Turning 50 together with UNDP


Slovak Aid, turning 50

I am a bit younger than UNDP. 31 days younger, to be precise.

But I enjoy the idea of celebrating this half-century together. Not because we belong to the same generation, but because I have spent almost half of my career working with or for this UN agency. So allow me to be more personal as I recall three memories.

Act 1: Giving a hand to an ugly duckling

Year: 1996, Place: UN Headquarters in New York

Completing my first diplomatic steps as I joined the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I found myself representing Slovakia at the UNDP Steering Committee in New York.

Frankly speaking, Slovakia was not in the best shape at that time. The country was economically and politically lagging behind the region, earning its nickname as the “black hole of Europe”.

My mission, received with mixed reactions, was to present a proposal to establish a UNDP Center in the Slovak capital, Bratislava. Why move UNDP to a country with democratic deficits, many delegations asked. “Exactly because of that”, said the then Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS.

It was time to help an ugly duckling grow into a swan. A few months later, a dedicated team moved to Bratislava, assisting Slovakia and other countries in the region to implement a fresh new set of reforms.

Act 2: UNDP as the midwife of SlovakAid    

Year: 2002, Place: Bratislava

The UNDP Regional Centre in Bratislava developed into a recognized and successful entity, and so did Slovakia.

Catching up with its neighbors, Slovakia joined the OECD and NATO, finding itself on the right track towards EU accession.

Implementing essential reforms with the help from donors, including UNDP, Slovakia became a Central European “Tiger” of sorts, before creating its own “SlovakAid” as an emerging donor, with support from two midwives: Canada’s CIDA and UNDP.

Hand in hand, we started to build development aid structures on a green field, yet with a lot of enthusiasm.

Act 3: Mission accomplished. What next?  

Year: 2013, Place: Bratislava once again

Returning to Bratislava following my second posting, I found the UNDP regional center and SlovakAid in a good state.

The center tripled its staff and its programming increased ten-fold.

SlovakAid was preparing to celebrate its tenth birthday. In those ten years, SlovakAid implemented over 400 projects in more than 20 partner countries.

The story of Slovakia became an inspiring and attractive one for countries with similar ambitions and goals. We now frequently use the term “sharing transformation experiences”. I have no doubt about it: the Sustainable Development Goals agenda will bring new challenges for UNDP and Slovakia to tackle together but we’ll measure up to expectations.


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