Spotlight on the UNDG

There are several dozen agencies across the United Nations (UN) system. Most of them have a specialised agencies like the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) or the World Food Programme (WFP). There are some well-known UN Funds and programmes such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). What is lesser known the larger consortium, the United Nations Development Group (UNDG).

The UNDG arose as a result of UN reform. The UN, like so many multilateral organisations, required reform in order to meet the demands of its member states, especially the US and to some extent, the UK. By 1997, there were calls within the United Nations and to draw all UN agencies working on development issues together. Many UN Development Programmes and Funds and Specialised Agencies were encroaching upon each others activities. The then Secretary General, Kofi Annan, publish a paper known as Renewing the United Nations: A Programme for reform (if you can’t view the link, google the title or ‘UN document A/51/950’). More support came from Surapong Posayanond, the then Director General of the Department of International Organizations from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand in merging UNDP, UNICEF, UNFPA and WFP together (M2 Presswire, 1997).

If you skip through the document above and paragraph 73 explains the formation and objectives of the UNDG, namely: to facilitate joint policy formation and decision making amongst the various UN agencies and programmes, encourage programmatic cooperation and reduce any management inefficiencies. The UNDG would integrate all programmes into the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF). Finally, then Secretary General Kofi Annan worked to form the UNDG and won praise from then UNDP Administrator, James Speth (Xinhua News Agency, 1997). There are also several non-Internet based sources covering the history of the UNDG, namely:

Murphy, C.N., 2006, The United Nations Development Programme: A Better Way? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.290 and the rest of the chapter.

Kinggebiel, S., 1991, Effectiveness and Reform of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), London, Frank Cass, various pages including p.ix, 93, 130 (about coordination), 275, 297 (about UN development cooperation), 30.

Riddell, R.C., 2007, Does Foreign Aid Really Work? New York: Oxford University Press, p.82, 88

Stokke, O., 2009, The UN and Development: From Aid to Corporation, Indiana: Indiana University Press, p. 401, 403, 405-406, 424

There are a host of other books and reports detailing the rise of the UNDG, but they aren’t in my possession.


The following are the UNDG members:

Members of the UNDG
* The UNDP (The largest of all and lead organisation)
* The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
* The WFP
* The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
* UN Women, formerly the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)
* The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)
* The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)
* The UN Habitat United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT)
* The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) – (note: not listed in current website, could have been removed as a UNDG member)
* The World Health Organisation (WHO)
* The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA)
* The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
* The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
* The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)
* The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
* The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO)
* The International Labour Organisation (ILO)
* Any of the United Nations Department of Public Information (Regional Commissions (UNDPI): The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) or the UN United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) – these rotate annually) – (at present (2018) it is ECLAC
* The Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries & Small Island Developing Countries (OHRLLS)
* The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSGCAC)
* The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
* The UHCR
* Thee Office of Under Secretary General – Special Adviser on Africa) (UNOSAA)
* The United Nations World Tourism Organization (WTO)
* The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO)
* The International Telecommunications Union (ITU)


(see this 2015 Functioning and Working Arrangements paper for who can be considered as a UNDP member an observer also see this archived link from 2009, stating the list of observers
* The World Bank or World Bank Group (not exactly specified which)
* The United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP)
* The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
* Spokesman for the Secretary-General
* Director, Office of the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations

Note: Again, you have to see the link above to understand which UN specialised agency or fund or programmes are considered as UNDG members and which are considered UNDG observers.

Leadership and Organisation

The UNDG has a chair, the Deputy Secretary General of the UN, and a vice chair, the Administrator of the UNDP. (Previously, the UNDP Administrator was simply the chair of the UNDG.) There is also a core group consisting of “[UN}DESA, FAO, ILO, UNDP, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UN Women, WFP, WHO executives, the rotating chair of the Regional Economic Commissions, and the chairs of the UNDG Strategic Results Groups.” (I’m not exactly sure what the ‘UNDG Strategic Results Groups’ are but you can via this Google search link or this UNDG link on UNDG working groups. Previously, there was the UNDG executive committee which comprised of the four founding agencies–the UNDP, the UNFPA, the UNICEF and the WFP with Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights an Ex-Officio member of the Committee (See Stokke, 2009, p.403).

A key component of the UNDG that aids its functions is the  UN Development Coordination Office (DOCO) which acts as the secretariat of the UNDG. DOCO is a key coordinating body that provides “more strategic UN support for national plans and priorities, makes operations more efficient, reduces transaction costs for governments, and ultimately helps people attain the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development objectives”.) DOCO also greatly assists UN Resident Coordinators (RCs) – the representative that coordinates the work of individual country teams. There have been plans for improving DOCO, allowing it to 1) to have stronger oversight over RCs; 2) monitor and assess each RC’s professional development and performance appraisal; 3)control any trouble shooting regarding regional UNDG officials; 4) provide operational guidance to UN country teams (UNCTs) and quality assurance to the various UNDAFs ; 5)  provide communication support of UN Values and 6) DOCO to be head by a UN Assistant Secretary General.

Besides the leadership described, the UNDG derives its mandate from the Comprehensive Policy Review of operational activities for development of the United Nations system. Furthermore the UNDG is overseen by the UN General Assembly through its Economic and Financial Committee (Second Committee). This committee produces a Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) of operational activities for development of the UN system which in turn responds to the mandate defined the General Assembly and the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Alongside this, the UNDG is one of the three mechanisms of the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), the other two being the High-Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP) and the High Level Committee on Management (HLCM) (Note: the CEB website only that CEB has only has two pillars–the HLCP and the HLCM while the UNDG page on its governance claims the UNDG is the third pillar of the CEG.) This positioning of the UNDG is prominent given its youth and its core role as a coordinating body.

Delivering as One and the UNDG

In the wider scope, there is also a plan called ”Delivering as One”. It aimed to explore how the United Nations system could work more coherently and effectively across the world in the areas of development, humanitarian assistance and the environment. It was the result of a report issued by the Secretary General. At the end of 2006, eight pilot countries–‘guinea pigs–were test out for the Delivering as One design. These were Albania, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Pakistan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uruguay and Vietnam. The UNDG played a key role here leading the design “with the support by Millennium Development Goals strategy support funds”. Delivering as One continues to be a critical topic where the takes the lead; it has set out Standard Operating Procedures, extremely relevant as the international development committee moves towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

UNDAF(s) and the UNDG

UNDAFs aims to reduce duplication in planning requirements for UN agencies and national partners, and for some agencies to replace the current requirements of the UNDAF and agency-specific country programme planning documents. UNDAP aims to bring together agency specific planning requirements in a consistent and seamless manner, and ensure a ‘necessary and sufficient’ programme logic in the results chain and resource requirements. The plan outlines linkages to regional and global initiatives at the sectoral level, forging greater synergy between UN plans in addition to support of larger multilateral and bilateral programmes. Annual reviews and adjustments ensure the continued relevance of the UNDAP; the plan and its implementation modalities ensure coherence and consistency from actions to results to reporting, yielding a synergistic effect. The UNDAF is closely related to Delivering as One as a result-orientated framework lasting around 3 to 5 years in each UN client state or UN Country Teams (UNCTs).

It defines how UNCTs contributes to the achievement of international development results, based on an analysis/assessment of country needs and UN comparative advantages. Each UNNDAF is a compact between Government and the UN and fosters national ownership through joint identification of strategic priorities, coherent engagement in national and UN coordination processes, and alignment of the UNDAF with national planning cycles. Strategic guidance and oversight are exercised through a Joint National/UN Steering Committee with the participation of national stakeholders.

The UNDAP methodology tried out in several countries, Tanzania being on of them. The methodology was designed based on experiences previous UNDAP cycle, the Delivering as One experience . It was also a response to the recommendations from the Delivering as One Country Led Evaluation. An interim draft of the four-year USD $773 millionUNDAP for Tanzania was approved on 13 December 2010 by the Tanzanian Government’s  Joint Steering Committee (JSC) and United Nations. As part of the UNDAP development, and in line with the agreement reached by UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and WFP, a Common Country Programme Document (CCPD) has been prepared and submitted together with agency specific annexes. The CCPD is an extract of the contribution of the four agencies to the UNDAP.

A report in 2016 surveyed host governments and found that the UNDAF has enabled governments to ensure that the UN’s activities are closely aligned with individual national plans and strategies. At present, UNDAFs are further aligned towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, with four programming principles namely: 1) Leave No One Behind; 2) Sustainability and Resilience; 3) Accountability and 4) Human Rights, Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. All this goes in line with the Delivering as One approach.

This is mainly an overview of a group, not really an organisation, that is not widely known in development circles. As noted, it is mean to enhance the efficient of UN international development activities, improve efficiency on any UN operations in the field and planning and deliver more efficient results. The UNDG has improved UN development, but as with any large corporation, there’s much more to be covered. I’ll write about UNDG efforts and shortfalls in another post.


M2 Presswire, 1997,  “UN Economic and Social Council reviews operational activities for fostering development”, M2 Presswire, 4 July 1997

Stokke, O., 2009, The UN and Development: From Aid to Corporation, Indiana: Indiana University Press, p. 401, 403, 405-406, 424

Xinhua News Agency, 1997, “UNDP Head Praises Annan’s Reform Proposals, Xinhua News Agency, 16 July 1997.

Click to access UNDG-Functioning-and-Working-Arrangements-3-1.pdf

Click to access UN%20System%20Chart_ENG_FINAL_MARCH13_2017_0.pdf

Click to access qcpr_sgr_terminology_paper.pdf

Click to access UN%20System%20Chart_ENG_FINAL_MARCH13_2017_0.pdf

This entry was posted in Human Development, International Development, Millennium Development Goals, Posts, UNDG, UNDP, United Nations Development Group, United Nations Development Programme and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s