The United Nations Development Programme was formed in 1965 and has ever since been a key player in the development cooperation of the United Nations. A set of important functions were assigned to the organization after its establishment. UNDP was not only the main body coordinating and controlling operational development activities, but it was also responsible for financing these activities. UNDP operates in over 177 countries and territories where it focuses on poverty reduction, democratic governance, crisis prevention and recovery, and sustainable development. In the field of international development, the organization is commonly known for producing the annual Human Development Report. This document, which first appeared in 1990, focuses on people being the central agents in the development process in the field of advocacy, economic growth and policy-making. The annual report indicates individual growth of countries by using various indices.
The HDI consists of a set of indicators used to rank countries in relation to human development. These indicators are based on education, life expectancy and gross national income per capital. One of the motives for introducing the HDI was to demonstrate that measuring growth and well-being goes ‘beyond the strictly economic realm’. Over the years, new indicators have been introduced in an attempt to address various aspects of human development. Some of these new indices include the Gender Development Index, the inequality-adjusted Human Development Index and the Multidimensional Poverty Index.
As the key actor in the field of development cooperation, the UNDP aims to deliver results at global, regional and national level in the field of poverty eradication and reduction of inequalities. The human development approach is the main development tool used by the UNDP. By means of this approach the organization aims to enlarge people’s choices by means of transferring knowledge, improving access to education and promoting knowledge sharing among communities. With various strategies in place, such as the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation and its Strategic Plan 2014-2017, the organization contributes to the global development agenda of achieving a higher standard of living for the world’s most poor and vulnerable populations. One of the main development initiatives UNDP played an important role in was the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The United Nations Millennium Declaration was adopted in 2000 and is often characterized as being of the biggest global partnership initiatives in relation to the global eradication of extreme poverty
As one of the leading actors in development, the UNDP also faces a number of challenges. A study conducted by the Canadian International Development Agency indicated multiple factors contributing to the organization not achieving its programme objectives. One of these factors is the fact that the efforts of UNDP to improve democratic governance are met by opposition or indifference on behalf of national government. This is a reoccurring challenge faced by the organization and has been highlighted by various other independent evaluation agencies. This challenge is also linked to the criticism that many UNDP poverty reduction strategies therefore do not have a significant impact on the lives of the poor. Unaccountable governments are often considered to be the “missing link between anti-poverty efforts and poverty reduction”. A lack of accountability on the part of national government does not only limit poverty reduction programmes in succeeding, but also challenges the sustainability of these efforts. Since unresponsive government institutions commonly fail to deliver social services to its citizens, the poor have to bear the burden of large-scale mismanagement. Thus, holding government accountable to its citizens is a necessary condition to reduce poverty, foster growth and encourage human development.
Another challenge faced by UNDP in relation to delivering aid is the large presence of other development institutions, often causing aid effectiveness to be weak. The presence of different actors does not only cause replication of development strategies, but it can also be considered to be largely cost-inefficient. The poor coordination with other development agencies in the target country is a challenge which various aid organizations face. The lack of effective partnership with other UN agencies, international organizations and civil society organizations demonstrates the inter-agency competition in the field of development. The challenge of proving effective aid is emphasized in various documents and stresses the need for a coordinated approach to poverty reduction by the many development actors.
While the UNDP has undergone various reform processes in an attempt to make the delivery of aid more effective, the organization continues to tackle the issues of unaccountability of national governments receiving aid and the coordination of activities with other development agencies. As part of the UNDP Strategy Plan 2014-2017, the organization mentions that it will address the topic of accountability by means of striving towards “longer-term efforts to deepen the core functions of democratic governance”. However, the document does not propose concrete measures on how to achieve greater accountability among government receiving development aid. In order for the UNDP to effectively address this issue, it is crucial for citizens to demand access to public services and hold their national officials accountable. Additionally, with regards to the implementation of development activities by various actors, it is important that the various UN institutions harmonize their approaches when it comes to poverty reduction strategies. While the UNDP Strategic Plan 2014-2017 mentions strategies for improved aid delivery, it fails to provide concrete initiatives to achieve this plan. It is important that the harmonization process starts from the assessment phase and should be adopted throughout the implementation process of development projects in order to make the delivery of aid more (cost-) effective.