Helen Clark: Speech to the Sixth Ministerial Forum for Development Organized by UNDP's Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean

Jul 11, 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Speech to the Sixth Ministerial Forum for Development organised by UNDP’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean
On “Beyond Poverty: The New Challenges for Social Cohesion in Latin America”
United Nations, New York, NY
Thursday 11 July 3.15 pm

UNDP is pleased to join the Government of Spain in convening this Sixth Ministerial Forum for Development – a Forum which for a number of years has brought ministers together to reflect on ways of addressing social and economic development challenges.

This year’s theme, “Beyond Poverty,” suggests an important shift in the nature of these challenges. Much of the focus of the region’s governments in the past decade has been on lifting people out of poverty. As highlighted in UNDP’s 2013 Human Development Report, "The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World", many countries in this region have succeeded in doing that. The Report highlights the region’s mix of bold and innovative social protection systems, integration with global markets, and sound economic policies as among the drivers of its human development transformation.

The region’s changing socio-economics speak to its success - as well as to the challenges ahead. In the eighteen Latin American countries which Clarisa Hardy, Chile's former planning minister, examines in the concept note for this Forum, it is no longer the poor who constitute the largest demographic group, but rather those who are vulnerable to poverty. While many have moved out of poverty, nearly four in ten remain vulnerable to falling back into it. Those in this “vulnerable” group have few assets, and in many cases share the same education level and job prospects as those still below the poverty line. In parts of the region, conflict and/or armed violence compound ongoing challenges of poverty and vulnerability.

In moving decisively beyond poverty, the challenge is to tackle the low social cohesion and persistent inequalities which are barriers to further progress. CEPAL (ECLAC) has identified in its research that high rates of distrust in legal and political institutions and perceived unfairness are associated with low social cohesion.  Where citizens lack trust in each other and in their governments, even the best designed policies and strategies to move beyond poverty can be undermined.

Clarisa Hardy’s concept note suggests that social stratification is an important and underlying cause of the low social cohesion prevalent in the region and of the social tension it generates. The demands of workers and their unions, students, ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, movements for gender-equality, environmental groups, those cut off from public services, and others constitute a growing force for change in many countries. Their frustrations appear to emanate less from conditions of poverty than from the limits imposed by stratified societies. This logic is consistent with recent UNDP research suggesting that Latin American countries with the greatest numbers of social conflicts are those with broad social inequalities.

Overcoming inequalities and promoting social cohesion

UNDP is working with countries in the region on overcoming inequalities and promoting social cohesion in a number of areas, including:

  • by tackling the chronic exclusion and discrimination which limits the ability of those affected to improve their own prospects and contribute to their communities.

One way countries are doing this is through active labour market policies, which identify and remove obstacles to the full participation of women, ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, the disabled and other groups. An example from Colombia, which embraced the UN MDG Acceleration Framework developed by UNDP to accelerate poverty reduction: needs in indigenous and poor rural communities for skills training were identified in areas relevant to the local economy. The training which followed was backed by the private sector, which increases the prospects of employment.

To boost equal opportunities in the workforce and pay for women, Costa Rica applied a gender-equality certification system to local businesses and public institutions. Following that, UNDP has worked with Uruguay and other countries in the region to support more than 1,400 companies to adopt gender-appropriate policies and attitudes.

  • countries in the region are building social cohesion by seeking to reduce citizen insecurity and violent crime. Violence undermines social trust and deters people from investing in their futures.  In this region with the world’s highesthomicide rates and with high rates of sexual violence, we see governments looking hard for effective ways of addressing the root causes of violence and crime.

UNDP supports countries to share experiences of preventing crime, lowering high rates of youth unemployment, and strengthening the ability of justice and security systems to enforce and apply the rule of law. In Guatemala, for example, UNDP worked with the government on a ban of firearms from public places.  In El Salvador, a UNDP-supported scheme helped reduce murder rates by an average of twelve per cent across twenty municipalities.

  • governments can build social cohesion by updating or expanding social protection systems and linking them with development opportunities. Social protection systems should not lock people into dependency, but rather can create platforms for human development. We look forward to collaborating on further innovations in social protection from this region which is recognised as a global  leader in this area.

  • governments are strengthening social cohesion by taking steps to broaden input into decision-making and make it more transparent and responsive.
  • Protests and events around the world remind us that citizens are demanding a greater say in the decisions which impact on their lives.  High levels of inequality are associated with power imbalances in which the poor and marginalised find it hard to be heard. Yet along with the movement out of poverty, people’s expectations of being heard, engaged, and having accessible and quality public service have grown.

    UNDP has been working with twelve governments in the region to meet these rising expectations through ‘fiscal compacts’. Our “Commitment to Equity Project” aims to bring governments, citizens, and stakeholders in each country together to find broad agreement on ways in which resources can be mobilised and spent more equitably.    

    We are also working in partnership with CIEPLAN, a think tank in Chile, and Tulane University in the USA on country case studies which analyse the impact fiscal policies are having on measures of equity. Findings thus far suggest that ‘pro-poor’ spending often fails to have its intended impact – not least if other policies cut across it. For example, regressive indirect taxes such as sales taxes may claw back the gains intended from cash transfers.

    From this analytical work, UNDP will be able to offer governments practical recommendations on ways of both  maximizing equity and enhancing accountability and transparency through better data collection and evaluation. These can, in turn, be considered in participatory consultations on national ‘fiscal compacts’.  

    Latin American leadership on a new global development agenda

    Latin America’s ambitions and achievements have had a considerable influence on global development debates, including now on a renewed global development agenda and sustainable development goals.

    Indeed, the early proponents of sustainable development goals (SDGs) were all countries in this region: Colombia, Peru, and Guatemala. Brazil led the final rounds of negotiation in Rio which hammered out the decisions which now guide the UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group on the SDGs, on financing for sustainable development, and on establishing the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on sustainable development.

    The issues important to Latin America at this juncture, including the need to tackle poverty in all its dimensions, address the root causes of exclusion, vulnerability, and inequalities, and build sustainable futures must be reflected in the next global development agenda.

    Continued leadership from Latin America will be critical in formulating an agenda which is both universal and relevant to the needs of the region. Your governments at Rio showed their determination to tackle economic, social, and environmental challenges in holistic ways. We hear from the region a clear call for the structural changes which would advance equality and sustainability.

    Ministers at this meeting hold portfolios ranging across social development, labour, planning, and beyond. Many of you have helped drive human development forward in your countries. Your experiences are of great interest in the region and beyond.

    This Forum is about sharing those experiences and debating ways of going beyond poverty to achieve higher levels of equality and social cohesion, and sustainable futures. At UNDP we see sharing ideas, innovation, and experiences as the currency of 21st century development. It lies at the heart of South-South and triangular co-operation, in which we are enthusiastic partners. We are pleased to welcome you today and to work with you as partners in development.


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