Press Releases

    11 December 2002


    NEW YORK, 10 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the speech by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to InterAction's Annual CEO Retreat, Washington, D.C., 9 December:

    A few years ago, I gave a speech on development in which I reviewed the history of what I would call the "dominant concepts" in development policies. We moved from a focus on infrastructures in the 1950s and 1960s to devoting primary attention to basic needs in the 1970s. Then, as we all know, "structural adjustment" -- getting the fundamentals rights and all that -- became the Holy Grail.

    Today’s development policies revolve around another set of "dominant concepts". I have chosen to focus on four of them today:

    • The Millennium Development Goals (MDGS);
    • Coherence;
    • Country ownership; and
    • Partnerships.

    I would like to share with you some thoughts on these four concepts, how they are reflected in the work of the United Nations, and how they pose a challenge to all of us.


    I would like to start with the MDGs. Let me first confess that when the Secretary-General decided to highlight, in his Millennium Report, a number of development goals drawn from a decade of international conferences, we did not anticipate that they would become "the MDGs", an acronym now found in virtually every development discourse.

    Not everyone is enamoured of the MDGs. Some find them too simplistic. Others worry that they focus too much on the problems of the least developed countries and pay too little attention to the needed reforms in the international economic governance.

    Let me stress that the MDGs do not pretend to capture the totality of the development challenge. Nor are they intended to provide the sole framework for programmatic activities. The Goals are outcomes, not inputs. They are yardsticks for measuring progress, but in themselves they tell us little about how progress can be achieved.

    This said, I believe the MDGs are a formidable tool to mobilize political energies in both North and South. Because they are concrete, because they are quantified and because they have a clear time horizon, they can be easily understood by all and inspire commitment and action.

    The entire United Nations system, including the Bretton Woods institutions, has embraced the MDGs and is integrating them into its country-level planning instruments, including the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers. Programmatic priorities are being reviewed to ensure that they support the achievement of the MDG targets.

    In addition, we have launched the Millennium Project, under the leadership of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Mark Malloch Brown. This project has three components.

    The first is a series of periodic global, regional and country reports to monitor progress. Nineteen country reports have been completed already, and some 50 more are under way.

    The second component is the research project, led by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, which will draw on the best available intellectual firepower from North and South to identify how to embed the goals in development policies and achieve concrete results.

    Finally, the Secretary-General has invited the very dynamic Eveline Herfkens, former Minister of Development of the Netherlands, to lead a Millennium Campaign, since strong and sustained public support will be essential to the achievement of the MDGs. We have to keep the MDGs on the front burner, so to speak, for the next 13 years if we don’t want them to suffer the fate of so many other grand commitments and action plans.

    Needless to say, non-governmental organizations (NGO) have a big role to play on MDGs and at all levels: operations, policy and advocacy. If we want to be able to declare success in 2015, all development actors will have to keep their eyes on the ball and pull in the same direction.

    Let me take this opportunity to make a special plea for goal number six: HIV/AIDS. I know you share my horror at the scope and speed of this epidemic. AIDS is destroying societies. Evidence is mounting that it is also playing a critical role in the food emergency in southern Africa, since the food shortages are partly caused by HIV/AIDS, and HIV/AIDS, in turn, is increasing the effect of malnutrition. Please make HIV/AIDS your priority, since if we do not overcome this crisis, affecting millions of people, all other efforts for development will be in vain.


    On my list of "dominant concepts" coherence is perhaps the most powerful in terms of its impact on development. In this domain, all development actors are challenged.

    Donor countries too often take away with one hand what they give with the other. It took them far too long to recognize that unsustainable levels of indebtedness were cancelling out much of the public and private investment in many developing countries. The practice of tied aid, which seems fortunately to be in decline, deprived recipient countries of the possibility of obtaining goods and services at the best possible cost or developing indigenous capacities in these areas. It took the AIDS pandemic to drive home the point that without greater flexibility in the protection of patent rights, most developing country victims of the disease would never be able to afford treatment -- an essential part of any strategy to overcome the pandemic. And there is, at long last, serious public debate on the detrimental impact on developing countries of farm subsidies -- thanks in part to the effective campaign led by Oxfam.

    Developing countries also have to face their own coherence challenge. The issue is not only to achieve an optimum allocation of scarce resources but also to tackle the policies and practices which discourage investors and undermine the confidence of the donor community. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) initiative, with its emphasis on democracy, good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law and a determination to fight corruption, is a good example of a comprehensive framework which recognizes the interlinkages among the factors which influence development and proposes a coherent policy approach.

    The United Nations also faces its own coherence challenges, in terms of both policy and operations. Given the fragmented nature of the United Nations system, enormous efforts have to be invested in coordination in order to ensure that its messages are as consistent as possible and its actions on the ground mutually reinforcing.

    Under the leadership of the Secretary-General, much progress has been made. New country-level tools -- Common Country Assessment, United Nations Development Assistance Framework, Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers -- are helping to ensure that the United Nations family is working in reasonable unison. The latest report of the Secretary-General on reform spells out the new improvements we wish to bring to our coordination: making joint programming and the pooling of resources possible, strengthening support for the Resident Coordinator, building a common database of expertise available across the United Nations system. Over the longer run, the Secretary-General believes we should move to single United Nations offices in countries where our activities are limited and look at sectoral regrouping under a lead agency in larger countries.

    Post-conflict situations present unique challenges for the entire development community. Now more than in the past, we recognize the need to address in a coherent fashion the multiple problems facing societies emerging from conflict: security, political reconciliation, human rights, restoration of judicial institutions and the rule of law, disarmament and reintegration of armed combatants but also reconstruction, return of refugees, employment creation, restoration of social services and many more. The coordination model put in place first in Sierra Leone, where a Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General acts as the overall coordinator of all United Nations humanitarian and development activities, has been replicated and reinforced in Afghanistan. As a result, I believe United Nations action in these countries is more coherent and more effective.

    Country Ownership

    While coherence is the responsibility of all development actors, the most effective way to achieve coherence in development assistance at the country level is without a doubt through effective leadership by the developing countries themselves. In fact, the importance of a nationally driven development strategy is blindingly obvious. If there is one enduring development lesson, it is that solutions imposed from outside have little long-term traction.

    Country ownership is easy to proclaim as a principle but very difficult for donors and other development partners to follow in practice. Let us admit here that we have all, at some point or other, succumbed to the temptation of pushing our favourite issue rather than serving the true priorities of our developing country partners. Issues that are popular on the home front get generous funding while others are neglected. Too often, our programmes are supply- rather than demand-driven.

    The international community is making commendable efforts to apply the country ownership principle in Afghanistan. In the run-up to the establishment of the Afghan Interim Authority last December and the Tokyo donors’ conference in January, the United Nations system, bilateral donors, the Asian Development Bank and others pledged to focus firmly on building local government capacity rather than bringing in hordes of expatriate staff. A year on, I think we can claim to be, at best, partially successful in this respect. Certainly, the United Nations, the World Bank and other partners have an enormous amount to be proud of, and our collective "footprint" is smaller than it would have been in the past. But the Afghan authorities point out that a large share of assistance resources are channeled through United Nations, bilateral or NGO entities rather than being at their direct disposal. They complain that too many decisions are still being taken by "white men in suits" rather than by Afghans. One can dispute these assertions but one thing is clear: our goal in developing countries should be to work ourselves out of a job, not find reasons to perpetuate our presence.


    This brings me to my fourth and last dominant concept: "partnerships". We can hardly refer to partnerships as a new concept. Cooperative ventures have always been part of the development landscape. Non-governmental organizations, universities, governments, multilateral institutions have a long tradition of working together, often very productively.

    The new element in the partnership universe is the participation of private-sector entities. This phenomenon has raised exaggerated hopes and provoked exaggerated fears, in my opinion.

    When Ted Turner announced that he would donate $1 billion to the United Nations, many concluded that the private sector could become an important new source of financing for development activities. It is true that an increasing number of wealthy individuals or foundations are choosing to dedicate their philanthropic activities to international humanitarian or development causes, and the contributions of a Bill Gates or a George Soros are far from insignificant. But the potential to raise major new resources is somewhat limited and concentrated essentially in the United States.

    Private-sector companies, for their part, can be expected to bring very little in the way of cash contributions, although their contributions in kind can, in some cases, be of great benefit. The main resources that the private sector can be expected to bring to the development table are investment and know-how.

    As for the fears that partnerships with the private sector inspire, one can be summed up in an expression often heard in the run-up to the Johannesburg Summit: "letting government off the hook". Partnerships are not and cannot be allowed to be a substitute for governments assuming their responsibility. But they can play a vital role in effective implementation.

    One of the more encouraging outcomes of the Johannesburg Summit was the announcement of some 220 partnerships. These are admittedly unproven, and some of these partnerships will probably prove to be old-fashioned, flag-waving exercises with minimal impact. But a few carry real potential and could become models for future initiatives. It will be very important that we sustain the momentum and ensure that these partnerships do deliver. Earlier today the United Nations met with a number of civil society groups and private-sector representatives to flesh out some of the proposed partnerships and see how best to follow up.

    The other fear often voiced is that companies will use the partnership to their advantage and, in the case of cooperation with the United Nations, "wrap themselves in the blue flag". This is one of the concerns expressed by many NGOs regarding the Global Compact initiative of the Secretary-General.

    I hope we can all agree on the desirability of companies embracing the Global Compact’s nine universal principles in the areas of human rights, labour standards and the environment, and applying them in their corporate activities. The Compact encourages companies to adopt such policies on a voluntary basis and has enlisted NGOs and trade unions to interact with the companies that sign up and hold them up to their commitment. Participating companies are subject to the standard and very strict rules regarding the use of the United Nations name and logo. The advantage they draw from adhering publicly to the Compact is placing their company in a better position to respond to the increasingly strong demand from public opinion that they behave as good global corporate citizens.

    Of course I don’t have to preach the merits of partnership to your organization. InterAction describes itself as being "about amplification", doing what one organization cannot do alone. In that sense, you are not unlike the United Nations since we also occupy more of a catalytic, leveraging position than a directly operational one. You also have a direct interest in the other issues I have raised tonight: MDGs, coherence and country ownership. We have much to discuss and much to learn from one another. That is why I accepted your invitation with great pleasure and why I look forward to your questions and comments.

    Thank you very much for your attention.

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