Can there be sustainable development without gender equality?

30 Jun 2014 by Leire Pajín, Policy Advisor

 primary healthcare for women in MyanmarYoung mothers get health care education at a UNDP-sponsored clinic in Hakha Township, Chin State, Myanmar. Photo: Tom Cheatham for UNDP
Whenever we analyze a development strategy, the inevitable question arises:  Should the approach to gender equality be comprehensive across all sectors or should it be a separate issue and agenda? Experience tells us that both approaches are desirable: A concrete goal for gender equality as well as fundamental indicators and targets that require creation of gender policies. These policies should contain specific measures to address half of the population's need for education, health care, access to land and energy, etc. To date, this has been the most common approach across various UN groups, reaffirming the idea that a comprehensive and transformative approach is urgently needed in order to address structural barriers to gender equality and to lay a solid foundation for the future. The key now is to draw lessons learned from the experience of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and strengthen the tools that advanced gender equality in the desired areas. But what has been achieved by the MDGs with regard to gender equality? The answer is mixed: Gender parity has been achieved in primary education, but only 2 of 130 countries have achieved this goal at all levels of education. Progress has been made in access to employment. Globally, 40 … Read more

Consumption and well-being: What are we missing?

26 Jun 2014 by George Gray Molina, Chief Economist

“The consumption boom” is concentrated in the upper echelons of society“The consumption boom” is concentrated in the upper echelons of society. Photo: Mauricio Martínez/ UNDP in El Salvador
Slavoj Zizek tells a joke that was popular in Eastern Europe in the sixties. A man enters a grocery store and yells, “Surely you don’t have any soap, right?” The shopkeeper replied halfheartedly: “No, sir, we’re the shop with no toilet paper; the shop with no soap is further ahead.” In Latin America, something similar is happening in discussions on progress and development, and we usually think we are the society that is “missing something”, or is “incomplete”. We are interested in exploring the particularities of what’s desperately needed, the necessary data that will enable us to better visualize our unsustainable pattern of consumption. In other words, to examine the aspects of multidimensional poverty that we still have not been able to define. A couple of weeks ago, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean published new data on consumption, spending and borrowing. The initial findings are as follows: “The consumption boom” is concentrated in the upper echelons of society. The richest 20 percent of Latin Americans accounted for roughly 50 percent of all household spending. The poorest 20 percent accounted for about 7 percent of total household spending. Furthermore, the findings show a transition in the nature of spending. … Read more

Square pegs, round holes, and the importance of asking the right questions

20 Jun 2014 by Donna Bugby-Smith, Parliamentary Strengthening Expert

Elections in BangladeshA third of Bangladesh’s population is below the age of 25, and yet we know little about their expectations from elected representatives. Photo: UNDP in Bangladesh
Of course, I know what the word innovation means but, as a relatively new recruit to UNDP, I am curious about what it means for the organization. For the past year, I’ve been leading a project seeking to strengthen parliamentary democracy in Bangladesh and  wondered: Which innovation could we possibly devise that would redefine how effective parliaments are in a country? Just a few hours into an innovation workshop in Bangladesh, I realized I had been coming at this all wrong. The innovation our work with the parliament needs isn’t about tweaking existing programmes or devising new ones -it is about how we are defining the problem! The way we have been designing solutions to problems we perceived the citizens of Bangladesh were experiencing was flawed because we weren’t really asking them what the problem was in the first place. Instead of doing what we’ve been doing last year and the year before that eg. counting the amount of people being trained, of male/female participants and of public hearings held, we need to go back to the drawing board. Sure, we’ll do all the counting needed,  but we will also organize ‘itch workshops’  to find out what matters to citizens including … Read more

Land and property governance – a matter of development and human rights

17 Jun 2014 by Patrick Keuleers, Director a.i., Democratic Governance Group

Woman farmerAccess to land for women is a key development issue. Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/ UNDP India
Although more than 115 nations recognize, in their legal frameworks, women’s equal rights to property and inheritance, in many countries women continue to face discrimination when it comes to land and property rights, Land plays a critical economic, environmental, social, cultural and political role in the development of states and people. Control of land and related natural resources is linked to power and identity, and can be a source of conflict and crisis. Land and natural resource management also lie at the core of ensuring environmental sustainability, including the maintenance of ecosystems and biodiversity. For indigenous and tribal communities, access to land and the protection of their traditional tenure practices are critical to their existence and identity. Failed land policies can also cause massive migration of workers from rural to urban areas. Having access to land and security of tenure provides a gateway to a range of economic, social, civil and political rights. Hence, when people, in particular indigenous communities, women, the rural poor or urban slum dwellers achieve secure access to land or property, they can start to enjoy a greater sense of economic security, improve their livelihoods, but importantly also, gain capacity, interest and influence in decision-making. We have … Read more

Measuring human progress in the 21st Century

13 Jun 2014 by Khalid Malik, Director of the Human Development Report Office

workers at dumpsite in PhilippinesWorkers at the at Santo Nino dumpsite in Tacloban, Philippines, six months after Haiyan. Photo: Lesley Wright/UNDP Philippines
Few, if any, statistical constructs have had a greater influence on the modern world than Gross Domestic Product (GDP). And 2014 marks the eightieth anniversary of its creation. As every economist knows, GDP summarizes total economic activity. It was developed by Simon Kuznets, a Russian-American economist and statistician, as a way to better understand the American economy during the great depression. Not only was Kuznets a brilliant economist (he went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1971), he was also an astute judge of humanity, or at least the potential for people to misuse numbers: when he introduced GDP to the US Congress he warned specifically against using it as a measure of wellbeing: “the welfare of a nation can”, he wrote, “scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income”. And this is because, as hopefully every economist also knows, it is easy to construct examples of undesirable social or environmental phenomena (crime sprees, oil slicks or hurricanes for instance) that can generate both an increase in GDP and a decrease in wellbeing. But despite Kuznets’s warnings, in both the US and many other countries, the pursuit of economic growth and a rising GDP quickly became a dominant mantra … Read more

Public service isn't simple, but it matters

12 Jun 2014 by Max Everest-Phillips, Director, Global Centre for Public Service Excellence

First national disaster observatory in ArmeniaArmenia established its first National Disaster Observatory for the systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of disaster data. Photo: UNDP Armenia
UNDP Administrator Helen Clark really did the organization proud during her visit to Singapore recently. She clearly and crisply outlined to the World Cities Summit why the work of the Global Centre for Public Service Excellence (GCPSE) matters. So what’s our message? It is this: If there is still anyone who is searching for simple blueprints, handy toolkits, easy answers or quick fixes to the challenges public service faces everywhere, forget it. It’s just too complex. But don’t give up just yet! We might know a few other things, too. First, we know that if your top politicians and top officials don’t collaborate, nothing is going to happen. So sort that out.  Second, before you start on about how the public service has to do this or that, ask yourself, why are they going to bother? What’s in it for them? Are they strongly motivated? Recall, too, that public service is much more than just “delivery.” The legitimacy on which government depends is in no small measure the outcome of trust in public service. So public administration has a profound importance. Citizens' perceptions of ethics in public service shape satisfaction with services, trust in governmental institutions, and citizens' attitudes to politics … Read more

Development at the crossroads: reflections from the Arab Region

10 Jun 2014 by Kishan Khoday, Practice Leader for Environment and Energy

Syrian refugee children in JordanSyrian refugees in Zaatari camp in the village of Zaatari, Jordan. photo: UNDP
Recent years have seen dramatic changes in the Arab region and two aspects in particular are important for the region’s relationship with issues of development finance.  First, the expanding role of the region itself as a provider of official development assistance (ODA), with the Arab Gulf countries providing more than $3 billion to countries around the world each year - Saudi Arabia alone provided over $100 billion to almost 90 countries since the 1970s. While the volume of Arab ODA has attracted attention, important issues for the future will be a growing focus by Arab partners on development effectiveness, alignment with post-2015 priorities like sustainable access to energy and water, and applying social and environmental quality standards to manage risks in recipient countries.  Furthermore, while most Arab ODA has operated through bilateral cooperation channels and Arab multilateral platforms in the past, there are benefits to connectivity with other Southern donors. The centre of gravity in the global economy is shifting East at speed, and this means shifting lines of development cooperation as well.  Strategic alliances between Asian and Arab donors could be a powerful force for the common goal of supporting new development solutions in Africa, with both Arab and Asian … Read more

How can mega-cities innovate to reduce traffic congestion?

06 Jun 2014 by Matthew David Viccars, Renewable Energy Engineer

Traffic in DhakaInfrastructure can't keep up as the number of cars on the streets of Dhaka increase at breakneck speed, slowing traffic to a crawl. Photo: Mohammad Asad/UNDP
How do the 15 million residents of the Bangladeshi capital get to work? ‘Slowly’ is the answer. It’s common for a short commute across Dhaka (let’s say 7km) to take longer than an hour through perpetually gridlocked traffic. Transport is a big problem for anyone who needs to move about in this mega-city and it affects all residents, rich and poor alike, stealing their time and exposing them to unnecessary pollution and stress every day. Dhaka’s now infamous traffic jams have been equated to a loss of US $3.86 billion in productivity each year. That’s 3.3 percent of the 2012 GDP!  So we thought we at UNDP should look into doing something about it. Now we’re avid (sometimes fanatical) supporters of public transport and cycling here at UNDP. In fact in the last few years, cycling’s caught on massively among young people! So the solution to us was clear: let’s install bus and bike lanes. Easy, job’s done, we can all go home! Right? WRONG! If that’s all it took to fix Dhaka’s choked transport system it would have been done long ago. Literally billions of dollars are being poured into transport infrastructure, but we had a feeling something might have … Read more

How can we ‘walk the talk’ towards sustainable energy for all

04 Jun 2014 by Arun Kashyap, Resident Coordinator & Resident Representative

solar panelsUNDP and other sister UN agencies in Jamaica are using solar power for a green energy environment. Photo: UNDP Jamaica
Jamaica is an inefficient user of electricity, according to a recent Worldwatch Institute’s report. High energy costs, including electricity at $0.42 per kilowatt-hour, are increasingly becoming a burden for Jamaicans, directly affecting the country’s development. Jamaican citizens as well as the Government, are demanding and encouraging lower energy costs through new alliances with businesses and institutions to implement energy conservation measures while boosting the use of alternative energy sources. We’re in this together. UNDP has supported the Government’s Energy Policy roadmap 2009-2030 to transform the sector through energy efficiency and diversification. It commits to a minimum target of 30 percent renewable energy in its portfolio by 2030, in line with the UN Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative.  We have also supported the National Energy Action Plan to improve energy efficiency and conservation. Energy affects us all, including our own UNDP bills. In line with what we preach, our office decided to “walk the talk” and pursue a clean energy path. This included applying a ‘cool roof’ technology in our UNDP Kingston office. Nearly 464 square metres of metal sheet roof were treated to cool down office temperatures by 5-10 degrees—greatly reducing the use of air conditioning. Additionally, over 600 … Read more

Increasing indigenous political representation: an urgent debt for our democracies

03 Jun 2014 by Álvaro Pop, Vice President of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

 Indigenous communities can be adversely affected by local and global development processes, since their distinct visions, concerns and ways of life can be ignored by policy makers. Photo: UNDP in Peru
In recent times, indigenous peoples have questioned current development models and democracies in Latin America and beyond. The main tool for measuring progress remains Gross Domestic Product, which distorts the true meaning of progress and wellbeing. The damage to ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, not to mention the erosion of cultural and linguistic diversity, have all been excluded from this general assessment. What’s more, the low representation of indigenous peoples in politics and as part of our human development -- below national averages -- is a clear indication that Latin American democracies and the development model have not fully served their purpose. However, many indigenous peoples have taken steps to become more involved in current political affairs and question our societies, accusing the latter of being exclusive, racist, and unaware of their history (for example, they often deny the existence of indigenous genocide) while stifling the diversity and existence of social issues based on a different culture and world view. Paying close attention to such issues and implementing initiatives to enact real change is the challenge faced by democracies. I would like to urge the adoption of a new and rejuvenating approach to issues related to indigenous peoples and their values. … Read more