The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)
Statement to the First Regular Session of the Executive Board 2022
Statement by Grete Faremo, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNOPS, at the First regular session of the Executive Board, 1 February 2022
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Madam President, honorable members
It is a pleasure to speak with you.
I extend a warm welcome to new members of the Board
I hope you have had the opportunity to read the longer version of my speech.
In this session, I will keep it shorter and speak on how UNOPS plays a critical role in addressing the unprecedented challenges we currently face, and in doing so can accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
Since we last spoke, the pandemic has entered a new phase. As stated by my counterpart in WHO, this is no time for complacency.
Across the world, UNOPS agreed more than 110 projects in over 80 countries to support member states and other partners in their COVID-19 response efforts.
enhancing the national health system of the Philippines;
delivering medical supplies and equipment in Iraq;
refurbishing hospitals in Albania;
expanding testing capacity in Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan; and
procuring life-saving supplies and critical medical equipment in India.
Evolution of UNOPS Strategic Plan
COVID-19 struck at the halfway point of our last Strategic Plan period. Since 2020, UNOPS has experienced a step change in the demand for our services.
In 2020, UNOPS delivery of projects around the world exceeded $2.2 billion. That year, new agreements signed with our partners exceeded $10 billion. And almost $900 million worth of new agreements were signed to combat COVID-19.
Early estimates of our 2021 results indicate a total delivery of around $3.4 billion, with new agreements signed also reaching this figure. Alongside another $700 million worth of new agreements to combat COVID-19.
Throughout this time, the pandemic has swept across our world, significantly increasing the challenges to deliver action on the ground. Supply chains have been severely impacted. We have seen many shortages of critical supplies. The movement of goods and people has become fraught with complexity.
We too have had our share of challenges, in both procurement and infrastructure work. Yet through two years of operations in a pandemic, UNOPS has delivered, and at an unprecedented scale. Taken as a measure of demand for UNOPS services, the last two years represent the most successful period in the history of UNOPS, demonstrating our partners' trust in our ability to help them achieve their goals.
I am truly grateful for your constant guidance, advice and support, over the years which has made it possible for us to achieve such remarkable success. The recent decision to approve the new level of the minimum operational reserves is a case in point.
Given our context, this decision was very important to UNOPS. UNOPS is proud to be part of the UN family, yet we are also unique in many ways.
Unique, as we recieve no core funding or assessed contributions, from Member States or any other donor.
Unique, because we are demand driven and deliver services for a fee and are required to have a surplus.
Unique, because we have no policy mandate, are project based and therefore have no programme of work.
Without demand for UNOPS services, we would not exist.
In that sense, we run more like a private company. This is why we are requesting your guidance on a decision to strengthen our reserves.
Improving the way we are protected - through our reserve requirements - provides us with a stronger foundation to undertake high risk work in challenging contexts.
This will now allow for a review of UNOPS pricing, ensuring even greater value for money for our partners, for the benefit of the people in need that we are here to serve. I expect UNOPS average fees to be further reduced, while keeping our low margin stable. And I can confirm to the Board that we will continue to pursue a prudent approach in managing our finances, to reassure partners that we can deliver on our commitments.
Strategic Plan 2022-2025
This year marks the beginning of our new, four-year Strategic Plan.
I confirm UNOPS new Strategic Plan is fully aligned with the Common Agenda. Our priorities remain: (1) quality infrastructure; (2) improved public procurement; and (3) our Sustainable Investments in Infrastructure and Innovation (S3i) initiative.
In our mandated areas we will continue to contribute to peace and security, humanitarian response, as well as the global development efforts of the UN, including in the most difficult environments, where the majority of our delivery takes place.
In the longer version of my speech I shared information about four recent projects in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Yemen. Together with our partners, we have provided access to food, access to information and sustained or improved local basic services through crisis.
Guided by the priorities of our partners, two areas highlighted in our new Strategic Plan are key: Addressing the climate emergency; and improving public health systems.
Allow me to expand on how UNOPS can contribute, in line with our Strategic Plan focus areas.
Firstly, the climate emergency. Last year, in the lead up to COP26, through our research with the UNEP and the University of Oxford, we found that infrastructure is responsible for 79 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, as well as 88 per cent of all adaptation costs. This underlines the critical importance of infrastructure in the battle against climate change.
Secondly, as you will be all too aware, COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability of health systems around the world.
Sustainable, inclusive and resilient health systems are critical to address the challenges the world faces. And this challenge is also dependent on the availability and quality of the infrastructure around us.
For infrastructure across these dimensions, the conclusion is simple. Without radical change to how infrastructure is planned, delivered and managed, we will not achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.
In procurement, our work continues to help our partners utilize public procurement to attain the SDGs, combat climate change, tackle corruption and reduce inequality.
What governments spend money on, and how they spend it matters. Public spending accounts for 15-30 per cent of GDP in most countries. There is a huge unrealized potential in using public procurement to combat climate change.
Procurement also has significant potential to bring more efficiency, transparency and effectiveness to public spending across the board.
By strengthening the abilities of the organizations that contribute to our health and wellbeing, we are improving access to healthcare and achieving more effective public health systems.
A key element in our strategy involves our efforts to expand the resources available beyond Official Development Assistance (ODA) models to contribute to addressing critical national infrastructure needs, such as affordable housing, renewable energy and health.
This is represented by our pilot Sustainable Investments in Infrastructure and Innovation (S3i) initiative.
We are now half way through the four year proof-of-concept period for S3i. Over this period, we have experienced both difficulties and successes.
2021 was a mixed year, which concluded with us welcoming a new ad-interim S3i Chief Executive.
I must report that we have experienced delays to our pilot affordable housing initiatives on three continents, compounded by the pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 on global supply chains, as well as on the appetite of investors for large scale investments in frontier and emerging markets, have not helped in this endeavor.
On the contrary, in 2021 we saw significant progress on the energy front. We signed a landmark investment deal that will build a 250MW solar farm, with partners including the Danish Investment Fund for Developing Countries. This project will help bring clean energy to around half a million people in Western India.
We acknowledge that our S3i initiative remains bold, complex and entails considerable risks, including those highlighted by the United Nations Board of Auditors. We remain committed to the ideals and intentions of this initiative and we remain grateful for your continued support to the evolution of this important initiative since 2015.
I look forward to your decision on a dedicated S3i reserve. This is intended to increase transparency on reporting of this initiative, strengthen the Board’s oversight, and ensure compliance with international financial standards.
And as we enter the second half of the S3i proof of concept period, we will take learning from the experience so far and prepare to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the initiative in accordance with your request. This will be an important element of the mid-term review of UNOPS Strategic Plan, to be presented for your consideration and direction at the Annual Session in 2024.
Gender, diversity and inclusion
Now I will turn to the topic of Gender, Diversity and Inclusion.
As I reported in September last year, UNOPS has reached gender parity. Gender mainstreaming is now mandatory for all relevant projects. But there is still much work to do.
UNOPS is committed to continuing its journey towards inclusiveness that goes beyond gender equality.
Our commitment to this will be presented in our new Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, which will set out our aspiration to be an inclusive employer. We want a diverse workforce in which everyone feels like they belong. We aim for inclusiveness in the results we deliver on behalf of our partners.
Allow me to share a few details on some of the other corporate priorities for UNOPS over the coming strategic period.
Following UN values and respecting local laws, we work to the highest ethical standards. Yet our work carries risk, in particular ethics risks on how we operate and support our clients.
To safeguard UNOPS continued success, we must understand our ethical responsibilities - to our beneficiaries, to our partners and to ourselves.
We will continue our focus on ensuring personnel understand how to embody our ethical culture.
In 2022 we are stepping up our efforts on social and environmental safeguards, especially our enhanced focus on health and safety, through our “Goal Zero” approach. This aims for zero incidents, injuries and illnesses in the workplace, and includes awareness activities, training, mandatory inspections and reporting for all personnel.
Another priority for UNOPS is digitization. We continue to be deeply invested in improving our practices and streamlining processes, adopting new technologies and innovative practices in order to improve our operational capabilities and to become even more efficient.
In summary, we have learned many lessons over this difficult period and work hard to benefit from them. And the difficulties we have faced together have not made us weaker, but in fact stronger than ever.
Demand for UNOPS services is growing. And in our decade of action, and following the objectives of the UN Common Agenda, we must be resolute in our ambitions for the future.
A future of solidarity with each other and future generations;
A future anchored in human rights;
A future with better protection and management of our natural resources;
A future that is equal and sustainable for all.
UNOPS stands ready - under your guidance - to help build that future.