‘Turkey is a big, constructive UN development player,’ says head of UN agency

‘Turkey is a big, constructive UN development player,’ says head of UN agency

‘Turkey is a big, constructive UN development player,’ says head of UN agency

Spain and New Zealand are believed to be Turkey's rivals in the run for a UN Security Council seat this autumn. There are always three contenders for the two non-permanent seats.

Turkey is highly engaged in global development discourse and its experience should be shared, according to United Nations Development Program (UNDP) head Helen Clark.

“I’ve seen Turkey come out of an authoritarian period into becoming a lively democracy,” Clark told the Hürriyet Daily News, adding that Turkey’s “huge investment in infrastructure and human development” gave it a very positive story to tell.

“Turkey is a big U.N. player. It is very supportive of the U.N. and of multilateralism,” she added, as Turkey prepares for the election of a non-permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council this autumn.

How would you describe UNDP-Turkey relations over the course of the last decade?

The relationship goes back to the 1950s. It was a traditional relationship as a developing country. As we have seen over the last couple of decades, serious developments speeded up. Turkey has become a substantial emerging economy, a significant provider of development cooperation itself. When I came to the UNDP I was very interested in looking at the relationship with G-20 emerging economies like Turkey, and I asked whether we could do more with such countries. The answer was “yes.” As well as continuing to work with issues of development, which are still salient, we also looked at relationships that went beyond borders. Turkey is very engaged in the global development discourse. The relationship has expanded quite a lot since we signed the strategic partnership agreement in 2011.

Does Turkey differ in any way in its development strategy compared to others?

Turkey has been through robust economic growth and it has also made huge inroads in [reducing] poverty. Going forward, the issues to be looking at are issues of equality and inequality. Because sometimes when economies grow fast, some people do far better than others, which can create issues within society. We can say in absolute terms that Turkey has managed to achieve a lot with poverty reduction. That is an experience that needs to be shared. Turkey can show a way of achieving both [growth and poverty reduction]. It is a matter of social policy complementing economic policy. Economic policies also need to prioritize jobs and inclusion. One of the issues we talked about here with women NGO representatives was the extent of the inclusion of women in the economy, which is still quite low.

For Turkey to move to the next steps in pursuit of high income status, the participation of women in the labor force needs to be boosted quite a lot.

How about Turkey’s strategy as a provider of development cooperation?

Investment in the development cooperation of Turkey has risen very, very sharply in recent years. Turkey has a big focus on the humanitarian end of the spectrum, in emergency relief. Over time, as the UNDP we’d like to see Turkey invest in development that drives sustainable development for the long term. There are a lot of emergencies, but we need to work on how we can get ahead of the curves; if we don’t invest more in building resilience for nations and communities we will still be involved in complex emergency responses.

Is there a satisfactory level of cooperation between Turkey and the UNDP?

Turkey is very interested in its relationship with the UNDP. Turkey made it possible for the UNDP to relocate our regional service center here in Istanbul. It is supporting our regional programs. We are very good partners. In Turkey’s development cooperation, people are very interested in the experiences of others. Turkey is a middle-income country; it well understands that development needs do not end when you reach middle-income status. I think that Turkey, as a middle-income country, is in a good position to articulate the development needs and challenges of other middle-income countries.

Turkey wants to see Istanbul as a center for U.N. agencies. Do you think this is wise, given the challenges of daily life in Istanbul?

That has happened. We made a deliberate decision to come here. When this UNDP department began it was around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, so our regional service center was in Bratislava. That was where the action was. But over the years a great many of these countries entered the EU, so the transition shifted to the East. Istanbul has the right kind of professional stuff: Accommodation, location, etc. For us it is a perfect city.

Is it normal for emerging economies to become natural providers of assistance?

Countries like Turkey are really breaking new ground. Countries that in the relatively recent past were significant recipients of assistance are now significant providers of assistance. That’s a huge turnaround. Development assistance is a pretty new thing, starting after World War II. Turkey as a large emerging economy is now in a position to put something back into its neighborhood, to Africa, and so on.

But some of the traditional donors in the West seem to view the assistance of new donors with some suspicion, thinking there might be a secret agenda. Have you observed such suspicions among traditional donors?

Let’s turn around and ask how it is perceived from the point of view of Africa, because that’s what matters. And the answer is very positive. Countries are looking for support, not just for grant aid; they are looking for investment, trade, market opportunities. Turkey can offer a lot of this. So Turkey is a large country with a large economy; geopolitically it is extremely strategically well-placed. You would expect a country like Turkey to be active. At the UNDP our job is to facilitate countries coming together to share experiences. So we are very positive and the countries with which we are working are very positive.

What are the major challenges facing the UNDP?

I think the world is not getting any more peaceful. This is a major problem. For Syria, last year a calculation was made [and it was found] that even only three years into the conflict it had lost 35 years of progress on human developments. War strikes at the development gains of countries.

I guess these would be the challenges that Turkey faces as a donor country.

Yes, but Turkey has not shied away from providing support when conditions are difficult. Take Somalia, which is not an easy country to operate in. Turkey is there in a quiet a big way. I think Turkey is quiet brave.

Any final remarks?

I first started to focus on affairs in Turkey going back to the 1970s. I’ve seen Turkey come out of an authoritarian period when the military pulled a lot of strings into becoming a lively democracy. I see this incredible investment in infrastructure and people, in human development, health and education. Things have changed an enormous amount. This is a very positive story to tell.

Some in Turkey criticize that there is too much focus on infrastructure and less attention paid to human development.

Yes, there is never enough money, and people should argue what the priorities should be. But you can’t have a modern state without a modern infrastructure. The money has to be found for that, as it has to be found for health, education, and so on. Turkey itself has to decide on the balance, of course.

How would you describe Turkey as a U.N. player?

Turkey is a big U.N. player. It is very supportive of the U.N. and of multilateralism; it is a very constructive member. From the UNDP’s point of view, we are doing a lot with Turkey.

Who is Helen Clark ?


Helen Clark became the Administrator of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in April 2009, and is the first woman to lead the organization.

Prior to her appointment with UNDP, Helen Clark served for nine years as Prime Minister of New Zealand, serving three successive terms from 1999 to 2008.

Clark became prime minister after an extensive parliamentary and ministerial career. First elected to the New Zealand Parliament in 1981, Helen Clark was reelected to her multicultural Auckland constituency for the 10th time in November 2008. Earlier in her career, she chaired Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Between 1987 and 1990, she was first a minister responsible for Conservation and Housing, then for Health and Labor.

She served as deputy prime minister between August 1989 and November 1990.

Prior to entering the New Zealand Parliament, Helen Clark was a junior lecturer in Political Studies at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Auckland.