A Vision for ESCAP and Asia-Pacific Leadership in Shaping Post-2015 Development

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar (right), Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations & Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific at the first ESCAP Staff Townhall Meeting, Bangkok 

UN ESCAP Photo/Suwat Chancharoensuk

Remarks as Delivered by Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations & Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

First ESCAP Staff Townhall Meeting, Bangkok

Colleagues, a very good afternoon to you.

Introduction

Thank you for your presence at this Town Hall.

I am returning to Asia after almost a decade and it is a homecoming for me. In this context, I am excited that the Secretary-General has asked me to lead the Commission at this tipping point for Asia and the Pacific, when major global shifts are changing the economic, social, and environmental landscape.

Serving ESCAP is an honour for me. It is an institution that has the distinction of being the oldest and largest UN Regional Commission. To its credit, ESCAP has established a number of strategic Asian institutions, including the Asian Development Bank where I spent 15 years.

It feels like I have come full circle – back to the region where I started my career, back to the epicentre and driver of economic growth, and the heart of development delivery - back to an organization with local roots, regional impact, and global influence.

No region has more potential to shape the future we want. ESCAP is the most appropriate platform for the consultations, deliberations, and policy dialogues which will shape regional sustainable development in the period to 2015 and beyond, and feed into the global agenda.

In line with Asian tradition, all our colleagues present today have made an effort to facilitate and support my transition. It would be remiss of me to not mention, in particular, the Division of Administration, under Peter’s leadership, which stands out for its efficient handling of travel logistics, excellent IT support etc. Our Deputy Executive Secretary, and the rest of Office of the Executive Secretary team, have also offered very good support and been very gracious with their time. The swift briefings which I received have also brought me up to speed.

The first week has been tremendously hectic, but very productive. I managed to meet the Senior Management Team, and virtually all Directors with their divisional staff, and am now positioned this week to meet our colleagues from the subregional offices. I am also set to interact with the team from the Regional Coordination Mechanism tomorrow, and am working with colleagues on the forthcoming Commission session and other key regional and intergovernmental meetings.

Continuity & Client Service

Let me start by saying that continuity and stability at ESCAP will be key. I thank my predecessors for incrementally building the Commission, and Noeleen Heyzer’s services have been well recognized by the Secretary-General.

Building on past success, I believe that ESCAP’s driving principle must be better client service, for our member States, the private sector, NGO’s, civil society – and ultimately, the people of Asia and the Pacific. I would value our working together to nurture an atmosphere of confidence, trust, respect, and fairness in all of our external and internal dealings.

Development Beyond Deadlines

To take ESCAP to new heights, we will need to work to strengthen ESCAP’s visibility, as well as to strategize and deepen our analytical work – in terms of both quality and quantity.

We need to recognize and build on our comparative advantages, devise sharper strategies, work collaboratively with regional institutions and financing agencies, focus on engagement, and concentrate on development outcomes and impact.

This means agreeing on a roadmap and a game-plan for concrete and deliverable outcomes; as well as demonstrating to our clients the value that we add, the niche that we fill, and the specific ways in which our work is different from that of other agencies and development organizations.

We have a narrow window of opportunity to make sure that the Asia-Pacific voice is heard amid the growing noise about the post-2015 agenda, and to put people and planet at the heart of the next phase of global development.

2014 and 2015 are going to be critical years for development, with major countdowns to the MDG deadline, the creation of new SDG’s, a new global climate change regime, the 100-year anniversary of World War I, the 20-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action, and many other key dates and milestones.

Development deadlines are key, but quality of development that reaches all is what matters most. Keeping an eye on the future we must work to offer a life of dignity to the people of Asia-Pacific. Clocks alone don’t count – people do.

A Vision for ESCAP’s Priorities

In line with the Secretary-General’s vision and priorities, MDG acceleration, as well as sustainable development and the financing for it, will be urgent priorities for ESCAP, backed by the change management set in motion in New York by the Secretary-General. In shaping post-2015 development, the Commission needs to first shape its regional strategic framework for engagement on a range of priorities including education, youth, energy, gender equality as well as partnerships with the private sector and the multilateral development banks.

Forging intergovernmental agreements and protocols is ESCAP’s core business. This is the ideal platform to build regional economic cooperation and integration as the best path forward for Asia and the Pacific – not only to bring the region closer together, but as a mechanism for sustained growth and more inclusive prosperity.

As I mentioned in my division visits last week, we must therefore make every effort to assist the ASEAN countries to realise the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015 – as this will be the most significant expression yet of Asia-Pacific success in regional integration.

ESCAP will also work to develop greater South-South cooperation, within the region and with other regions – to help reduce inequalities and to uplift our most disadvantaged and vulnerable countries.

Some Initial Reflections on ESCAP

I want us to begin a new dialogue in ESCAP about how we will meet these challenges, ramp-up delivery on our core mandates, communicate more effectively, and work smarter and better with other agencies and partners.

My visits to our divisions have been the start of that dialogue, and I want to thank you for the openness of our discussions. I now have a better idea about some of our ESCAP strengths and weaknesses, although I have a lot still to learn, and I hope you have begun to share my enthusiasm for the role of leadership and leveraging that our Commission must play in the future.

One of our most pressing challenges and greatest opportunities will be to use the mandate we have been given by the QCPR – of strengthening the links between the RCM and the UNDG – to ensure that the UN system ‘delivers as one’ from the global to the regional level, and then to the level of subregions and country teams. These are recommendations which sound simple, but which are deeply complex to deliver.

Conclusion

Before I conclude, let me say how much I appreciate your efforts during this exceptional time in Thailand. I thank everyone for their patience and commitment to continue working, even though transport to and from the office is frustrating. Our security team, both here and in New York is on the job. My priority will be staff safety – and in the security meeting last week we took the decision to keep in place, for now at least, the 8pm restriction on working hours, and the extension of the policy of no non-essential weekend work at the office.

Security is also a personal responsibility, and I want to take this opportunity to remind all staff to please stay alert to unnecessary risks, to avoid large crowds, and to remember our ethical responsibility as UN officials: to remain totally impartial.

Let me end by saying that I hope you will see this change in ESCAP leadership as a real opportunity – for us to take stock of who we are, what we do, and what real impact we can and should make on the ground.

This is the start of our development journey together. I have been asked to lead ESCAP, but I can only do that with your support, your enthusiasm, and your collective expertise.

I look forward to your questions, your suggestions, and your assistance in further building ESCAP into a truly valuable shared asset for the countries and people of our region.

I thank you.

Audio Commentary from Executive Secretary Akhtar on her vision for ESCAP.