Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator Lecture on “The New Global Development Agenda and Malawi”

Jun 18, 2015

Helen Clark delivering a lecture

I thank the Speaker of the Malawi National Assembly, Hon. Richard Msowoya for inviting me to deliver this lecture here today.

As a former Member of Parliament, Minister, and Prime Minister in New Zealand, I know very well what a critical role parliamentarians play in shaping the development and future prospects of their countries. It is therefore a great pleasure to discuss with you the emerging post-2015 development agenda and the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – set to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the end of this year – and how it relates to Malawi. 

The new global agenda – building on the MDGs:

The new development agenda is shaping up to be both ambitious and transformational. It will be universal in nature, it covers all three dimensions of sustainable development, and aims to address the many interlinked challenges our world is facing. The agenda is relevant to countries at all stages of development – both this country, Malawi, and my own, New Zealand.

Without doubt, there has been tremendous development progress globally in the time span covered by the MDGs and their targets. Between 1990 and 2010, for example, extreme income poverty halved, and the likelihood of a child dying before their fifth birthday was nearly halved. Now most children in developing countries are enrolled in primary schooling for at least some time. Maternal death rates are down, although not nearly enough, and significant progress has been made on combatting HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis. The goal set for access to improved water sources has been met.

Yet there is much unfinished business from the MDGs.  Poverty and hunger are yet to be eradicated, and inequalities are increasing in many countries.  As well, the global environmental challenges are mounting.  That is particularly evident with climate change. Its impacts threaten development achievements in all countries, and especially in the poorest and most vulnerable.

The new global agenda must take on these challenges. The alternative is to face a world characterized by even more turmoil and instability. The time to act is now.  Exclusion is fueling the use of sectarianism and violence. The burden of complex humanitarian emergencies occasioned by conflict or by natural disasters is weighing heavily on peoples on the frontlines of these events, on national economicand on international relief budgets.

In the current set of proposed sustainable development goals (or SDGs) before UN member states, there are goals and targets which relate to economic growth, infrastructure, energy, and strengthening capacities to trade and attract investment. The agenda also tackles the MDGs’ unfinished business, and the challenges of environmental degradation, and rapid urbanisation. It prioritizes tackling inequalities – indeed the importance of leaving no one behind is a defining feature of the new agenda.

As well, and for the first time explicitly, the proposed new global development agenda affirms that development requires peaceful and inclusive societies, justice for all, and effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.

In January 2014, the African leaders endorsed the Common African Position (CAP) on the Post 2015 Development Agenda as the first developing region to have a unified position on the new development agenda. These priorities are reflected in the proposals now on the table being negotiated by member states.[1]

Building resilience – integral to successful global development agenda

As a development organization, UNDP is very aware of the highly detrimental impact which disasters and crises – both man-made and those due to natural hazards – can have on development efforts.  Too often, we see decades of hard work and billions of dollars in investments washed away by a hurricane, leveled by an earthquake, or destroyed in a war.

Here in Malawi, you know the effects of natural disasters all too well. The recent devastating floods impacted millions of people, part of a recurrent cycle of floods and droughts, which despite being predictable still require emergency responses of varying size each year.

While floods, droughts, and other natural hazards are often unavoidable, the planning for those events, the response, and recovery, can be managed. Our goal in the aftermath of crisis should always be to “build back better”. This is something which I emphasized at today’s launch of the Post Disaster Needs Assessment report, which is to underpin the recovery from this year’s floods. UNDP will support the Government and peoples of Malawi throughout these efforts.

The importance of resilience for sustainable development was featured at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, earlier this year. Its outcome will complement the post-2015 development agenda and the SDGs as we move into the implementation phase at the beginning of next year.

Implementation of the new development agenda

The new development agenda will remain mere words on paper unless it can be effectively implemented. A strong package on “means of implementation” will be critical. Capacities need to be strengthened. Renewed global partnerships for development are needed. And, while money isn’t everything, access to finance is vital.

The Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July needs an outcome which is as bold and ambitious as the new sustainable development agenda promises to be.

It will be critical for the advanced economies to recommit to meeting the international target of 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) for Official Development Assistance (ODA). ODA should be directed to where it is most needed and where it can catalyse other flows of finance. In this regards, meeting the targets of allocating at least 0.15 per cent to 0.20 per cent of GNI as ODA to LDCs by 2020 is vital.  

ODA should be smart aid in supporting the building of national capacities for inclusive and sustainable growth, for domestic resource mobilization from that growth, and for the attraction of quality loans and investment.

The Addis Ababa Conference is also an opportunity for concrete commitments to be made to combat the tax evasion and avoidance and illicit financial flows which constrain efforts to raise domestic resources. I commend the African Union’s proactive engagement on this.  Africa loses an estimated amount of US$ 50 billion annually to illicit financial flows. These lost resources are an important factor in explaining why Africa’s economic growth has often failed to accelerate human development. They can also be attributed to fueling conflicts on the continent.

There is also much more international policy coherence needed across areas like trade, taxation, and migration. As well, developing countries need readier access to the technologies which will enable them to make breakthroughs on sustainability.

The range of challenges the new global agenda seeks to tackle also requires more international public finance beyond ODA. More resources are needed for investments in areas ranging from communicable disease control to climate change adaptation and mitigation, infrastructure development, and science, innovation, and new technologies.

Implementing a bold global sustainable development agenda requires the engagement of the world’s private sector too. How business does business, and the regulatory framework within which it operates, have a huge bearing on whether development is sustainable.

Implicit in this universal agenda is the understanding that development is not just something which should happen for someone else somewhere else. The quest for attaining and sustaining high levels of human development is relevant to all countries. And the challenges of sustainability of our ecosystems are faced by countries at all levels of development – although regrettably, those who have contributed the least to the problem, like Malawi, are facing the gravest consequences

Malawi and the MDGs

Malawi has made important progress on some of the MDGs, especially on gender parity in primary school enrolment; child mortality; HIV/AIDS and malaria; and access to an improved water sources.

Malawi’s leadership in combating HIV and AIDS is particularly noteworthy. Commitment and effort has paid off: 82 per cent more people are being treated for HIV today than five years ago. Malawi has achieved one of the highest decline of new mother-to-child transmissions of HIV in the world. National prevalence of HIV has also declined to 10.6 per cent, down from 15 per cent in 1998. Addressing the rise in new infections, particularly among girls aged 15-24 years old, is the main challenge now.

While recognizing achievements, it is also true that by the time the SDGs will become the world’s new development compass, much unfinished MDG business will remain here in Malawi.

In particular, the poverty target is significantly out of reach, with about 51 per cent of people living under the national poverty line in 2010. There is some good news, however, as preliminary data from the 2010-2013 Integrated Household Survey, indicates that poverty may be starting to decline.[2] Traditionally, poverty has been largely a rural phenomenon in Malawi, which points to the importance of strengthening rural infrastructure and raising the productivity of the rural economy, focusing in particular on agriculture and small scale enterprises for women. 

Inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, is also troubling:  between 2004 and 2010 it rose from 0.39 to 0.46[3]. Gender equality is a particular challenge, and although there has been some progress in some areas, for example at the primary school level, critical gaps remain. An important manifestation of this is persistent high maternal mortality.[4]

Another concern is Malawi’s continued deforestation, which is progressing at a very fast pace – 2.8 per cent per year - the highest in the SADC region. This contributes to Malawi’s vulnerability; the devastating floods earlier this year are widely believed to have been exacerbated by the prevailing levels of environmental and natural resource degradation.

Malawi and the SDGs – an opportunity for accelerated progress

Regardless of many challenges, there are also a range of opportunities for Malawi to achieve the transformational change it seeks under the new development agenda.

Let me offer some thoughts on key entry points in this regard:

1.    Inclusive growth – critical for progress

Promoting inclusive growth will be critical to the realization of the SDGs in Malawi. Progress on poverty reduction and employment creation has not been commensurate with the high growth of recent years – particularly between the years 2006 and 2011. Inclusive growth allows opportunities for everyone to participate in the growth process while making sure that benefits are shared. Without an effective inclusive growth strategy, it will be very difficult to achieve the principle of ‘leaving no one behind’ on the SDGs in Malawi.

UNDP is committed to supporting Malawi in making its economic growth more inclusive. For example, the Private Sector Development Project, for which DFID has provided financing, aims to contribute to the transformation of the private sector into the engine of real growth and anchor for economic diversification, job creation, and greater economic opportunity for all Malawians, with a particular focus on the poor.

2.    Diversification as a strategy of structural transformation

Economic diversification towards manufacturing and the service sectors will be important to lessen Malawi’s dependence on agriculture, generate growth, and build economic resilience. In this regard, due focus needs be given to nurturing sectors which are job rich and promise higher productivity. Effective implementation of the National Export Strategy will be important to maximize the contribution of exports to economic and social development. 

3.    Building resilience at all levels

Resilience building is critical to Malawi’s sustainable development efforts. Integral to this is a strong focus on disaster risk reduction, including through actions aimed at mitigating risks related to floods, droughts,  and economic shocks. As well, addressing deforestation and strengthening ecosystem integrity is critical.

As mentioned before, UNDP will work with Malawi to strengthen resilience at all levels. This includes helping Malawi avoiding catastrophic setbacks from climate change, through both adaptation and mitigation measures

4.    The critical important of gender equality

For Malawi to make real progress on the SDG’s, the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment needs to be at the forefront of national planning and budgeting processes. This is particularly important given the fact that most of the MDGs which have been off-track in Malawi have strong gender dimensions. Equal rights to economic resources, land ownership, and access to reproductive health services is of the essence.

UNDP’s next Africa Human Development Report will focus on the political economy of gender inequality on the continent. It will explore the drivers of women’s economic exclusion, and provide strategic and policy options for the way forward.

5.    Harnessing the potential of youth

Malawi’s population is very young - with a median age of 17 years - and is growing. Between 1966 and 2008[5], the population more than tripled. By 2050, it is projected to reach 41.2 million.

With the right set of policies, Malawi can turn its population growth into an opportunity by investing now in human development and creating productive employment for youth.

6.    Mainstreaming SDGs into national development plans

The introduction of the SDGs will coincide with the preparation of the new National Development Plan. This will be an important opportunity to effectively mainstream the new goals into development planning at all levels – thereby ensuring that they guide national and local efforts.

As the SDGs will primarily be translated into action at the local, district, and village levels, it will be important to involve local actors like parliamentarians and councilors in the process. Strong synergies built between the national and local planning processes will empower local governance institutions to undertake participatory planning in order to best meet grassroots aspirations.

Uganda and Botswana have already started the process of integrating the SDGs into their national development plans, and can provide good lessons to learn from. UNDP is ready to support the Government of Malawi in ensuring a smooth transition to the new development agenda and articulating the SDGs in national development plans and policies. We have extensive experience in doing this with the MDGs from an early stage.

7.    Citizen engagement on the SDGs

Citizen engagement is critical for the success of the new sustainable development agenda and the SDGs. There has already been wide outreach to the global public – through the online MY World Survey and in thematic and national consultations, including here in Malawi.

Throughout these consultations, citizens from across world have made it clear that they don’t want their engagement with the new global agenda to be limited to providing input at the outset. They expect to be informed participants in development, and to be able to monitor progress and hold governments and other actors accountable for the commitments they make.

Malawi can count on support from the UN system to develop effective mechanisms for peoples’ engagement in monitoring progress on the SDGs. This includes supporting Parliament in carrying out its critical oversight role.

8.    Financing

To be successful, national and sub-national SDG-based development plans need to be adequately resourced, ensuring that ambition is matched by means.

While recognizing the critical role which ODA will continue playing for Malawi in the years to come, the post-2015 agenda cannot be achieved through aid alone and domestic resource mobilization will play an increasingly important role.

Malawi’s domestic resource mobilization will need to be underpinned by expanding the revenue base, improving tax administration, and quality service deliver. It is also intimately linked to the choices and investments made in health, knowledge, skills development, and food security, as these all contribute to building healthy and productive societies, thereby broadening the tax base.


In conclusion, let me emphasize that Malawi has great potential to make significant sustainable development progress under the post-2015 development agenda and the SDGs.

You, as parliamentarians, will play a critical leadership role in this regard – be it through legislation, budget scrutiny, or overall oversight.

Indeed, you are key players when it comes to institutionalization of actions and creating enabling conditions; prioritization of critical issues such as gender equality and resilience-building; monitoring and reporting on progress; ensuring transparency and accountability of resources; and maintaining that critical link between your constituencies and what is happening at the national level.  I am therefore very pleased with having the opportunity to address you here today.

Please be assured that UNDP remains fully committed to supporting Malawi on its development path.



[1] The common position grouped Africa’s development priorities unto into six pillars: (i) structural economic transformation and inclusive growth; (ii) science, technology and innovation; (iii) people-centred development; (iv) environmental sustainability natural resources management, and disaster risk management;  (v) peace and security; and (vi) finance and partnerships.



[2] . According to the Integrated Household Panel Survey Report 2010-2013 by NSO the “incidence of poverty is estimated to have fallen from 40 percent of the population in 2010 to 39 percent in 2013”.  The incidence of ultra-poverty decreased from 15 percent of the population in 2010 to 12 percent in 2013. Urban poverty is estimated to have increased from 17.9 percent to 26.2 percent while rural poverty has decreased from 44.0 percent to 42.0 percent.



[3] Latest available data



[4] Malawi is ranked among the 20 countries in the world with the highest level of maternal mortality:  510 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births according to the Trends in Maternal Mortality Report in 2014.



[5] NSO 2009



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