As head of the U.N.DevelopmentProgram, Helen Clark is arguably the most powerful woman in the entire UN system.
The former New Zealand prime minister took over the reins at the world body's global development network last April, the first woman to do so.
Today, the affable and self-assured New Zealander oversees an annual UNDP budget of $6 billion and a global army of thousands of highly motivated people tasked with spearheading the U.N. drive to achieve eight poverty-reduction MillenniumDevelopmentGoals by 2015.
"I was looking for a new challenge commensurate with what I had been doing," she said in an interview Tuesday in her spacious New York office with a breathtaking view over the East river.
"When I heard that this job was being advertised, I sounded out various people and they said: 'Have a go, you would be terrific,'" Clark, 59, added.
"I was the only person who came forward with my sort of skills," she said.
"As prime minister, I got very involved in the Pacific, the primary focus of New Zealand's development program. I have been involved with leaders of developing countries probably to a greater extent than most (other) western leaders."
Clark explained that her organization's strategy is focused on crisis prevention and recovery; good governance; poverty reduction and last but not least climate change adaptation.
"Forty percent of all investment in development is vulnerable to climate change," she noted.
And the key to rolling back poverty is "capacity building, institution building," she said, citing the old adage: "You don't give a man a fish, you give a man a rod."
Clark doesn't subscribe to the notion that UNDP and the donor community in general have failed "the bottom billion," the world's poorest people.
"I look at development from an Asia-Pacific perspective and what I see in east Asia is that hundreds of millions of people have been brought out of poverty through a focus on growth and trade.
"The trick for me is to take that focus and combine it with the human development side of the equation. The rising tide has to lift everyone, particularly those at the bottom of the ladder."
Clark said that despite the financial crisis, development aid commitments from countries such as the U.K., Spain and Australia remain strong.
And she welcomes the fact that U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has pledged to double official development assistance by 2015.
"When I was in Ethiopia in June I was told that Indian investment had gone from a very few hundreds million dollars four, five years ago to 4.5 billion dollars today. Investment is part of what's going to drive growth and development," she said.
She conceded that many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, are off track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 deadline.
The goals include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating diseases such as HIV/AIDS, ensuring environmental sustainability and creating global partnerships for development.
"I'd like to see everybody achieve something," the ex-prime minister said.
She also underscored the importance of promoting women's empowerment in all areas of life, including agriculture.
"Seventy percent of Africa's farmers are women...if we can lift the status of women economically through education there's going to be consequences that are positive right through the chain."
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