As Clark’s second term came to an end yesterday, tributes were paid to her efforts to modernise the UNDP and improve its governance. She will be succeeded by Achim Steiner, who served as executive director of the UN Environment Programme for 10 years (2006-16).
Ib Peterson, president of the UNDP executive board, said Steiner brings a “wealth of experience, expertise and dedication to this hugely important role”.
Steiner, who is known for three decades’ worth of leadership on sustainable development, international cooperation and global diplomacy, said he felt “honoured” to have been selected.
He will have big shoes to fill. Clark spearheaded a number of well-received reforms at the UNDP, and was held in high esteem for her two successive terms as administrator.
For the past two years, the UNDP has been ranked as the most transparent aid organisation in the world in an index collated by aid transparency advocate Publish What You Fund.
Peterson, permanent representative of Denmark to the UN and president of the UNDP executive board, praised Clark’s achievements in the post, including creating a “leaner, more focused and more effective” organisation better able to meet “new challenges in a changing world”.
He continued: “For eight years, Helen Clark has focused her work and advocacy on the needs of the poor and marginalised, be it in promoting the rights of women, LGBTI, refugees and migrants, and people with HIV/AIDs or in areas such as environmental protection, climate action, disaster risk reduction and democratic governance.”
He also highlighted Clark’s internal commitment to gender equality – increasing the ratio of women to men in the UNDP to 50%, including at the most senior levels – as well as her skills as a communicator, able to use various media platforms to advocate to the public on important global issues.
Clark became the first women to head the UNDP in 2009, after serving three terms as prime minister of New Zealand.
In 2016, she entered the contest to succeed Ban Ki-Moon as secretary general of the UN and was initially thought to have a strong chance of winning amid growing demand for a woman to take the post for the first time in the UN’s 70-year history.
However she was beaten in the final round of voting by former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Guterres, who started work in January of this year.