Author: Craig N. Murphy
Publisher: Cambridge University Press – 372 pages
Book Review by: Sonu Chandiram

The United Nations Development Programme or UNDP for short “has been a significant player in international development for more than 40 years,” writes its Administrator Kemal Dervis (2005-09) in his Foreword. The UNDP administrator is the third highest ranking UN official, after the Secretary General and the Deputy Secretary-General. This development agency was formed in 1965, and is part of the ECOSOC, which is short for the UN’s Economic and Social Council.

One of the reasons this book was written is to fill the gap of knowledge that exists in the minds of average people on the mission and accomplishments of this organization. The author Craig Murphy is quite well qualified to write on it, as he has many years of experience in global developmental affairs. His work reflects a good balance of facts (the who what, when, where, and how) and perspective (the why).

The other purpose of this book is to address the misconceptions about UNDP that exist. Some of these misconceptions are discussed in the first chapter, Not the Standard Image, including during the short-lived (1970-73) presidency of Salvador Allende in Chile, often described as the first Marxist to head a Latin American country through open elections.

As we normally do in order to give readers the choice of picking some chapters to browse through first, before settling down to read the other chapters or the entire book, we provide you below an overview by listing its chapters:

  1. Not the Standard Image
  2. Development and the United Nations
  3. Institutions for Public Solidarity
  4. Decolonization and Economic Transformation
  5. Lewis in Ghana and After
  6. Capacity, Consensus, Crisis, and Consequences
  7. Engaging Liberation Movements and Revolutionary States
  8. A Learning Organization: Women, Latin America, and Africa
  9. ‘Bottoms Up’ Development Makes UNDP a Mammal
  10. Working for ‘A Holy Man’ After the Cold War
  11. “Fabian Socialists Do Not Make the Cut”
  12. ‘Ploughing the Sea’? UNDP and the Future of Global Governance

The United Nations has eight ‘millennium development goals’ and they are to:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Develop a global partnership for development.

The UNDP, as the ‘development arm’ of the UN, operates in 177 countries, and it focuses on poverty reduction, HIV/AIDS, democratic governance, energy and environment, social development, and crisis prevention and recovery. This agency also encourages the protection of human rights and the empowerment of women in all of its programs

Dervis writes that this book, released in 2006, is the first published history of the UNDP. It is not simply an organizational history, but aims to be ‘a work of genuinely independent scholarship,’ something that his predecessor Mark Malloch Brown intended it to be. Much scholarship did indeed go into this book, as you will find when you read it. Dervis states that the author, Professor Craig Murphy “tells the story based on a truly impressive amount of research and lets an overarching theme emerge.”

That theme is essentially, ‘learning,’ which is critical to understanding potential risks and rewards in any endeavor, setting and accomplishing goals. This organization’s ‘learning achievements’ are reflected in the ‘wonderful creativity and abiding commitment of the people who work for it,’ as Dervis describes it.

He goes further by commending them this way: “The overwhelming majority of UNDP staff has been people who passionately believe in the goals of the organization, individuals who have overcome daunting obstacles – and often the conventional wisdom of the day – to develop hundreds of initiatives, many of which are cited in this book, as well as countless others.”

A second major theme of this book that its author Craig Murphy discusses throughout its pages is how the UNDP is creatively engaged in the promotion of democracy.

This is an extensively researched, well-written book that sheds much light on the work of the UNDP and its dedicated, highly committed people who work creatively to solve major problems in development to make this world a better place to live in, for all.



Craig N. Murphy is Historian of the United Nations Development Programme and Professor of International Relations at Wellesley College. He is past president of the International Studies Association, and cofounder of the international public policy journal, Global Governance. He has written and edited several earlier books, the most recent being Global Institutions, Marginalization, and Development (2005).