The ABC of the UN Development System Regional Reform

May 10, 2022

Javier Surasky
Program Officer, Governance and Finance for Sustainable Development

A dictionary for nonexperts 

The United Nations Development System (UNDS) needs to be transformed, not just reformed. This ambitious proposal by António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, has focused on “making the work of the United Nations more efficient through the cohesion of sustainable development policies and functions of the system’s agencies with a country presence.”

The pandemic accelerated the need to reform the UNDS: A revitalized United Nations which adapts to a new multilateralism “…where knowledge flows from all sources, decision-makers listen, and evidence-based decision-making becomes the way forward.”

Cepei shares a dictionary on the UN Regional Reform for non-experts.

United Nations Development System

UN bodies that support countries’ efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda. The system has three global, regional, and national components. Its main actors are United Nations regional commissions, agencies, funds, and programmes.

Regional economic commissions

They are the main United Nations representatives in each of the five United Nations working regions: Europe (United Nations Economic Commission For Europe), Asia-Pacific (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific-ESCAP), Latin America and the Caribbean (Economic Commission for Latin America-ECLAC), Africa (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa-ECA) and Western Asia (Arab countries: United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia-ESCWA).

Regional commissions share essential goals, such as promoting subregional and regional economic integration, promoting the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, and supporting its follow-up process. They also create regional knowledge and strengthen cooperation, learning among peers, knowledge exchange, and a working network at the regional level.

Funds, programmes, and other bodies

Previously mentioned as “Agencies, funds, and programmes.” The term refers to a set of bodies, usually established by a Resolution of the UN General Assembly, who are commissioned to work on a specific issue. They are mainly or entirely financed by voluntary contributions and have a governing body elected by the UN Member States and a director.

The funds and programmes currently in operation are the United Nations Development Program (UNDP); the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP); the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF); the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat); the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef); and the World Food Programme (WFP).

The “remaining 8 bodies” include the International Trade Centre (ITC); the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS); the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS); the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA); and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).

Specialized bodies

Specialized agencies are international organizations created employing intergovernmental agreements, some of them preceding the establishment of the UN in 1945. These organizations are integrated into the United Nations System through special agreements signed by each specialized organization, where the conditions for collaboration are established. Each body has its members, working systems, and decision-making. Additionally, each body chooses its leaders.

The 17 specialized bodies are the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO); the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); the International Labour Organization (ILO); the International Monetary Fund (IMF); the International Maritime Organization (IMO); the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco); the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); the World Tourism Organization (WTO); the Universal Postal Union (UPU); the  World Health Organization (WHO); the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO); the World Meteorological Organization (WMO); the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD-World Bank Group); the International Development Association (IDA-World Bank Group); and the International Finance Corporation (IFC-World Bank Group).

Regional collaboration platforms

Born from the current United Nations regional reform process, these platforms are integrated by the regional economic commission, funds, programmes, and specialized agencies with a presence in each UN region. Each region has its collaboration platform, chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and co-chaired by the executive secretary of the regional economic commission and the regional director of the United Nations Development Program. Regional collaboration platforms must ensure joint and coherent work throughout the System for development at the regional level.

Issue-based coalitions – IBCs

Established as a result of the ongoing United Nations regional reform, issue-based coalitions are regional working groups that allow better collaboration between UN bodies and their partners on issues prioritized by the System at each regional level. The five regions have established their issue-based coalitions, including gender equality and environmental protection. 

Knowledge hubs

Created as a result of the UN regional reform process, they are centers where each region gathers its knowledge production (reports, databases, etc.) generated by the United Nations System at the regional level. Generally, knowledge hubs have been developed as free access web portals or platforms.

Resident coordinator

The resident coordinator is the designated representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in each country. This officer, appointed by the Secretary-General (previously, the resident coordinator was the highest authority of the UNDP in each country), represents the set of funds, programmes, and other bodies of the UN before each national government. Some of the resident coordinator’s main functions are to engage in dialogue and establish collaboration channels with the country’s government, ensure coordinated work in all parts of the United Nations System at the country level, and strengthen dialogue with multiple national stakeholders (civil society, private sector, the academic community, etc.).

United Nations Development Coordination Office [1] – DCO

This office predates the reform, but its organization chart and functions have been modified to strengthen its structure and improve dialogue with regions and UN teams in countries. The DCO works directly under the Secretary-General, is headquartered in New York, and has regional directors in each of the five UN operating regions.

Its functions are to manage and supervise the resident coordinator system, ensure that its offices have the capacity, skills, tools, and financing required, and contribute to shaping and implementing policies, programmes, and operations in countries. Additionally, it acts as secretary for the United Nations Sustainable Development Group.

United Nations Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG)

It gathers the executive directors of 37 regional commissions, agencies, funds, programmes, and specialized bodies of the United Nations System, who work on defining collaborative policies and joint decision-making. They meet twice a year under the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. Its co-chair is the head of the United Nations Development Program, and its secretary is the United Nations Development Coordination Office. 

If necessary, a UNSDG Central Group, integrated by DESA, FAO, IOM, OUNHCHR, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNHCR, Unicef, UN Women, WFP, WHO, and the current representative of the regional economic commissions, may be convened to treat any specific issue.

[1] Based on

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