Global Governance | Report

Delivering Coherence: Next Steps for a Unified United Nations System

March 2007


Among the measures mandated by world leaders in the Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit was a call for improved coherence among UN specialized agencies to address often overlapping and uncoordinated on-the-ground programs around the world. Taking a cue from the report of the High-level Panel on System-wide Coherence, Delivering as One, the Stanley Center’s conference focused not only on overall issues of economic development, but particularly on issues of promoting gender equality and protecting the environment.

The centerpiece of the coherence initiative is an effort to harmonize UN development activities being carried out within a given country—“One UN in Country.” A pilot program is getting under way that includes Albania, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Pakistan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uruguay, and Vietnam. The aim is to have all stakeholders in the country working within a shared framework, management, and budget. Conference participants saw a “remarkable split” between what they have heard about the ground level versus what they hear from ambassadors in New York. The skepticism among diplomats in New York stands in contrast to the enthusiasm of pilot country governments and the additional member states that have volunteered to be part of future rounds of expansion. After all, the inefficiencies and unfocused efforts associated with incoherence ultimately undercut development in the developing countries themselves.

Recipient governments are especially sensitive to how donor-driven aid through bilateral and international financial institution channels often is. Yet funding that comes through the United Nations has a special legitimacy. Working with the UN, aid recipients feel, gives them more opportunity to define development priorities and less pressure to abide by donor government wishes. The United Nations, as a servant of all governments, participants highlighted, provides a context in which the sovereignty of developing nations is given greater respect.

Participants were hesitant in general to proceed with changes in the governance structures through which member states oversee the specialized agencies. They viewed it as more productive to focus on enhancing coordination between governments and UN programs, clarifying development priorities, and increasing accountability in the UN system. Several participants pointed out that the real challenge is to boost the delivery of development assistance rather than create “board upon board, committee upon committee.” They proposed to let such changes emerge from experience with One UN in Country. In the meantime, it was suggested that the existing boards of the various agencies work jointly to assess the pilot program and that member states should support the strengthened leadership role of the resident coordinators.