DC Celebrating Women Leaders Luncheon
Helen Clark, UN Development Programme Administrator

Transcript | Photos | Honorary Committee

Washington, DC—On July 23, 2009, the Women's Foreign Policy Group launched its Women in Power Series with a luncheon featuring Helen Clark, United Nations Development Programme Administrator and former Prime Minister of New Zealand. The Administrator spoke on the Development Challenge in the Middle of the Global Recession to an audience of WFPG members and guests, including numerous ambassadors and officials from government, NGOs, international organizations, and corporations. Kimberly Dozier, CBS News Correspondent, presided as Mistress of Ceremonies and moderated the question and answer session.

In her speech, the Administrator discussed the impact of the economic downturn on the developing world, the challenges that lie ahead, and the response needed from the international community. She outlined how the situation has been exacerbated by an extraordinary convergence of crises, including increased food and oil prices, swine flu, and climate change. While UNDP's core funders continue to hold the line, she pointed out that funding for the organization was constrained even before the economic crisis. Ms. Clark noted that she has the same budget at UNDP for five billion people in 166 countries as she had to provide health care for only four million New Zealanders. She acknowledged the not un-encouraging progress on some of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but emphasized the critical need to increase development support.

Ms. Clark warned that realizing the MDGs has become even more difficult in the current economic climate. The recession could stall or even reverse development progress and might tip vulnerable countries into conflict. She called for support for developing countries which have reduced resources to cope with the additional burdens posed by the economic crisis, so that they may maintain their budgets for basic services. Ms. Clark suggested that such aid, used well, would allow governments to preserve health and education programs, areas which normally suffer during economic downturns and which disproportionately affect women and girls. The Administrator reiterated the importance of the G8's 2005 Gleneagles commitment to double official development assistance (ODA) and said that this should be seen as a minimum in the current circumstances.

The Administrator explained her goals for the agency, stating that she hopes to put the poverty reduction MDG&at the absolute center of UNDP's work and that she wants to integrate climate change and environmental issues into the development program as well. Ms. Clark noted that if a deal is to be reached at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, it will have to be a deal for&development, and that it could potentially produce a triple win by reducing and offsetting emissions, addressing energy poverty, and making green and inclusive growth possible.

The Administrator pointed to positive trends in development engagement and support: the new US Administration's pledge to double America's ODA by 2015, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's focus on development and women's empowerment, and President Obama's commitment to key development principles and goals consistent with those of UNDP in his recent speeches in Egypt and Ghana. She emphasized that development assistance is not a cure-all, but that development depends on peace, security, and good governance, a belief strongly supported by President Obama.

Ms. Clark made the case for why UNDP is a natural partner for the US as it begins to increase its development assistance, noting that UN agencies&work in&many areas where the US also wants to make a big difference for the better. She explained that America's resources for development will go further when they are combined with those of other donors and aligned around a common strategic framework. She outlined UNDP programs that are consistent with US objectives, including making local human rights institutions&more effective, instituting early conflict recovery programs, empowering women, and assisting in elections --- including the upcoming election in Afghanistan.


At the global level, the Administrator welcomed the international shift of focus from food aid to food security, noting that she comes from a country that got rich off the back of agriculture, and that she knows it is critical to our improvement and our future. Looking towards the upcoming G20 summit in Pittsburgh, she hopes attention will be focused specifically on the position of low-income countries. What is needed now, Ms. Clark asserted, is unwavering leadership, political commitment, and dedicated resources for development&to bring about lasting improvements in the lives of poor and vulnerable people.