Unleashing the regions: From cost to investment

May 13, 2020

“The regional level of the UN has a special role to play, being close to the challenges faced by countries, subregions and regions, their strengths and weaknesses, their particularities and opportunities. A clear commitment at the regional level of the UN to evolve and change in line with the ambitions set out in Agenda 2030 could lead to the kind of comprehensive and integrated action necessary to move forward the wellbeing of our peoples and the health of our planet”.

This report is intended as a topline input to Member States responsible for overseeing and implementing the UN regional reform. We hope that it helps the UN push forward their important reforms at the regional level.

The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals have given the international system, and the United Nations in particular, a unique opportunity to improve governance, accountability, alignment in planning and policy making, collaboration and coordination –all under an ambitious, universal and long-term vision. There is a chance to help transform conditions on the ground to benefit billions of world citizens, economically, socially and environmentally. The level of ambition expressed in the 2030 Agenda requires all stakeholders, and most especially the UN, to review their ways of working: global consensus of this kind is rare, and the moment must be exploited. 


In the first half of 2019 Cepei produced a substantial report on what regional reforms might be appropriate: A Sustainable Regional UN. It was based on hundreds of interviews across the world, in person and by video, and validated by a committee of independent experts drawn from various sectors. It was well-received and helped shape the Secretary General’s five recommendations for the regional reform. Among the strengths and opportunities we identified at the regional level were substantial human capacity, the ability to discuss sensitive issues, and trust in the UN brand. Among weaknesses and threats, we identified were the lack of a convincing narrative for the regional value proposition, weak data ecosystems and impact monitoring, a low trust environment, poor understanding between UN entities and resource constraints. Strikingly, we said that the “system itself is the biggest barrier to change”, explaining that “UN staff do not think as the UN, but as their specific entities. This undermines collaborative approaches.” This analysis, which was simply a reflection of what we were told in our many face-to-face encounters, now seems particularly poignant. 

Purpose of the current report 

In November and December 2019, the Cepei team revisited all five regions to assess progress against the five recommendations.

This document sets out a reflection on the importance of this reform, and the challenges it faces; It also makes six recommendations for Member States and other stakeholders, before the challenging conclusion. It also adds two annexes on issues of particular importance: setting out a bold and compelling narrative, and starting pilot projects to put theory into action.

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