The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)

Statement to the First Regular Session of the Executive Board 2017

"The uniqueness of UNOPS is also to be found in our special ability to act with speed and efficiency"

Thank you, Mr. President, and congratulations again upon your election.

I am heartened to see Board members again, and in particular, I welcome the new Members, and indeed the new Bureau, to this first meeting of the year.

2017 will be exciting and different.

New Secretary-General

We begin this year under the leadership of a new Secretary-General, Mr. Antonio Guterres.

Guterres not only knows the UN extremely well, he also brings a wealth of international and government experience to the role.

We will welcome a new DSG, Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, also an experienced politician and UN hand.

We look forward to serving under their leadership and to assist in realising their vision and priorities for the United Nations.

The SG has said clearly that "the priority for an organization like the United Nations - and the priority for the international community - must be prevention."

"Prevention needs to be a comprehensive approach and for an organization like the United Nations, prevention needs to bring together its three pillars of action: peace and security, sustainable development and human rights."

"The best prevention for conflict and the best prevention for other negative impacts on societies is, of course, sustainable and inclusive development."

The new SG has set three priorities:

  • to make the UN better at preventing and ending armed conflicts and protecting civilians during crises;
  • to make the UN a more effective tool for countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals; and
  • to simplify UN bureaucracy, make it more efficient.

The clear priorities and organizational changes already introduced by the SG will give the UN a sharper focus and make it a better coordinated organization.

The changes will also influence how we prepare for and work at our Board meetings.

New governance

Already, UN bodies presenting new strategic plans this year – and UNOPS is one of them – have been asked to coordinate the preparations of these plans with the DSG's and the SGs' Executive Office from an early stage and throughout the process.

This will help ensure that we are all working towards the same overarching goals. It will prevent us from preparing our plans with insufficient consideration for what other parts in the UN are planning; and from duplicating efforts or competing unduly.

This will make your work on the Board more demanding, even more rewarding, even more important and yield better results.

UNOPS core competencies

UNOPS stands out as unique in the UN system in two ways. We are fully self-financed. We do not receive core funding or grants, nor do we ask for it. We live off our competence, capacity and reputation.

The uniqueness of UNOPS is also to be found in our special ability to act with speed and efficiency. We only do implementation; we are not a policy organization.

The SG recently said that the UN is too often held back and delayed in its actions by its own, self-imposed rules. UNOPS rules are less rigid. This fits well with the SGs emphasis on efficiency and speed.

It is a priority for us to work more closely with our partners at strategic level, engaging earlier in any planning process, so we can use our expertise to propose solutions.

Rapid deployment

Mr. President, 

We do more work for the peace and security pillar than any other.

UNOPS has proven its ability to recruit and deploy personnel within weeks – sometimes days – when urgency so requires. For example,UNOPS is operationally supporting the High-level Standby Mediation Team of DPA (Department of Political Affairs).

The team - during 2016 alone - had around 100 deployments. The turnaround time has been as short as 16 hours from the time of request.

In the early phases of the Ebola epidemic, we provided critical emergency support to Sierra Leone through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Within 12 days, we had identified, contracted and deployed the first members of a team of experts.

We have demonstrated our ability to procure and deploy crucial equipment at a fraction of the average procurement periods for the UN system; and yet, with the quality and transparency expected from a UN entity.

In Mali, we managed to procure $18 million worth of protective equipment for UNMAS within two weeks. After the earthquake in Nepal, we went from issuing tenders for contracts to engaging 2,500 housing surveyors and equipping them within 16 days. We can take small deployments and scale them up, or duplicate successful models of work in new settings – whether the need is the support of UNMAS mine and bomb disposal, UNHCR's refugee protection, or DPA's deployment of mediators in peace talks.


The development needs, as articulated by the SDGs, the Addis Ababa Agenda on Financing for Development, the Sendai Framework for DRR and the Paris Agreement, will require massive investment in infrastructure – both soft and hard. Countries must make use of all available knowhow and experience, and draw on project management expertise from outside sources. The UN must play its part and UNOPS is ready.

Moreover, our goal is to strengthen the capacity of numerous countries, including Small Island Developing States, to implement an integrated approach to the planning, delivery and management of sustainable infrastructure.


Mr. President,

Each year governments spend enormous amounts on procuring goods and services. In 2016 alone, the 135 low and middle-income Countries together spent between $2.4 and $3.6 trillion on buying goods and services, or roughly 10-15 percent of their total GDP.

UNOPS has both a mandate and considerable expertise in the field of public procurement. In fact, procurement counts for half of our delivery. We have been recognized again in 2016 as a gold standard bearer in sustainable procurement by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply.

UNOPS is one of only five organizations or companies in the world to achieve this status and the only one within the United Nations.

Why, you make ask? Because of how we do things.

When we helped rebuild houses after the Haiti 2010 earthquake we used locally sourced materials. And, three-quarters of the workforce came from the communities affected. We trained local suppliers on how to bid and meet sourcing requirements.

When UNMAS began cleaning up unexploded ordnance in Somalia, we provided camp facilities and related services. We made sure workers' rights were respected. We sourced food and water locally. We made sure the packaging and cleaning products were biodegradable. We made sure waste, sewage and water were disposed of safely.

Our projects created an estimated 42,000 local working days only last week, the same number this week and every week for the remainder of the year.

We are now introducing a new web-based procurement portal where companies can present their new, innovative products and services.

The "Possibilities Portal" is available to small- and medium-sized businesses, including women-owned and youth-owned companies, as well as other minority or traditionally disadvantaged businesses. We launched this portal at a workshop with mainly women-owned companies in Amman, Jordan, late last year. This is expertise we want to share.

Procurement is an area where there is much to gain from better efficiency and innovation. We aim this year to initiate a global discussion on how we can get more "bang for the buck" – a more sustainable outcome from procurement, and in doing so, demonstrate a cheaper, greener and socially more viable outcome.

Let me give you some examples: In Honduras,  we have already worked with the Ministry of Health to dramatically reduce procurement costs for drugs and medical equipment, and reduce stock-outs. The estimated millions of dollars in savings allow the government to buy more drugs and equipment. A real dividend for the people of Honduras.

Against this backdrop, I intend to develop further our thinking on how better procurement can create what we can call a "development dividend," and I aim to raise UNOPS voice in this area throughout the year.

The UN itself procures over $17 billion annually in goods and services across the globe.

And UNOPS fully agrees with the mandate coming from QCPR that requests the entities of the United Nations Development System to explore further opportunities for collaborative procurement at the global, regional and country levels.

In the context of management reform within the UN, UNOPS excellence in sustainable procurement should be used as a resource to increase UN efficiency.

Attracting new sources of capital for development

Poverty eradication is still our job number one and the centrepiece of the SDGs.

Unless we succeed in attracting new and additional resources for infrastructure, we will fail that goal. Around $4.5 trillion in infrastructure investments are needed every year for the next 15 years if we are to achieve the SDGs. ODA will still play important, but an increasingly more catalytic role.

Denmark, UNOPS host country, has just introduced a development strategy where aid is systematically used as a catalytic tool to encourage Danish private-sector capital and technology to invest in developing countries.

In Kenya, for instance, Denmark is already using aid financing to support a Danish wind energy company in developing commercially viable, rural electrification projects and also in  collaboration with Danish NGOs. Doubtlessly, others will follow Denmark's direction.

Over the past year, I have updated the EB on how UNOPS has made it a particular priority to attract and facilitate private-sector investment for infrastructure development. Our in-house seed capital investment facility aims at making UNOPS a pioneering impact investment partner.

Impact investment is a concept that has come to stay: Impact investments are investments made by companies, organizations and funds, with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. A commitment to measuring social and environmental performance, with the same rigor as that applied to financial performance, is considered an indispensable component of impact investing.

A number of our current projects have the potential to become interesting for private-sector investment.

Our work to develop rural, clean power in Sierra Leone, funded by UK aid (DFID), could with some adaption be duplicated as a private-sector financed scheme, and, possibly, even replicated in several countries.

In St. Lucia, we are building water treatment and drinking water plants that currently have received public funding, but the economic model could also lend itself to private capital investments.

I could go on. But the point is clear: Our global challenge is not lack of capital. The challenge is to make the commercial and political risk acceptable to investors. I believe it is possible to do this in a sustainable manner. UNOPS is ready to invest a portion of our own reserves to become an enabler and partner to drive private-sector investment towards the implementation of the SDGs.

UNOPS management reform

Since I joined UNOPS I focused on ways to improve risk management. We are reviewing our internal procedures. Because risk management requires that all our people know their own specific responsibility, and the limits of that responsibility. It also means that we harness a culture of risk identification and due diligence in our daily work. We have built a new Governance, Risk and Compliance platform to clarify and simplify roles and responsibilities in our internal decision making.

We simplify our policies and improve our IT systems, including compensating internal controls. We are improving our internal planning and budget process by introducing Quarterly Business Reviews.

And, we strengthen our compliance work by re-aligning functions among HR, Investigations, Legal and Ethics Offices to strengthen the early identification and response to staff grievances.

All senior managers in UNOPS have signed up to a Leadership Compact. I hold my senior managers to account for moving the organization forward.

We will engage with our partners and stakeholders on innovative, interactive ways of collaboration. As I have said on earlier occasions, UNOPS is also the first UN organization to adopt a systematic, rigid reporting on sustainability, adhering to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards. The annual report to the EB for 2016 will follow this model.

Next strategic plan

We have started our preparations for the next UNOPS Strategic Plan for 2018-2021.

The plan will build on the Board's decision on the Midterm Review we presented last September and guided by the SG's vision for the UN. We will consult with the DSG and the Executive Office of the SG, according to the new procedures called for by our Secretary-General.

As always, the plan will be informed through a wide process of consultation. It will give direction for how UNOPS, guided by the QCPR can support implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

I look forward to engaging further with the Board in this process. The aim is to present the final plan at our second regular session in September.

Mr President,

I started out by saying 2017 will be exciting and different.

UNOPS continues its work to adapt and improve its services to stay abreast of these new times as part of an ever more sharply focused UN.

Thank you very much. 

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