UNDP marks 50th anniversary with ministerial meeting

Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Program. The agency celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Photo by: Freya Morales / UNDP / CC BY-NC-ND

Representatives from more than 120 countries will gather Wednesday in New York for the United Nations Development Program’s ministerial, a meeting that’s part commemoration of the agency’s 50th anniversary and part discussion about the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The UNDP was founded in early 1966 when the U.N.’s Expanded Program of Technical Assistance and the U.N. Special Fund merged, with the purpose of putting the U.N. on the “front line of a global war on want.” The agency has gone through a number of transformations since, the most recent in the last couple years, which saw a restructuring and decentralization of staff.

The ministerial — the first in about 15 years, with the last taking place at a similar critical junction, as countries were adopting and trying to determine how to achieve the Millennium Development Goals — is part of a broader effort across the agency to mark the 50th anniversary, which will include celebrations of different sorts in all, or at least most, of the countries where UNDP works.

While there will be some reflecting on the past, particularly to start the day, the gathering is meant to make progress and help countries as they put together their implementation plans for the SDGs. Conversations are expected about eradicating poverty, building peace and adapting to climate change as well as financing the SDGs.

The UNDP wants to listen to member states to make sure they have the same vision, to discuss their needs, and determine how the the agency can best support them, said Gulden Turkoz-Cosslett, deputy director at UNDP.

“The expectation we want is for the UNDP to be an organization member states have a stake in,  and feel like is working for them,” she said.

The agency will be open about the challenges that they face and that member states face, and wants to be sure that it is adapting to country needs, Turkoz-Cosslett added.

And while this is a meeting for country representatives, collaboration and partnership with other actors — from a variety of business to civil society and multilaterals — is very much on the agenda. Partnerships are an increasing focus at UNDP and, according to Turkoz-Cosslett, the agency is well positioned to play a broader role in organizing engagement, especially with the private sector. That is in large part because they already play a similar role: In most countries the UNDP resident representatives serve as resident coordinators for the broader U.N. system’s development activities.  

“It’s not just about financing, but about partnership contributing to national priorities,” she said.

Turkoz-Cosslett recognizes that achieving the SDGs won’t be easy, but said she’s an optimist and that the tasks ahead are not “insurmountable.”

Devex will be present at the ministerial, so stay tuned for an in-depth look at the future of the UNDP, including an interview with Administrator Helen Clark.

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About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.