Clark Pleads Complexity

Administrator of the United Nations’ Development program Helen Clark is in a philosophical and operational stoush with her governing board over approaches to global poverty reduction. The UNDP board issued a report criticizing its own organization for disconnected and compromised programs, a deeply ingrained culture, concerns over resource allocation, and a rapid turnover of staff. The board says many of the programs only have a remote connection to poverty reduction, there is a lack of measures to show progress, that the UNDP is not “pro-poor”, and that the UNDP has spread over too many areas. The board also questions links between the UNDP and the Assad regime in Syria. In response Clark and her executive team have issued a 17 page rejoinder arguing that what works well in poverty reduction and what doesn’t is not yet well understood; that there are a myriad of unique local issues that preclude a one-size-fits-all approach; that being “pro-poor” is a very narrow approach to a very complex political and economic problem; that macro issues such as economic poliy and climate change have a specific impact on reinforcing poverty; activities such as trade development and biodiversity are critical to raising living standards (the UNDP has, for example, a US$700M investment in water protection and oceanic governance); that a holistic tripodal approach involving diagnosis, intervention and implementation is required in every situation. The UNDP has an annual US$5.7B budget, or $4.38 per person for the 1.2 billion people living in poverty throughout the world.

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