United Nations Development at a Crossroads

The UN development system stands at a crossroads. It can either embrace the deep reform required to remain relevant to development in today’s global economy, or face the prospect of continued marginalization. The path chosen at this fork in the road depends on the commitment of all relevant actors – UN agencies and governments – as well as strong leadership: from governments, from within the UN development system, and from the Secretary-General.

The United Nations development system today provides over $25 billion in financial assistance each year, and has over 50,000 UN staff posted outside of headquarters locations– and that’s not including peacekeeping operations. The UN development system has over 1000 country-level head offices. This scale of commitment and activities suggests the potential for great impact. But the UN development system is hopelessly fragmented and has not adapted to fundamental changes in the global economy, and as a consequence, its impact is in doubt.

Any effort to improve the impact of the UN development system, and make it relevant to today’s challenges, must have as a starting point the recognition of the need for change by a critical mass of stakeholders. This must find expression in a dialogue between the critical actors – the agencies themselves, governments, and the UN leadership. There are many different ways of doing this. This report contributes a number of ideas and a baseline of data that are critical for such a dialogue.

Read the full Research Study here.

Case Studies

Title Author
Evolving Trends in Climate Change and Energy & Their Impact on Development Cooperation Luis Gonzalez Echeverri
Global Governance and Food Security as Global Public Good Hans Page
The UN’s Role on Sustainable Development Alex Evans
Existential Challenges to Global Health Laurie Garrett
Deep Dive on Fragile States Bruce Jones and Ben Tortolani
Mozambique in Transition and the Future Role of the UN Alejandra Kubitschek Bujones


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Aug 22, 2013
United Nations