UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Renata Dessallien: Address at UNDP 50th Anniversary Celebration

Feb 17, 2016

Distinguished guests,
Government representatives,
Members of the diplomatic corps,
Development partners,
Media and civil society representatives,
Dear UN colleagues,
And dear members of the UNDP family


I am so glad you could all join us today in celebrating UNDP’s journey of 50 years together. I am also delighted to see so many of our former staff. Once UNDP – always UNDP!

Fifty years ago, at the end of 1964, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that morphed a UN technical assistance fund into the United Nations Development Programme. UNDP’s Governing Council  then first convened in 1965, and we opened our door for development support in 1966.

The 1960s was a decade of upheavals – and also a decade of high expectations. On the one hand, many countries saw internal strife, horrible wars raged in many parts of the world, including in South-East Asia, and the planet as a whole lived under the constant threat of nuclear weapons. At the same time, the 1960s were years of big generational change. In countries that had recently recovered from World War II, a new generation was coming into adulthood – the generation of baby boomers who, with their energy and idealism, shaped the rest of the 20th century. In Asia, Africa and Latin America people saw the rise of the first post-colonial generation, no less ambitious and optimistic, and eager to contribute to the building of new independent nations. And, let’s not forget, the 1960s was also the decade when Beatles conquered the world.

When we read old UN General Assembly resolutions and UNDP reports over the years, the spirit of each successive decade comes across very clearly. You can feel how urgent the problems of development in post-colonial countries were, and in countries suffering from wars and famine. And you can also sense the can-do atmosphere and spirit with which UNDP mobilized to tackle these challenges. Headlines include:
*    Eradication of the most acute poverty and famine;
*    Technology transfers to the developing world;
*    Strengthening institutions of democratic governance in former colonies; and
*    More recently, promotion and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals

Throughout UNDP’s journey, Myanmar has always held a special place for UNDP. This is not only because U Thant was the UN Secretary-General at the time of our establishment, although this is a very special bond in our relationship. It is also because for UNDP at its creation, Myanmar was a champion of the developing world: it played an active role in the Non-Aligned Movement and was one of the founding members of the Group of 77 developing nations. Myanmar’s voice and support was very important for our new multilateral organization that had come to represent the collective will of Member States in development. At the same time, while championing for others, Myanmar had own development needs at home, and UNDP was quick to offer its first development projects here. One of these early projects dating back to 1966 was a project to develop local aquaculture, in partnership with FAO.

Throughout our long-term association with Myanmar, UNDP had 3 distinct phases which came in succession in response to the country’s changing context. During the first phase, which lasted more than 20 years, from the late 1960s to the early 1990s, UNDP worked on technical assistance and development projects, mostly through specialized agencies of the UN system. In addition to the just mentioned aquaculture project, we were engaged in diversifying crops, promoting forest management, setting up telecommunication systems and bringing the first computers to the country.

That partnership was followed by a second phase of assistance characterized by UNDP’s “Human Development Initiative”. From the early 1990s until about 2-3 years ago, this phase was known for its strong community-level empowerment and community development focus.  UNDP helped to establish livelihoods, provide access to safe drinking water and was the first development partner to introduce micro-finance and micro-credit services to families and communities in need.

The third and current phase of UNDP support to Myanmar started in 2012 with the historic opening of the country and the lifting of most international sanctions. As a result, mandate restrictions on UNDP were also lifted. At present, UNDP is responding to Myanmar’s transition and development needs focusing on the areas of democratic governance, rule of law, local governance, and disaster risk reduction. Earlier this week, for example, UNDP launched the Parliamentary Induction Programme, which will allow new MPs to better represent the people they serve and build a stronger, safer, more equitable and unified Myanmar. Many of the foundations built by UNDP in previous phases now support strong structures, such as Myanmar’s Network of Rural Women. During UNDP’s Human Development Initiative phase, we helped create tens of thousands rural self-helped groups across the country. Most of them thrived, flourished and expanded. They began affiliating at Township level. And late last year, they formed a 22,000 strong national network of rural women called “May Doe Kabar”, aim to promote and support Self Reliant Groups for women is empowered across Myanmar.

Displayed around you are photos of our work over the last five decades. They show vividly that UNDP has stood side by side with the Myanmar people through thick and thin, helping them improve their lives, recover from disasters and take better care of the country’s rich natural resources.

But the story of UNDP is more than a story of our projects, programmes and policy work – it is also a story of our people, a story of our staff. Throughout the past 50 years we were most fortunate to have highly intelligent, committed, and distinguished individuals working in our organization. Today UNDP has more than 150 staff all across Myanmar, and of course many more have served the country and its development needs in the decades before. I am so pleased many of our dear former colleagues are with us today. They remain so extremely active in their retirement that it is hard to call their time after UNDP even semi-retirement. Just like you, I am looking forward to hear from them their insights, informed by long, sometime arduous and yet very fruitful careers with UNDP. After hearing from members of the UNDP family, we will also show a video, to mark our 50 years.

Once again, thank you for joining us at the 50th Anniversary of UNDP. Thank you for your support. Kyezutibade

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