Pursuing a new development model to tackle some of the world's toughest challenges

The first commercial wind facility in Kazakhstan was built in 2011 near the Korday mountains. A new approach in the development relationship between Kazakhstan’s government and UNDP helped turn the oil- and coal-rich country into an emerging player in wind energy in the region. Photo by: UNDP / CC BY-NC-SA

As delegates gather this week for the third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I am reminded of my experience in Kazakhstan, where I witnessed a complete shift of the country’s relationship with the U.N. Development Program in just a few years.

A new approach in the development relationship between the government and UNDP has helped turn the country into an emerging player in wind energy in the region.

One could be forgiven for assuming that Kazakhstan might be one of the last places on earth to promote alternative sources of energy. The country is chock-full of oil, coal and mineral resources, and for a long time was heavily dependent on those resources.

But what may surprise many is that Expo 2017 — The Future of Energy, an exhibition that explores uses of renewable energy, is being held in the Kazakh capital Astana. While the event speaks to how much has changed in Kazakhstan, it also mirrors a structural shift taking place in the development world.

As economies boom in developing countries across the world, and as many of these countries graduate to middle-income country status, the landscape of development is being fundamentally reshaped. We are now witnessing a range of more nuanced and complex development situations, which call for a new approach to meeting some of the world’s toughest development challenges.

How we approach those challenges following the end of the Millennium Development Goals — eight goals that included a primary commitment to halve poverty by the end of 2015 — will define our future. So the post-2015 era represents an opportunity to frame a more ambitious and inclusive development agenda.

Kazakhstan’s gradual but significant shift toward renewable energy parallels a transformation in the development relationship between its government and the UNDP. That strategic partnership has seen UNDP transition from being a donor agency to becoming a cost-sharing partner with the government of Kazakhstan, and Kazakhstan becoming a donor to other countries.

This model of shared partnership and joint financing, which identifies innovative and strategic ways to support national priorities, is now more relevant than ever before.

It has special resonance for Asia and the Pacific, as more countries in the most economically dynamic region of the world make rapid progress.

As countries graduate to MIC status — 27 in the Asia-Pacific region — there have been impressive gains for people: more employment opportunities, better access to education and improved sanitation. The subsequent rise in the standard of living has helped hundreds of millions of people climb out of poverty in countries such as China and India.

With stronger economies and soaring growth have come rising expectations, as well as responsibilities. Middle-income countries may now be better equipped to serve their peoples, but challenges persist.

Transitioning to MIC status has presented new pressures: income and gender inequality, growing aging populations, and rapid urbanization that demands more and better public services.

According to the latest data, approximately 70 percent of the world’s poor live on under $2 per day in the Asia-Pacific region, and they face severe deprivations in education and health.

While financial resources may be at hand, and while countries funnel even more money to development programs, there are still gaps in the ability to meet the needs of millions of people.

So there is an enduring need to build partnerships that can provide vital support not only to help bridge those gaps, but to tackle sensitive issues, engage in country-to-country learning, and help leverage resources. UNDP’s vast reach in the sphere of development has provided us with unparalleled experience to help governments implement targeted programs with transparency, accountability and integrity, to resolve stubborn development issues.

Decades of experience doing development work across the globe has helped amass formidable expertise that has been brought to bear in useful and equal partnerships with governments.

From expanding access to justice through village courts in Bangladesh, to building trilateral cooperation between China and countries in Africa, to working with the government of Pakistan to support key governance reforms, jointly financed partnerships with governments have provided value and helped spark innovative solutions.

With each partnership, we continue to leverage as well as deepen our knowledge to create better development pathways for partner countries. UNDP’s six policy centers around the world — in Nairobi (Kenya), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Oslo (Norway), Seoul (South Korea), Singapore and Istanbul (Turkey) — can help facilitate south-south cooperation and connect governments to mutually benefit from each other’s knowledge and solutions.

Our growing experience with alliances involving joint financing has shown us that such partnerships guarantee greater success, make shared challenges easier to overcome, and bring results.

This may explain why over 70 percent of UNDP’s programs in Latin America is financed by program country governments. In the rapidly developing Asia-Pacific, this ratio is 3 percent.

While official development assistance will remain important in the post-2015 era for low-income countries, domestic financing will determine development outcomes in MICs.

So if we want to create a better world, to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty, vanquish gender inequality, conserve our environment and resolve other key development issues, we must build dynamic strategic partnerships with governments.

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About the author

  • Haoliang Xu

    Haoliang Xu is the U.N. assistant secretary-general and UNDP regional director for Asia and the Pacific. He was a former U.N. resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative in Kazakhstan from 2007 to 2010.