Statement of the Executive Director to the 2nd Regular Session of the Executive Board 2019

05 September 2019

Statement of UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem to the 2nd Regular Session of the Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS 2019 [as prepared for delivery].

Mr. President,
Distinguished Members of the Executive Board,
Colleagues and friends,

Before I begin I would like to express, on behalf of all of us at UNFPA, our solidarity with the people of the Caribbean affected by Hurricane Dorian. UNFPA staff are already on the ground, helping with the response, and we will continue to stand with the people of the Bahamas and the region as they work to recover from this devastating disaster and rebuild their communities.

Good morning! I am pleased to be here with you for this Second Regular Session of the Executive Board.

May I begin by thanking you for your support and guidance over the past year – a historic 50th year for UNFPA. As we reflect on progress over those past five decades and in the 25 years since the International Conference on Population and Development, we also look ahead with great ambition to 2030.

What will it take to complete the unfinished business of the ICPD and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals? How do we accomplish the three UNFPA transformative zeros: zero unmet need for family planning, zero preventable maternal deaths, and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices?

What will it cost and how do we mobilize adequate data and resources to reach these ambitious yet wholly achievable goals by 2030? What kind of UNFPA organization do we need? If partnerships are required, and they are, how and with whom do we partner?

Fifty years on, UNFPA stands at an inflection point – looking to the future while upholding our vital mandate. I can proudly state that we stand united.  We stand unwavering in our commitment to the reproductive rights and choices of every woman and girl, every young person, everyone everywhere. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our partners and the communities we serve, proud of the progress we have made together, and determined to deliver fully on the promise of Cairo.

Working together with this Executive Board, we are reshaping UNFPA to become ever more effective, more results driven and better equipped to deliver the transformative change we all desire to see in communities and countries and, indeed, in the lives of those we serve.

I am pleased to report that nearly all of the change initiatives resulting from the Comprehensive Resources Review initiated two short years ago have been finalized.

Since 2017, we have aligned more than 60 country offices to ensure that there are adequate financial and human resources in line with their categories and modes of engagement, and we have streamlined our presence in New York.

We have strengthened the nexus between our work supporting intergovernmental processes and programme implementation at the national level. 

One concrete example of this more strategic approach is the costing of efforts to achieve our three transformative results, an ambitious undertaking being led by the reorganized Policy and Strategy Division. This exercise will help us make a strong case at global, regional and country levels for the investments needed to achieve our three zeros by 2030. It also reflects our concerted efforts to engage strategic partners, from philanthropies to private companies to academia and beyond, in our work to accelerate action towards the full realization of the ICPD and 2030 agendas.

To improve field-focused technical services, we have established an important new global hub on ageing and low fertility, based in Seoul, and relocated or created more technical posts in the field to work with countries on population data.

The realignment of UNFPA humanitarian operations strengthens our capacity to respond quickly in emergencies and to build stronger partnerships with humanitarian partners in Geneva.

The immediate focus of the new Humanitarian Response Office is to build institutional capacity and leadership and enhance coherence across UNFPA for effective humanitarian preparedness, rapid response and early recovery, and work across the humanitarian, development and peace nexus. Getting to zero means reaching everyone, wherever they may be.

I recently joined a mission to Afghanistan led by the Deputy Secretary-General. In Bamyan Province, we visited a family protection centre, operated by UNFPA in collaboration with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health. The centre, one of 26 that UNFPA runs throughout the country, provides medical care, counselling, legal assistance and other critical services to survivors of gender-based violence. The doctor and midwives also work with communities to address root causes of violence. This multilayered work in the field demonstrates how UNFPA aims to drive transformative change in the lives of those we serve.

UNFPA is committed to leaving no one behind.

Those furthest behind, including women, girls and other marginalized groups, are also among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

UNFPA works to build climate resilience at the individual and community level by:

  • promoting investments in sexual and reproductive health and gender equality;
  • protecting those at risk of gender-based violence due to climate-related impacts; and
  • improving vulnerability assessments through population and health data.

To achieve the “universal” in Universal Health Coverage, we need to ensure that health systems are equipped to deliver sexual and reproductive health services to all.

UNFPA is assessing challenges, identifying bottlenecks and providing evidence-based analysis and recommendations to strengthen supply chain management, scale up partnerships, optimize resource management, and more.

Together with our partners, we are adopting governance reforms to more effectively deliver on the UNFPA Supplies programme as a central global vehicle for advancing reproductive health commodity security. This is pivotal to eliminating unmet need for family planning.

We are working hard to equip UNFPA with the structure, systems and organizational culture to become a much more nimble, field-focused and adaptive organization – an organization that embraces change as an integral part of our daily business.

We know that culture is a key component in preparing UNFPA for tomorrow. With the support of partners, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we have launched a dedicated initiative to deeply understand our current organizational culture and reinforce the values, practices and attitudes that will fortify UNFPA for the next 50 years. 

This includes efforts to promote civility and inclusion. UNFPA is committed to ensuring a respectful environment free from abuse of any kind, including sexual harassment and exploitation. We have launched a series of dialogues on Civility in the Workplace, and together with the Ombudsman for the UN Funds and Programmes, are establishing a network of respectful workplace facilitators, to assist with conflict prevention and resolution and reinforce our policy of zero tolerance.

We know that workplace well-being also requires addressing mental health issues and ensuring that staff are aware of the services and support available to them.

That’s why UNFPA has partnered with the Rome Institute to provide pre- and post-deployment briefings to staff deployed to high-risk locations. And we are developing a cadre of counsellors trained to recognize and direct staff with mental health issues towards the appropriate support.

Mental health is everyone’s responsibility. Our stance is preventive and proactive, aimed increasing awareness and reducing stigma.


Mr. President,

It is said, “the only constant in life is change”. For some, the connotation is negative. However, a changing, adapting, evolving organization is a healthy organization.

As UNFPA gears up for the midterm review of our Strategic Plan and Integrated Budget, we are capitalizing on the repositioning of the UN development system to deliver better and to become a stronger, more effective and efficient organization.

The reform is not an end in itself, but a means of further strengthening our reach and our common impact on the ground.

In addition to focusing on UN reforms, the scope of the Strategic Plan midterm review will be on implementation and cumulative progress towards the strategic plan results, including the Common Chapter and the Global and Regional Initiative results. The midterm review, with guidance from the Executive Board, will help us ensure the Strategic Plan stays on track.

We are confident that our strategic direction and the fundamentals of our business model remain very much aligned with and relevant to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

We will brief the Board as the exercise progresses, with informal sessions planned for October 2019 and April 2020. The review will be presented to the Board in June 2020.

UNFPA continues to innovate to achieve our three zeros and to ensure policy makers have access to high-quality population data to identify and reach those furthest behind.

As part of our innovation pipeline, selected country teams are leveraging big data to mine new insights and break misconceptions about pregnancy prevention. They are harnessing low- and high-tech solutions to track family-planning commodities and reduce wastage and shortages. They are also exploring new ways for young people to access comprehensive sexuality education and services beyond school and clinic walls.

To support our teams, we joined forces with WFP’s Innovation Accelerator to deep-dive into field-level challenges and solutions with the support of leading experts in design thinking, big data, frontier tech, story-telling, marketing and more.

We know that to achieve the three transformative results of our Strategic Plan, we need to transform mindsets, engage new partners, and do things differently. UNFPA is learning to move quickly and think like a start-up, while keeping women, girls and young people firmly at the centre of all we do.


Mr. President,

I am pleased and heartened to report that, for the second year in a row, total contribution revenue for 2018 exceeded the 1 billion USD mark ($1.3 billion). As of 1 August 2019, $706 million in commitments have been recorded ($252 million for core resources and $454 for co-financing resources). Still, this is lower than last year at this time, so we cannot slow down. We need – and indeed count on – your continued support. Our hardworking staff are producing the results that the Board expects in order to merit such increased support.

I am happy to note that the top 25 donors to combined core and co-financing resources for 2018 include not only traditional bilateral donors, but also four programme countries (Cameroon, Guatemala, Haiti and Indonesia), and a private-sector foundation.

While we are thankful for all contributions, core resources remain the best investment one can make in UNFPA.

Unfortunately, only 67 governments have so far contributed to core for 2019. Both the ICPD and 2030 agendas call for universal, comprehensive and integrated responses from UNFPA. More than ever, UNFPA requires adequate, consistent and predictable financial resources to carry out its mandate. As a fully voluntarily funded organization, we call on every Member State to provide even modest core contributions to UNFPA.

In the context of UN Reform, we look forward to even more deliberately joining forces with other UN entities for joint programme design and resource mobilization.

Lastly, having just mentioned our hardworking staff, I would like to recognize the valuable contributions of Esteban Caballero, who retired in July after 18 years of dedicated UNFPA service, most recently as Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Katrina Campbell, who completed her five-year term as UNFPA Ethics Advisor in August. We are also pleased to welcome Samuel Choritz to UNFPA as Chief of the Executive Board Branch, beginning next week.


Mr. President, Distinguished Board Members,

For the past 50 years and certainly in the 25 years since Cairo, UNFPA has stood strong for sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.

This year, the road from Cairo leads to Nairobi for the ICPD25 Summit in November, co-convened by the Governments of Kenya and Denmark together with UNFPA.

The Summit will focus on five themes:

  1. Achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health as a part of universal health coverage. 
  2. Mobilizing the financing to finish the ICPD Programme of Action
  3. Drawing on demographic diversity to drive economic growth and sustainable development.
  4. Ending gender-based violence and harmful practices.
  5. Upholding the right to sexual and reproductive health in humanitarian and fragile contexts.

Discussions will highlight the power of gender equality, youth leadership, political and community leadership, innovation and data, and partnerships to accelerate progress across these five themes. This dovetails with UNFPA’s ongoing work on these ICPD accelerators.

Our recently launched Gender Equality Strategy is before you today. It focuses on empowering women and adolescent girls. It aims to strengthen institutional accountability and foster an integrated, rights-based approach that is participatory, people-centred, grounded in evidence and focused on results.

Likewise, UNFPA’s new youth strategy, My Body, My Life, My World! keeps the needs, aspirations and ideals of young people at the centre of our work to support achievement of the ICPD agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, in alignment with Youth2030.

 “My Body, My Life, My World!” is a new rallying cry for the SDG generation. Co-created with youth activists and advocates from around the world, the strategy is grounded in decades of UNFPA experience working to ensure that young people have the knowledge and power to make informed choices about their bodies and lives and to participate in transforming our world.

During my latest missions to Niger, Senegal and the Gambia, I met with young women and young men. The schoolgirls that I met shared their messages for their leaders:

  • We want you to help us stay in school.
  • We don’t want to get married until we’re ready.
  • We want you to help us fulfil our dreams.

Young people will be bringing those messages and more to Nairobi in November.

Excitement and anticipation around ICPD25 is in the air. It was in the air at the recent Tokyo International Conference on African Development, TICAD7. And in July when the General Assembly commemorated the 25th anniversary of the ICPD, with powerful statements from the Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly, civil society and Member States. So much support and so many statements that the session ran over into an additional day! Now, it’s time to translate these words and support into concrete commitments. Nairobi is about commitments and the actions going forward from the Summit.

With support from both governments and private sector partners we are about halfway towards our resource mobilization target for the Summit. While the glass is half full in our book, the ICPD Agenda belongs to all of us and we urge many more partners to join our diverse coalition and help make the Summit a success. 

With less than 70 days to the Nairobi Summit, the countdown is on!

There are 10 draft “Nairobi Commitments”. These have been the subject of wide consultation by governments, civil society groups, the private sector and other partners around the world. I invite you all to join these consultations!

We are on the march to Nairobi to ensure these commitments are fulfilled.

More than 3,000 people from across the globe have registered for the summit so far. They will join the many heads of State and Government who have already confirmed their participation.

We hope you and your governments will see fit to march with us. Join us in Nairobi and create with us the path ahead to 2030 and beyond.

It’s time to accelerate the promise of Cairo. This will take courage. It will take conviction. Above all, it will take resources.

Preliminary results of our costing exercise show that meeting the need for family planning in priority countries by 2030 is going to cost in the range of $40 billion US dollars.

That’s why all roads lead to Nairobi. Together, let’s continue to move forward with courage, conviction and commitment – to Nairobi and onward to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals on time in 2030. And onward to the world of rights and choices for all that we imagined and promised everyone in Cairo 25 years ago.

Thank you very much.


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