform happening at once through repurposing the system. One Member State suggested that adding new functions would further fragment the UN development system.

The ECOSOC dialogue on longer-term positioning of the UN Development System was called for in ECOSOC Resolution 2014/14, and will inform the outcome of the next UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) – the mechanism through which the UNGA assesses the effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and impact of the UN development system. A roadmap on the process for this dialogue was issued on 27 February 2015. [Dialogue and Workshop Webpage] [Workshop Programme] [Workshop Background Notes] [IISD RS Story on ECOSOC Dialogue Roadmap] [IISD RS Sources]

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