Working Assets: Development Infrastructure Worthy of Development Aspirations, Karin Perro and Robert Zuber

1 Feb

The UN’s final working day of January featured an odd mix of events, including a seminar dedicated to teaching about the UN, a full-day event promoting social media, and the Security Council’s debate on the Protection of Civilians with a special focus on women and girls.

The last of these is particularly germane to GAPW’s work and, as noted by the UK, represents perhaps the singular lens through which outsiders view the value of the United Nations. And there was much of value in the discussion which we attempted to capture through @globalactionpw. Not surprisingly, some of the presentations represented a mixture of now-familiar POC assumptions and a few needlessly repetitive political grievances.  And despite some passionate and convincing articulations on the common theme of Women, Peace and Security and its implications for protection, a number of delegations noted that 15 years after the WPS norm was consummated, it still ‘feels’ more ornate than embedded.

This lament is relevant to what could well have been the most far-reaching event of the day, held in Conference Room 2, a surprisingly small venue for a discussion as potentially significant as this one could turn out to be.  ECOSOC’s “Dialogue on the longer-term positioning of the United Nations development system” attracted a roster of high-level presenters including UNDP’s Helen Clark, Timor-Leste’s Amb. Sofia Mesquita Borges, and Colombia’s Amb. María Emma Mejía Vélez, vice president of ECOSOC.

GAPW’s Karin Perro spent the morning listening to UN officials and others discuss ways to make the full UN system more accountable to and engaged in the fulfillment of development goals, another one of those ‘core lenses’ for public assessment of UN effectiveness. Among the insights she gleaned were Helen Clark’s ‘delivering as one’ approach.’  Such an approach includes what Clark referred to as a ‘relevant and nimble’ institutional structure for SDG implementation. This warrants more sustained attention with caveats to ensure room for innovation (as the US suggested) and also to guarantee (as Albania noted) that UN development priorities avoid policy silos and fully embrace national contexts.

Perro also reported some echoes of skepticism in the room that went beyond caveats.  Amb. Borges wondered aloud about the ability of states with fiscal, security and governance limitations to successfully coordinate implementation of what will likely be wide ranging development goals.  And several African states bluntly questioned the UN system’s ability and effectiveness in coordinating with other development partners, including states.  Ghana was perhaps the boldest of these states, intimating that development ‘competition’ indulged by UN agencies can result in disrupted development flows, duplicated efforts, disempowered (or frustrated) non-UN development partners, and neglect of legitimate, country-specific needs.

As it turns out, space for this important and even innovative discussion was a non-factor as perhaps 2/3 of the seats in CR 2 were filled.  Apparently ensuring a robust and responsive development infrastructure isn’t as sexy for some in the UN system as formulating text outlining largely normative goals and objectives. Or perhaps state and NGO representatives were busy sharpening their twitter messaging in another conference room.

Regardless, the implications of this event for fulfilling the new goals of the UN’s development pillar were clear to all who participated.  All seemed to recognize that there is limited value to establishing development goals in the absence of viable development infrastructure. On this point, GAPW noted a general, if guarded optimism from delegations, including from those seeking more attention to national context, but also from those wondering if structures of governance in some states are sufficiently fair and robust to handle our new and expanded set of development commitments.

It was also clear that unless all relevant institutional and national assets can find complementary service in our development workplaces, our SDG efforts are likely to create the equivalent of lovely sprinkles on an ice cream cone that itself is not fit to be eaten. We are all the ‘responsible parties’ here, responsible to guide implementation of fair and transparent development priorities, but also responsible to prevent possible damage to the UN’s reputation from development goals and objectives that could regrettably turn out, once again, to be as ornate as substantive.

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