To better support countries to achieve the transformation envisaged by the 2030 Agenda, the UN has to be more strategic, effective and results oriented. It has to align its operations to the needs of Member States and be more accountable, collaborative and efficient.

These changes have been the focus of the ongoing UN Development system (UNDS) repositioning process that is part of a wider UN reform process that targets not only the development system but also the peace and security as well as management pillars of the organization.

The centrepiece of UN development system reform at the country level is the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF). UNSDCF is now the most important instrument for the planning and implementation of UN development activities in each country. It embodies the UN collective response to helping countries address national priorities and gaps in achieving the 2030 Agenda.

The UNSDCF adopts an integrated and multidimensional programming approach in line with the “five Ps” of the 2030 Agenda. It identifies how working on and advancing one SDG can maximize synergies and positive impacts on other SDGs, and manage potential trade-offs. 

How does the UN ensure that its actions are responsive to the scale and complexity of countries’ needs?

Countries agreed that given the universal and interrelated nature of the 2030 Agenda, there was need for integrated and comprehensive approaches.

The UNSDCF thus adopts an integrated programming approach and identifies six core principles (known as the Guiding Principles) that should be integrated throughout all stages of the UNSDCF process in a holistic manner. These Guiding Principles guide both the content of the UNSDCF as a document (that is signed by the UN and the government) as well as UNSCDF as a process (through which the UN undertakes its activities at the country level).

What are these Guiding Principles? They are:

  1. Leaving No One Behind (LNOB)
  2. Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA)
  3. Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE)
  4. Resilience
  5. Sustainability
  6. Accountability
Source: United Nations


These principles are universal and are intended to strengthen the quality and focus of UN responses to national priorities based on the UN system’s common values and standards. All six programming principles reflect the multi-dimensional nature of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

It is important to note that the six Guiding Principles are all mutually reinforcing. For example:

  • The inclusion and empowerment of women is crucial to a resilient society.
  • Alignment with human rights norms and standards and the meaningful participation of groups left behind are essential for accountability.
  • Leaving no one behind and resilience are critical for sustainability, since they require focused attention to protecting the planet from degradation, managing consumption and production in harmony with nature, and engaging groups in designing and implementing development policies and programmes that affect them. 

Why are the Guiding Principles important?

Firstly, these principles – particularly HRBA, GEWE & LNOB - are grounded in human rights, and the promotion and protection of human rights was one of the key reasons for the creation of the UN, meaning that the Organisation has a special mandate to uphold and promote them.

Secondly, while human rights need to be achieved in their own right, they are now increasingly recognized as a lever for accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. A human rights-based approach to development focuses on detecting and resolving the root causes of development bottlenecks.

By empowering people as active agents of sustainable development and by shifting the focus from short-term gains towards transformative change, it can facilitate the transition towards more equitable, greener, safer and more peaceful societies.

The key value added of rights-based approaches to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda is that:

  1. They promote progress on leaving no one behind, by moving the focus from aggregate figures to the specific situation of individuals and disadvantaged groups that have benefited the least from development;
  2. They enable the dismantling of structural drivers of exclusion, while ending policies that exacerbate inequalities and discrimination;
  3. They drive progress by putting a focus on the obligation of States to prevent backsliding and to progressively realize economic, social and cultural rights;
  4. They require the provision of minimum essential levels of health, social protection and other economic, social and cultural rights at all times, not as a matter of discretion by countries but as a matter of legal rights and obligations;
  5. They provide a normative underpinning for efforts to close the SDGs financing gaps, given States’ obligation to mobilize maximum available resources, including internationally;
  6. They serve as a lever for transformational change by promoting participatory, democratic, fair and accountable processes to achieve the SDGs.

What is the added value of the Guiding Principles to UN Country Teams?

The integrated application of the guiding principles is a requirement under the UNSDCF process based on the UN’s role as a promoter and defender of international norms and standards. However, the utility of applying these principles goes beyond fulfilling programming requirements. It's more than just a duty to be performed by the UN or a checklist to be ticked off. It goes deeper: it is not only the smart thing to do but also the right thing to do.

What do these mean?

Applying the Guiding Principles in the work of the UN is the smart thing to do because it:

  1. Promotes coherence and synergies in programmatic interventions.
  2. Emphasizes meaningful participation which increases buy-in and promotes longevity and effectiveness of programmatic actions.
  3. Allows for feedback loops to correct and improve interventions.
  4. Prevents band-aid solutions to complex challenges.

And it’s the right thing to do because:

  1. It ensures that 2030 Agenda implementation focuses on the furthest behind first and that decision-makers answer to people for meeting their promises
  2. The most vulnerable groups rely on the UN as an embodiment of human rights, equality and empowerment.

What is the UNSSC doing to support strategic, coherent, and effective UN action?

The 2023 Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) identifies 6 entry points of transformation and 5 levers. One of the most prominent additions compared to the 2019 Report is the introduction of a new lever on capacity building in the 2023 GSDR.

Source: Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) 2023


The Report recognizes the need for enhancing the capacity of actors through knowledge and skills for them to understand, enable and navigate transformation.

One of the ways in which UNSSC is assisting UN agencies to be more fit-for-purpose to support implementation of the 2030 Agenda is through a learning programme on the UNSDCF Guiding Principles.

In collaboration with an inter-agency team comprised of UN-Women, OHCHR, UNICEF, UNFPA and UNDCO, the UNSSC has developed both an online self-paced course as well as a 6-week online moderated course on the UNSDCF Guiding Principles with a focus on 3 of the 6 principles: Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA); Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE); Leaving No One Behind (LNOB).

Click on the link below to register for the 2-hour self-paced course: 

The dates for the second cohort of the moderated course will be announced in due course.