In Conversation with Helen Clark

On June 11, 2013 Jonathan sat down with former New Zealand Prime Minister and current head of the United Nations Development Programme to discuss her career in international development and the challenges she faces ahead. To view the video, click here.

Helen Clark

June 11, 2013

Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director at Roosevelt House, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to a conversation with Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. Our program is made possible tonight by the generosity of Hunter alumna, Phyllis Kossof, who has been a major force in developing Hunter’s public programs. Previous speakers in the Kossoff series include Tom Brokaw, Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Stephen Breyer, and historian David Kennedy.

Phyllis, we are grateful for your friendship and steadfast support. Please stand.

Tonight’s program is of special interest to all of us who care about creating a more just and peaceful world.

Funded at the level of roughly 5 billion dollars in voluntary contributions, UNDP works in 177 countries to increase political transparency, build democratic institutions, oversee the disbursement of humanitarian aid, and help governments reduce poverty.  It is the lead agency on driving and monitoring the world’s progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals agreed to by world leaders in 2000.  Her vision for an integrated approach to development and poverty eradication is the theoretical basis of the U.N. High Level Panel report released last month that articulates the post-2015 development agenda.

In preparing for tonight’s session I had the pleasure of reading through a selection of Helen Clark’s recent speeches and papers. The titles tell us a lot: “Inclusion and equality: Why Women’s Leadership Matters,” “Human Development and International Justice,” “Meaningful Development, Sustainable Growth,” “Why Tackling Climate Change Matters for Development,” “Conflict and Development: Inclusive Governance, Resilient Societies.” She is eloquent in teaching us that political, social and economic development must go together. In her words:

“At UNDP we see many of the non-financial constraints on human development – war and conflict, armed violence, low social cohesion, poor governance, corruption, poor enabling environments for trade and investment, and a lack of capacity to drive the development and implementation of strategies which could bring about transformational change.”

Under Helen Clark’s leadership, UNDP has addressed those challenges at a breathtaking pace around the world.

Here is a small sample meant to give you a glimpse of the scope of her work. UNDP:

  • Assisted 29 countries in adopting official policies that promote small enterprises and women’s entrepreneurship.
  • Helped mobilize an unprecedented number of young people to vote in Tunisia’s first democratic election in October 2011.
  • Worked with the Global Fund in 32 countries to fight the spread of AIDS.
  • Utilized a Gender Assessment Tool in over 20 countries to increase their spending on health and educational services for women.
  • Conducted case studies on water provision systems in Kenya,Tanzania, and Uganda.
  • Helped remove 60% of the rubble created by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, with much of it being recycled to create new homes in the area.
  • Provided security advice to Libya and trained lawyers and judges in the lead up to the country’s first election since 1952.
  • Provided short-term employment to nearly 5,000 people and legal aide to over 7,000 people a one year period in Somalia.

Those individual accomplishments contribute to big picture progress. In the 13 years since the Millennium Development Goals were adopted there are a half billion fewer people living below the international poverty line, child death rates down 30%, malaria deaths down by one quarter. But we will hear in a moment how much more there is to do and how, despite this good progress, inequality grows. We are fortunate to have Helen Clark to lead us forward.

Appointed in 2009, Helen Clark was reappointed to a 4 year term in 2012 in recognition of her strong and compassionate leadership of all of the UN’s development programs.

She was well prepared for her important work on the world stage. She was trained as a political scientist at the University of Auckland where she taught before entering Parliament in 1981 when she chaired its Foreign Affairs Committee. She served as Minister of Housing, Minister of Health and Minister of Conservation before becoming Deputy Prime Minister. In 1994, Helen Clark was elected Prime Minister of New Zealand, serving three successive terms. As Prime Minister, she lowered unemployment, provided vital services for working families and students, raised wages for the working class, fostered economic growth, and reconciled with Samoa over abuses during New Zealand’s administration of the country.

Her deep experience in the political life of her home country prepared her well for her global responsibilities.

I think Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt would be pleased that we are gathered in their home tonight to talk about how wealthy nations can help improve the lives of the over 1 billion people who live in poverty, people who have energy and talent ready to be unleashed if given a chance.

Hear Eleanor’s words in Sydney, Australia in 1943:

“To help people to help themselves is perhaps the basis of an economic policy which has as its objective freedom from want throughout the world…the future will be safer and perhaps even more prosperous if for a time we devote ourselves to the task of helping people to help themselves…”

What better introduction could there be to Helen Clark whose life responds to Eleanor’s call?

Helen Clark and I will have a conversation for about 30 minutes and then invite you to join us.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Helen Clark.

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