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On July 23, Vital Voices served as a co-sponsor as the Women’s Foreign Policy Group (WFPG) hosted the 2009 Women in Power Luncheon on the theme of ‘The Development Challenge in the Middle of the Global Recession’, featuring keynote speaker Helen Clark, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) administrator and former prime minister of New Zealand. The eighth administrator and first woman to head the UNDP, Clark shared her insight and perspective on the challenges of global development in a time of recession.

In her remarks, the UNDP Administrator called for recognition of the “importance of having women fully engaged” in development efforts moving forward. The substantial contribution of women in the field of agriculture was especially noted, and Clark insisted that Official Development Assistance (ODA) is now “more vital than ever.” Citing statistics compiled by UN agencies, Clark underscored the need for development assistance since it is estimated that 55-90 million more people than expected will live in extreme poverty this year, owing to the global recession.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) featured centrally in Clark’s comments, as the Administrator noted that they represent “important development indicators that make a difference to billions of people.” With the 2015 deadline for the achievement of the MDGs in the not too distant future, Clark maintained that “unwavering leadership, political will and commitment” are essential to the success and future of the project of development. Clark disparaged the fact that the MDG that lags the furthest is that which relates specifically to the empowerment of women and the improvement of maternal health.

Clark praised Secretary of State Clinton for her recent pledge to ensure that development is a central component of the diplomacy of the United States. Commenting on her first visit to Africa in the capacity of UNDP Administrator, Clark spoke of the dire situation of sexual and gender-based violence that she witnessed in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which she says must be addressed.

In closing, Clark asked that international organizations and NGOs work collaboratively, adding that there is “plenty of work to be done” in the field of development. Responding to a question on accepting her present role after a political career that spans 27 years, Clark simply stated: “I love a challenge.”