Helen Clark: Keynote Address at Launch of the Caribbean Human Development Report 2016

Sep 12, 2016

I am delighted to join you today for the launch of the Caribbean Human Development Report: “Multidimensional Progress: Human Resilience Beyond Income”. I thank Minister McClean, and the Government and people of Barbados for the very warm welcome, and for agreeing to host the launch of the report. I am also pleased to be here in the year in which Barbados is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary of independence and its fiftieth anniversary as a UN Member State – a year which also marks UNDP’s fiftieth birthday.

Barbados’ leadership on issues affecting Small Island Developing States and its strong commitment to regional and multilateral systems are a model for small and large countries alike.  Barbados has generously provided a UN House to support the presence here of UN Agencies, including for the home of UNDP’s sub-regional office for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. We are most appreciative of this support.

Key messages from the Caribbean Human Development Report

The Caribbean Human Development Report is a sister report to the Regional Human Development report for Latin America and the Caribbean launched in Panama in May this year. The inspiration for the report comes from the desire of Caribbean leaders to have metrics for assessing development which better reflect the unique vulnerabilities and challenges faced by middle-income Small Island Developing States.

Central to this report is the concept of multidimensional progress which enlarges the idea of human development to include other important determinants of well-being. These include access to assets, social protection and care systems, and decent work – all highly relevant to the Caribbean. The report also makes it clear that multidimensional progress cannot be made at the expense of people’s rights or of environmental sustainability. The report emphasizes that economic growth and multidimensional progress can be mutually reinforcing. Growth provides the resources which can be channeled to investments in areas critical to multidimensional progress, such as building inclusive labor markets and social protection and care systems. These investments, in turn, help build people’s resilience to shocks and the foundation for future growth.

The report also underlines the importance of building resilience to shocks, not least with respect to preventing people from sliding back into poverty. Education and employment help people move out of poverty, but good policies and investments are needed to keep them above the poverty line. These can include social protection systems operating throughout the life cycle; expansion of systems of care for children, older people, and people with disabilities; expanding access to physical and financial assets; and continual improvements in people’s skills to improve work prospects, including for women and youth.

The report examines human development gains in the Caribbean to date, and discusses how the region’s structural and external challenges, such as high debt, low growth, a volatile global economy, and frequent natural disasters, combine to put these gains at risk.

This is an especially important perspective for the Caribbean right now. The region is showing signs of recovery from the global financial crisis.  After a decade of low growth, however, it will be important for Caribbean countries to implement policies which protect development gains, especially for women, disabled persons, youth, and children. Adequate investments need to be made in areas like social protection, employment generation, and building climate resilient infrastructure.

This Caribbean Human Development Report aims to contribute to policy debates in the region at this early stage of implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for a new generation of public policies which will build resilience and integrate the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of policy, including on peace and justice. Following the holistic and multidimensional approach which this Human Development Report proposes can support countries in the Caribbean to implement the SDGs, end poverty in all its forms, and leave no one behind. 

UNDP support in the Caribbean region

As you know, I am a New Zealander, and come from a region where most countries are Small Island Developing States. I have been immersed in their issues and challenges throughout my adult life. I have brought these perspectives and insights to my work at UNDP, emphasizing the importance of building economic viability, climate resilience, access to finance, and addressing the challenges of non-communicable diseases. UNDP will always be a steadfast partner to SIDS on these issues and on national development priorities.

Under the leadership of Regional Director Jessica Faieta, UNDP has been scaling up its support to the Caribbean. We are deploying very capable national and international staff through our network of offices across six countries in the Caribbean and from our regional hub in Panama. We have relocated staff from UNDP headquarters in New York to the Panama regional hub to respond more efficiently to requests for technical support from Caribbean governments. We have increased our expertise in the areas of disaster risk reduction, citizen security, and climate change with the recruitment of new international staff dedicated to the Caribbean. 

Together with Caribbean governments and regional institutions, the UN Development agencies have also developed a five-year UN Multi-Country Sustainable Development Framework which identified priorities for action from the UN Development System in the Caribbean. 

These priorities are: 

1. An inclusive prosperous and equitable Caribbean, 

2. A safe and secure Caribbean, 

3. A healthy Caribbean; and 

4. A resilient and sustainable Caribbean. 

All these issues are reflected in the report we launch today. Thus this report presents another opportunity for all partners to engage in substantive discussions around how to translate the UN Multi-Country Sustainable Development Framework into concrete support for national and regional development initiatives.

The UN Development System is already rolling out its support to countries in the region to mainstream the SDGs in national planning and policies, and accelerate progress on the Goals. This report and the practical tools which accompany it support these efforts. One of the analytical tools, Poverty Risk Analysis, or POVRISK, uses household-level data over time to estimate the risk of people falling back into poverty – and the key factors associated with that risk. The analysis allows us to zoom in on the dynamics of how to eradicate poverty – an objective which is at the very heart of the 2030 Agenda. I understand that the tool has already been applied in eighteen countries in the Latin America and the Caribbean region. 

Another tool, Multidimensional Clustering Analysis, or COMBOS, aims to help policymakers create clusters of SDG targets which are inter-related, specify common policy drivers of progress on them, and identify courses of action to accelerate SDG achievement. The tool is being piloted this autumn in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The eradication of poverty in the region requires not only lifting people out of poverty, but also keeping them out of it. A new generation of public policies is required to address structural issues, such as high energy costs; access to development finance, and to private financing for private sector expansion; improving data availability and use for decision making; and addressing the high levels of outward migration of skilled labour – among other challenges. These structural issues are limiting the Caribbean’s economic transformation, and inhibit the efforts of governments to ensure a more equitable, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable future for Caribbean countries.


I wish to conclude by thanking members of the Advisory Board for this Human Development Report, especially Didacus Jules and the OECS Commission, who guided the process of preparing the report, and provided enormously helpful feedback throughout.

We were also very fortunate to have had the active participation of six UNDP country offices. They helped us identify good practices in the region, and ensured that the voices and aspirations of people were always taken into account. 

My sincere thanks also go to my colleagues in the Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean in New York and its Regional Hub in Panama under the leadership of Jessica Faieta. Special thanks must also go to George Gray Molina, our Chief Economist for the region, whose expertise has shaped our thinking on multidimensional progress. 

Finally, I thank the lead authors: Warren Benfield, Compton Bourne, and Kenroy Roach for their outstanding work in bringing together the report we are launching today. We hope the report will contribute to productive discussions on the future of the Caribbean, evidence-informed policymaking, and further growth and development in the region.