Opening Statement of Judith Karl, UNCDF Executive Secretary, on the occasion of UNCDF’s 50th Anniversary

  • January 30, 2017

  • New York, USA

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you very much for joining us this evening to mark the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Capital Development Fund, and to all our speakers for their powerful remarks and commitment to UNCDF.
I am delighted to be surrounded by so many of UNCDF’s friends and partners.

While I started as Executive Secretary only two and a half years ago, my first encounter with UNCDF dates back to the mid-1990s, serving in Cambodia, when UNTAC had drawn down and we were transforming a largely humanitarian aid agenda into a recovery one. Then with UNDP, we crafted a UNDP/UNCDF local development finance experiment in fiscal decentralization in the provinces most affected by refugee returns. You heard the Cambodian official in the video talking about the national evolution of that initiative 20 years later, now at national scale, and being used to channel global climate adaptation finance through the systems that were established all those years ago. This is just one in a long line of similar UNDP/UNCDF post-crisis recovery initiatives around the world, the largest right now in Somalia.
We could chart a similar history of innovation, learning, and evolution in our Financial Inclusion practice, about which you have already heard a number of testimonials this evening.

For us, UNCDF is a passion, not just a job. The 50th anniversary of UNCDF is a great opportunity to recognize the long line of talented, dedicated, and passionate staff and consultants who have passed through its corridors. There are many of our amazing people here with us tonight, and I am so honored to be able to share this important moment with all of you and those who are joining us in spirit from around the world. Thank you to all of you for continuing to show how an agile, innovative, and results- oriented UNCDF can keep pushing the envelope and make finance work for the poor.

As the world has changed since UNCDF’s founding on 13 December 1966, UNCDF’s expertise and programmes have evolved to keep pace with lessons learned and the needs of our programme countries. Yet, throughout, our guiding mission has remained the same: unlocking public and private finance to benefit poor people.

UNCDF is a small, but focused organization, with a very clear job to do. With a capital mandate unique in the UN development system, UNCDF helps the Least Developed Countries get finance flowing to the people, places and small enterprises that are under- served and excluded. We are showing every day how small amounts of Official Development Assistance can help LDCs leverage public and private resources for maximum impact into the last mile.

Our track record of success stands on the readiness of governments in LDCs to partner and innovate with us. We are proud to have worked with over 40 LDCs over the years, and many Middle Income Countries too.

We are deeply grateful to our funding and implementing partners, many of whom are here this evening. I thank our LDC partner governments; those who proudly champion our core by contributing to UNCDF’s regular resources; and those who fund thematic and country initiatives and who are committed to learning and evolving with us.

As we look back tonight on UNCDF’s journey, we also look ahead to the opportunities and challenges LDCs face. To meet the 2030 Agenda and graduate with inclusion, LDCs must more than ever turn national goals into a better future for tens of millions of people at the local level.

More than ever, ODA will remain essential, and yet will need to be catalytic and get public and private finance – domestic and international - flowing beyond capital cities.

More than ever, LDCs will need continued support in mobilizing sufficient resources on a range of issues: to benefit from urbanization, to adapt to climate change, and to build resilient local economies that provide hope and dignity to women and young people.
To help LDCs respond to these priorities, we will continue to develop new partnerships, investment platforms, and financial instruments that build an investment pipeline and unblock public and private finance at the local level.

We will continue to push the frontiers of where finance flows by proving the business case for operating where few others invest, and then working with others to take to scale what works.

We will continue to embrace a healthy risk appetite and to use digital and other technologies to solve last mile problems and improve access to essential infrastructure and services.

We will continue to identify new challenges – such as investing in digital infrastructure as part of disaster preparedness - where changing how finance flows, can support speedy recovery and empower local actors.

And we will continue to evolve and share our lessons with you, so the work we do is based on evidence and can be easily replicated in other LDCs where local finance solutions can overcome entrenched inequalities and exclusions.

Today, as we mark 50 years, we are pleased to reaffirm our commitment to promoting smart solutions that mobilize more resources for development and get finance flowing to where it matters most. We know that working together, we can continue help LDCs to turn the SDGs and Addis Ababa Action Agenda into concrete action where blended finance models work for the poor; benefit the people, businesses, and institutions at risk of being left behind; and support growth that is sustainable and resilient.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before I close, please allow me a moment to thank our Managing Director, Administrator Helen Clark, who has announced her departure this coming April. Helen, you have led with vision, formidable intellect, decisiveness and determination. You have rightfully earned the respect, dedication and affection of your senior managers for your support to us as professionals and as individuals. Since I joined UNCDF, you have been an unstinting champion of our mandate and of responsible experimentation and innovation. And Helen, as a female leader with such a distinguished and successful public career, making a real difference on the global and local stages, I cannot overstate the extent to which you inspire and model what is possible. Thank you for everything Helen, you will be missed.

Thank you.