Helen Clark: Speech on “The New Global Development Agenda and Malawi” Delivered at the Malawi National Assembly

18 Jun 2015

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 what a critical role parliamentarians play in shaping the development of their countries. It is therefore a great pleasure to discuss with you the emerging post-2015 development agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – which are due to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the end of this year – and how the SDGs relate to Malawi’s development.  

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 it aims to address the many interlinked challenges our world is facing. The agenda is relevant to countries at all stages of development – to this country, Malawi, and to 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, at the global level 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 combating 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 economies, and on international relief budgets.

In the proposed SDGs which UN Member States are considering, 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 agenda affirms that development requires peaceful and inclusive societies, justice for all, and effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.

In January 2014, African leaders endorsed the Common African Position (CAP) on the Post 2015 Development Agenda. Africa is the first developing region to have a united position on the agenda, and its priorities are reflected in the proposals for the SDGs now being negotiated by UN Member States.  

It’s important to note that the Special Summit on Sustainable Development in New York in September, where the SDGs are due to be agreed, is one of four major events related to development occurring this year. The outcome of the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction which took place in Japan in March is also highly relevant for Malawi, as are the outcomes from the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa next month, and the major UN climate change conference, COP21, in Paris in December.

Building resilience – integral to successful global development agenda
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 flooding, leveled by an earthquake, or destroyed in a war. Reducing such risks was the focus of the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Japan.

Here in Malawi, you know the effects of natural disasters all too well. The recent devastating floods impacted on a great many people, and there have been many other years in which Malawi has had to respond to extreme weather events.

What is important for development is to invest in much greater resilience to such shocks. If development isn’t risk informed, it won’t be sustainable. That was UNDP’s key message at the conference in Japan. And, after disasters occur, it’s important to aim to “build back better”. I emphasized that at this morning’s launch of the Post Disaster Needs Assessment report on recovery from this year’s floods. UNDP will be a committed partner in the recovery.

Implementation of the new development agenda – including its financing
All development agendas, global, regional, national and local, are mere words on paper unless they can be implemented. For the new global agenda being agreed this year, a strong package on “means of implementation” is critical. Capacities need to be strengthened. Governance for sustainable development needs to be improved. Renewed global partnerships for development are needed. And, while money isn’t everything, access to finance is vital.

The Addis Ababa international conference on development financing 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. Meeting the target 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, domestic resource mobilization from that growth, and the attraction of quality loans and investment.

At Addis Ababa, concrete commitments could also be made on combating the tax evasion and avoidance and illicit financial flows which detract from 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 in illicit financial flows. This is money robbed from development.

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.

Then, the range of challenges the new global agenda seeks to tackle 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 and civil society too. How business does business, and the regulatory framework within which it operates, have a huge bearing on whether development is sustainable. The engagement of civil society in policy debates, design, implementation, and monitoring helps ensure that development initiatives are relevant and get results.

Malawi and the MDGs
Malawi has made important progress on some of the MDGs, including on gender parity in primary school enrolment; reducing under-five mortality; turning the tide on HIV and malaria; and access to improved water sources.

On HIV, ccommitment and effort has got results: 82 per cent more people are receiving treatment for HIV today than five years ago. I understand that Malawi has achieved one of the largest declines of new mother-to-child transmissions of HIV in the world. National prevalence of HIV has declined to 10.6 per cent, from fifteen per cent in 1998. Addressing the rise in new infections, however, particularly among girls aged 15-24 years old, is a major challenge now.

The post-2015 agenda and the SDGs will carry over unfinished business from the MDGs. That continuing focus is important here in Malawi, where the MDG poverty target is significantly out of reach, with about 51 per cent of people living under the national poverty line in 2010. Preliminary data from the 2010-2013 Integrated Household Survey, however, indicates that poverty may be beginning to decline.  

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.  Malawi, however, like countries across Africa, will experience significant urbanization in the coming years, and creating urban livelihoods will need to be an every higher priority.

Rising inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, is also a challenge:  between 2004 and 2010 it rose in Malawi from 0.39 to 0.46 . Gender equality is a particular challenge – while there has been progress in some areas, for example in primary school enrolment, critical gender gaps remain. An important manifestation of this is persistently high maternal mortality.

Another concern is Malawi’s continued deforestation, which is progressing at a very fast pace. At 2.8 per cent per year, it is 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 prevailing levels of environmental and natural resource degradation.

Malawi and the SDGs – an opportunity for accelerated progress

Regardless of the many challenges, there is also a range of opportunities for Malawi to achieve the transformational development change which both this country and the new global development agenda seek. I hope that Malawi will see the SDGs as a springboard for action.

Let me offer some thoughts on key factors which could help drive progress on the SDGs here:

1. Inclusive growth – critical for progress
Promoting inclusive growth will be critical to the realization of the SDGs and the national development agenda in Malawi. Progress on poverty reduction and employment creation has not been commensurate with the high growth here of recent years – particularly that between the years 2006 and 2011. Inclusive growth gives opportunities for everyone to benefit – and is critical for ensuring achievement of that central objective of the SDGs – leaving no one behind.

UNDP is committed to supporting Malawi in its quest for more inclusive growth. For example, our Private Sector Development Project, for which we are most grateful to the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) for providing funding, aims to contribute to the transformation of the private sector into an engine of growth and an anchor for economic diversification, job creation, and greater economic opportunities for all Malawians, with a particular focus on the poor.

2. Economic diversification as a strategy for structural transformation
Economic diversification, including towards manufacturing and higher value service sectors, will be important to lessen Malawi’s dependence on agriculture, generate growth and jobs, and build greater national economic resilience. Sectors which are job rich and can deliver higher output and productivity need to be developed. Effective implementation of the National Export Strategy will be important for maximizing the contribution of exports to economic and social development.  

3. Building resilience to shock at all levels
Building resilience to shock is critical for sustainable development in Malawi. There must be 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 I mentioned before, UNDP will work with Malawi to strengthen resilience at all levels. This includes helping Malawi to avoid catastrophic setbacks from climate change, through both adaptation and mitigation measures.

4.The critical important of gender equality
For Malawi to make progress on the SDGs, gender equality and women’s empowerment should be at the forefront of national planning and budgeting processes. This is particularly important given 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 sexual and 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 seventeen years – and is growing fast. Between 1966 and 2008 , the population more than tripled. By 2050, it is projected to reach over forty million. Worldwide, we have the largest ever generation of youth.

These young people have hopes and energy. If their countries invest in their potential, there will be a big demographic dividend. But the converse is also true – a failure to invest in youth will backfire by creating a generation which is frustrated and angry, with all the fallout that entails. This is avoidable.

6. Mainstreaming SDGs into national development plans
The introduction of the SDGs will coincide with the preparation of Malawi’s new National Development Plan. This is an important opportunity to mainstream the new goals into development planning at all levels in support of Malawi’s development.

Uganda and Botswana have already begun integrating the SDGs into their national development plans. UNDP is ready to support the Government of Malawi to ensure a smooth transition from the MDGs to the SDGs, and to articulate the SDGs in national development plans and policies. We have extensive experience in doing this with the MDGs from an early stage.

But SDG action is not just a matter for national governments. It needs action at local government level too. I just addressed the Commonwealth Local Government Conference in Botswana on the importance of subnational governance being involved with achieving the SDGs. This will require local government to be better resourced and to lift capacity.

7. Citizen engagement with the SDGs
Involving civil society is important for driving the new global and national development agendas. There has already been wide outreach to the global public on the SDGs through the UN’s online MY World Survey, and in many thematic and national consultations – including here in Malawi.

Throughout the consultations, citizens around the 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 want to be informed participants in development, and to be able to monitor progress and hold governments and other development actors accountable for the commitments they make.

Malawi can count on the full support of the UN development system for engaging citizens in the SDGs process. This also includes engaging the people’s representatives, Members of Parliament, as they carry out their important legislative and oversight roles.

8. Financing
Official development assistance and committed development partners continues to be important to Malawi’s development. But the post-2015 agenda will not be achieved through aid alone. The domestic resource mobilization which growing economies and competent tax collection makes possible will play an increasingly important role in all low income countries.

Malawi will need to expand its revenue base and improve its tax administration. There are many priorities here for investment, each of which needs to be carefully considered and then prioritized. As for all countries, the quality of public policy and administration will be critical.


I believe that Malawi can make significant progress on the SDGs and its national development plan.

As parliamentarians, your role is vital. You are the voices of the people. You see the needs. You debate the priorities. You monitor the implementation of policies and plans on behalf of your constituents.

I am most grateful for the opportunity to address you today, and wish to assure you of UNDP’s full commitment to supporting Malawi to achieve its development aspirations.

Human Rights