21 June 2005

Annual Session of the Executive Board of UNDP/UNFPA

Statement by Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director, UNFPA

Madam President, Distinguished Delegates, Colleagues and Friends,

It is a pleasure for me to address this Annual Session of the Executive Board, and it is an honour to be leading this dynamic organization, which is at the forefront of positive change.


As you know, at the end of last year, I completed my first term as Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. I am happy to report that the Secretary-General has decided to extend my tenure for a full term, to December 2008. During this term, I intend to work with my colleagues to ensure that UNFPA develops further and more fully in line with the United Nations system to assist countries in their efforts to reduce poverty and advance human rights. Our support to countries must increase national capacity and ownership. We are committed to working with our partners, in a true spirit of collaboration and teamwork, to achieve the objectives of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

As I look back over the past four and a half years, I am proud of the achievements that UNFPA has made. UNFPA is becoming a more strategically focused knowledge- and results-based organization, with a strong commitment to accountability.

UNFPA has taken significant strides forward, and is today better equipped to work with countries and communities on finding their own solutions to development challenges. I would like to pay tribute to my colleagues in the country offices, in the regional technical support teams and at headquarters, who are committed and passionate about the work we do.

Needless to say, we are pleased to have received the good news from a study by the UK Department for International Development on Organizational Effectiveness, in which UNFPA came in second among 23 multilateral aid agencies. I was also honoured to have been informed by the Canadian International Development Agency of a similar result during my visit to Canada a few months ago, and more recently, by the New Zealand Aid, indicating that we are among their priority partners. For UNFPA, this high level of recognition is evidence that our transition over the past few years has succeeded in putting in place better systems and mechanisms to meet the demands from all our members.

We all know that putting systems in place is a major feat, but the real challenge, of course, comes with implementing these systems. It takes time for the systems to be fully functional and for results to be clearly visible. Reaching this level requires the acquisition of new skills, a different mindset, a new way of doing business, and certainly a new organizational culture. We recognize that there are areas in which UNFPA must further improve, and we are serious in our endeavour to achieve this level of performance.

I would like to thank all the members of the Executive Board for your continuing support, guidance and constructive and frank comments. You have helped point us in the right direction. I would also like to extend a warm welcome to those of you who are participating in the Executive Board for the first time. And I would like to pay tribute to those of you who are leaving, and offer my thanks and best wishes for success in your new assignments. Once again, I would like to pledge to you our full support and cooperation. As we seek to rise to the challenges ahead this year, leadership by this Board will be as critical as ever.

Madam President, distinguished delegates,

Today, I would like to speak about 5 main issues.

First – The Countdown to 2015

As we all know, 2005 is a landmark year. The G77 and China held their second Summit last week in Doha, Qatar. Next month’s G-8 Summit will be held in Scotland, and then comes the 2005 World Summit. All these events provide unprecedented opportunities to make greater progress in the fight against poverty, inequality, and disease. The Summits provide an historic opportunity to make the right to development a reality.

Madam President,

There is real urgency. The clock is ticking in our countdown to 2015. We have only ten years left in which to achieve the MDGs and the ICPD goal of universal access to reproductive health. Today’s unprecedented demographic trends, especially the largest youth population and the increasing movement by people in search of better lives – leading to greater urbanization and international migration – demand a stronger and more coordinated policy response.

There is widespread agreement that the MDGs cannot be achieved without increased attention to population and reproductive health and rights.

This is the consensus of the 255 experts of the Millennium Project, of the Commission for Africa, and of the United Nations Secretary-General. Their reports in preparation for the 2005 World Summit all stress the importance of investing in sexual and reproductive health, as part of overall efforts to strengthen health systems and improve human well-being.

Lack of progress in achieving the MDGs has real and tragic consequences—consequences that I have seen face to face again in my travels this year. A month ago, I visited Chad and Benin. And I was struck, as always happens when I am in Africa, by the challenges that much of the continent confronts. Certainly, there is an urgent need for improvements on the ground—improvements in people’s daily lives.

Madam President,

We can defeat poverty, inequality and disease by focusing on the right of every individual to life, health, education, work, and participation. Human rights, including the right to development for societies and individuals, are the foundation for the national ownership of development. And human rights can only be sustained when they are internalized into the local contexts and values. Adopting a culturally sensitive approach that promotes human rights is what UNFPA is working to achieve.

Recognizing cultural diversity and working from within to achieve human rights is basically about ownership – ownership by communities and people of changes that they themselves introduce and sustain.

As you know, I feel strongly about this approach, which is especially significant for UNFPA because we deal with a culturally sensitive agenda. In a complex, complicated and often controversial environment, UNFPA aims to foster consensus in the achievement of international human rights. And we have found that the only way to move forward is to listen to local needs and work with local partners to achieve our common goals.

Today, the Millennium Development Goals and Declaration provide a unifying framework for supporting national development. And they offer our best collective hope for accelerating action and bringing about real and lasting change.

To move forward and seize this historic moment, we need to ensure that population and reproductive health are placed firmly on the international development agenda and clearly linked within the MDG framework and process. To this end, I have established an interdivisional taskforce on the MDGs to ensure that our organizational position, especially in terms of the links between population and reproductive health and the MDGs, is well articulated within UNFPA, and also with our partners.

This message came out loud and clear at a high-level meeting in Stockholm in April. There, Ministers from developed and developing nations alike called for sufficient resources for women’s empowerment, sexual and reproductive health and reproductive health commodities as part of national strategies to eradicate poverty and achieve the MDGs, and the inclusion of these issues in national budgetary processes. Reiterating the recommendation of the Millennium Project Task Force on Maternal Health, the participants called for a new target for MDG 5 on improving maternal health, namely to ensure universal access to reproductive health by 2015, as adopted in the ICPD Programme of Action.

Second - Responding to a changing world

Madam President,

There is a new consensus on development cooperation and aid effectiveness expressed in the Paris Declaration. I had the opportunity to address the Paris meeting on Aid Effectiveness in March, on behalf of the United Nations Development Group, and I left the meeting energized and hopeful. We can and should do things better and more simply to make assistance work in support of national development goals and national capacity building.

Investing in people is at the heart of development, and countries themselves must drive the process, as was reconfirmed by the G77 and China in the Doha Summit. UNFPA fully supports the alignment of development assistance with national priorities and processes and national ownership of the development process.

UNFPA will continue to be in the forefront of the United Nations reform and an active partner in the United Nations Development Group (UNDG). And we will continue to contribute to the development of the United Nations’ operational activities so that they address country needs and ownership, focusing on population, gender and sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

It is against this background that I have established an inter-divisional task force on United Nations reform. Its job is to ensure that UNFPA responds effectively to the Secretary-General’s reform initiative and promotes change within the United Nations system, so that UNFPA can continue to increase its effectiveness at all levels in the development process.

UNFPA continues to make a strong contribution to United Nations reform. Over the years, we have actively participated in efforts to better harmonize and simplify country-level programming processes. UNFPA is also heading the UNDG Programme Group and key working groups such as the one on Joint Offices and the one on Common Premises and Services. We are currently working with other members of the UNDG to ensure that the Resident Coordinator system is strengthened and held accountable to the United Nations system as a whole in support of national development efforts. And we believe that greater harmonization must now deal urgently with greater simplification.

I am pleased to report that, in line with our strategic direction, UNFPA is increasingly involved in poverty reduction strategies, Sector-Wide Approaches (SWAps), health sector reform and other national frameworks.

It is no exaggeration to state that UNFPA is a pioneer within the United Nations system in sector-wide approaches. We are engaged in 27 SWAps, with pooled funding in six countries: Bangladesh, Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia and just recently in India. And, I am pleased to report that our experience has been a positive one. In fact, we held a review meeting two weeks ago and found that sector-wide approaches constitute a tremendous opportunity to mainstream ICPD goals, but also to leverage greater amounts of resources to ICPD priority areas.

Progress is also being made in poverty reduction strategies: 60 per cent of strategies adopted after 2003 include key reproductive health issues and 75 per cent include gender issues.

Madam President,

The true test of success for UNFPA is how effectively we structure our organization to better meet national priorities and the aspirations and rights of poor women, men and young people. The true test is the results we produce with governments and national and other partners at the country level.

It is becoming increasingly clear to us that country-led development requires a stronger UNFPA country presence. We need to increase our support to national efforts in a more effective way so that we can engage more of the people we serve and the national partners with whom we work. Countries need ongoing and high-quality technical support. And our current configuration no longer serves the required purposes. In response, UNFPA is now considering the further strengthening of country offices, especially in Africa, and the shifting of some resources from headquarters to strengthen our regional presence. These changes are reflected in the new biennial support budget, which will be shared with you at the September session.

Third - Achieving MYFF strategic results

The review of the first year of the implementation of the 2004-2007 multi-year funding framework, MYFF, gives an overall positive assessment of the contributions made by UNFPA to achieve results in the areas of reproductive health, population dynamics, gender equality and the empowerment of women. But we are fully aware that UNFPA has to continuously sharpen its development frameworks, approaches and activities.

Positive contributions were made to ensure that reproductive health services are more available, accessible and of a better quality. The Fund supported national efforts to expand family planning services, improve maternal care and promote safe motherhood. Many country offices are actively working to increase access to skilled attendance at birth by investing in health personnel training, providing routine obstetric equipment and supplies, and supporting referral systems, including transportation. Our fistula campaign, which is making great headway, is part of this broader effort. We are also working with countries to combat HIV/AIDS.

It is now widely agreed that as we scale up treatment, we must simultaneously scale up HIV prevention. This was made clear at the recent General Assembly session on HIV/AIDS, where UNFPA had the privilege of partnering with young people to bring their voices to the international debate and to release their report, "Our Voice, Our Future."

At the last Executive Board, I introduced the Special Youth Programme. This past March, we welcomed a new group of interns from Brazil, China, Morocco, Russia and Tanzania. The programme aims to mentor a new group of youth leaders in developing countries for the ICPD Programme of Action and also to ensure that they provide inputs in the various programmes. These young people continue to inject energy, drive and innovation to our work, for which we are truly grateful.

As has been stated on many occasions, all the good work that the Fund seeks to carry out and facilitate at the national level simply cannot be achieved without the consistent availability of high-quality reproductive health commodities.

I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the European Union and other donor governments for contributing $75 million to UNFPA for the global effort to ensure that individuals everywhere can remain free of HIV infection, avoid unwanted pregnancy, and deliver babies safely. UNFPA is using these funds to meet urgent shortfalls and support national strategies to build capacity and enhance supply and logistics systems.

In order to ensure national self-reliance in this area, UNFPA has formulated a global multi-year programme to achieve reproductive health commodity security.

Madam President,

UNFPA is playing a critical role in humanitarian and emergency response, in crisis and transition situations. Currently over 40 country offices are working in some phase of crisis. Last year’s devastating tsunami revealed the Fund’s special role in emergency and crisis situations, particularly with regard to meeting the needs of women and young people, addressing reproductive health and gender issues, including sexual violence, and generating accurate demographic and health data for humanitarian assistance activities and for rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes.

In response to growing demands and the changing international environment, UNFPA has developed a new strategy for its emergency and humanitarian response, which we look forward to sharing with you at the informal session.

I am also pleased to report that UNFPA led the work of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee in developing comprehensive guidelines and protocols for interventions to deal with sexual violence in humanitarian situations. These guidelines will be launched this week and field-tested over the next few months.

Madam President,

UNFPA is working in all regions, with our partners, to support the human rights of women to be free of discrimination. The number of UNFPA country offices working to assist in the development of protocols to address gender-based violence has nearly quadrupled, from 11 to 50 in the last two years. Fifty country offices report significant involvement to strengthen civil society partnerships to promote gender equality.

In 2004, the Fund enjoyed numerous policy successes: 14 more countries adopted policies to increase adolescents’ access to reproductive health information and services. In most of the cases, UNFPA promoted the involvement of civil society in the process.

Progress is also being made to strengthen national data systems and national capacities for data collection, analysis and use. The critical need for reliable data disaggregated by sex, age, income, and rural/urban status has been underscored by the MDG reporting process. UNFPA is playing a key role in this regard and progress is being made. But, Madam President, it is not sufficient to have reliable data; it is more important to use the data correctly and effectively as a tool that guides development analysis and planning and that allows monitoring and evaluation. Data for development is a critical tool for ensuring equity within and among nations.

The challenges, including those related to national capacity, deserve a timely response. I believe we need to revisit the previously UNFPA-supported demographic centers and find ways to update them so that they can provide training for a new generation of social scientists that understands the interdisciplinary nature of the ICPD Programme of Action. And here I am sure South-South cooperation can play an effective and meaningful role.

Madam President,

At UNFPA, we are fully aware that we cannot succeed alone. Partnership is the only way to move forward. Over the years, the Fund has built key alliances and networks within and across countries, partnering with governments, parliamentarians, NGOs, civil society, foundations, religious and traditional leaders, youth groups, women’s groups, academics, the private sector and the media.

We recognize the strategic value of partnering with regional organizations to advance the ICPD agenda. Our relationship with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, NEPAD, is alive and growing. And I am pleased to announce that I have just signed a new partnership agreement with the African Union. We also have an agreement with the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) for reproductive health commodity security. And our agreement with the African Development Bank is now fully operational. I am also pleased to announce the agreement that I signed with the Caribbean Community - CARICOM – in December. It will promote better collaboration between our two organizations in matters related to population and development, sexual and reproductive health, gender and HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean region. These relationships will serve us well as we work to intensify the response to improve maternal health and prevent HIV/AIDS. Our partnership with the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS is also exciting, working with partners to expand HIV prevention for young women and girls. These are just a few examples of some of our partnership efforts.

I would also like to assure you that we will work with the new leadership of the World Bank, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) to increase aid effectiveness and achieve results, and with other key partners in the United Nations system. I would like to thank my colleague, Mark Malloch Brown, for our fruitful collaboration and his leadership in the United Nations Development Group. I wish him success in his new assignment.

Given the challenges we face, global partnerships for health provide a unique opportunity for scaling up action, avoiding duplication and achieving results. I am pleased to report that UNFPA is actively engaged in the emerging Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, and also the Global Task Team on Improving AIDS Coordination. We believe these efforts signify a real move towards increased coordination among all sectors of the international development community, a move that is most welcome and long overdue.

A little over a week ago, I attended the Doha Summit of the Group of 77 Developing Countries and China on South-South cooperation. I left more convinced than ever that experiences and lessons learned in population, reproductive health and HIV/AIDS can and should be shared more widely. Countries in the South that have gone further in development should help others to do the same. This is an important part of leading the ICPD agenda in the countdown to 2015. UNFPA is committed to facilitating South-South cooperation through our support to Partners in Population and Development as well as other cooperation modalities.

Four - Making UNFPA a more effective development agency and partner

Madame President,

In the new aid environment, a high premium is placed on accountability, organizational effectiveness, and monitoring and evaluation. And rightly so.

The major reforms and systems we have launched over the past few years, including DocuShare, the Knowledge Assets, the competency based recruitment and performance appraisal system, country office typology, and most recently the Enterprise Resource Planning system and ATLAS to fully automate transactions, will assist us in becoming more professional and accountable. The focus in 2005 and in the near future is not on the introduction of new systems but on fine-tuning the ones we have put in place and ensuring their full implementation. It is time to reap the benefits from the substantial investments that have been made over the past four years.

To move ahead, I am taking steps to ensure that—by 2008—country programmes, the technical assistance programme, the inter-country programme and the biennial support budget are better integrated in the overall framework of the multi-year funding framework. The goal is to achieve a more coherent and transparent flow between planned results and required resources.

UNFPA is strongly committed to enhancing accountability and internal audit and oversight. To this end, we have strengthened our staffing in this area, with a focus on undertaking internal audits of offices with the highest risk of potential problems. In our Internal Audit and Oversight report presented to the Board, we have used the format agreed by the Board last September. Based on preliminary feedback, we know that we can further refine the reporting format and improve on how we explain and contextualize the information provided, with the input of the Executive Board.

I would like to emphasize that I see this as one step on the way towards becoming a more transparent and accountable organization. I am eager to further promote a culture of accountability in UNFPA not only by increasing internal controls but also by involving our staff and our counterparts in this critical process.

UNFPA is increasingly aware of the need to communicate better within our organization and outside it. To this end, we have developed a new tagline and a shortened mission statement to convey our vision to the general public in simple and straightforward language.

The mission statement reads: "UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect. "

And the tag line reads: "UNFPA – because everyone counts."

Five - Mobilizing resources

Madam President,

We are very pleased to report that the Fund has achieved its goal to broaden its donor base. For the fifth year in a row, UNFPA has obtained over 100 donors. Last year, we succeeded in increasing our number of donors to an all time high of 166 countries and we are aiming to work with our country offices and the countries concerned to maintain that number in 2005. The number of multi-year pledges also increased from 20 to 49. Again, the increase is in the programme countries, which signifies increasing national ownership of our work. UNFPA highly appreciates the increased contributions and unwavering support. Last year, the Fund attained the highest income level since its establishment in 1967 without the contribution of one major donor, taking also into account the large contribution for the reproductive health commodity trust fund.

Nevertheless, the Fund needs increased predictable and assured financial resources to continue to deliver reproductive health programmes if we want to assist countries to achieve the ICPD objectives and the MDGs. In this context, regular resources remain the bedrock of the Fund's resource mobilization strategy. I am pleased to welcome three new major donors contributing beyond $1 million US dollars, namely Ireland, Luxemburg and New Zealand, giving us a total of 17 countries in this category. Of course, Madam President, we hope that in the near future I will be able to welcome more members to our major donors group.


In conclusion, I would like to stress that the five areas I have outlined for you today: the countdown to 2015, responding to a changing world, achieving strategic results, making UNFPA a more effective development partner, and mobilizing resources are priority areas, in which we are making progress.

I am pleased that UNFPA, and the entire United Nations system, have acted decisively in recent years to improve the way in which we address the challenges we face. Our own internal reforms, and in the United Nations system as a whole, are part of a larger shift in which all development partners at country level are working more closely together in support of country needs. Our challenge in the next decade is to ensure that all involved assume their responsibilities to turn good words into good deeds. I would like to assure you that, with the support of the Executive Board, UNFPA will most certainly do its part.

Finally, Madam President, I would like to insert a personal comment, as has been my tradition. In my first Executive Board, I said that as a woman from a developing country, I am what ICPD is about- empowered, having had choices throughout my life, and having exercised my human rights in many areas of my personal and professional life. Today, I would like to share with you another example of what ICPD is about – male partnership. It is with great affection and respect that I thank my husband, Mahmoud Saleh, publicly for being a supportive partner, who insisted that I take the challenge of being the Executive Director of UNFPA, regardless of the hardships we would face by our separation over two continents. He told me it was my right to reap the fruits of my long professional years as I worked my way up the ladder of the United Nations system. This is what ICPD is also about.

My friends, we have a rich and substantive agenda before us, including the three documents that make up my annual report. These are the Report of the Executive Director for 2004: Progress in implementing the multi-year funding framework, MYFF, 2004-2007, focusing on the first year of implementation; the Report of the Executive Director for 2004: Statistical Overview of the Fund's finances and programmes; and Reports of the Joint Inspection Unit. I look forward to our discussions.

Thank you.