The International Development Strategy for the third UN Development Decade called for a renewed emphasis on technical cooperation and a significant increase in the resources provided for this purpose. It recognized that technical cooperation contributes to the efforts of developing countries to achieve self-reliance by facilitating and supporting investment, research, and training, among other things.

UN programs of technical cooperation may be grouped in three categories: (1) the UN regular program, financed under the portion of the UN regular budget set aside for technical cooperation activities; (2) activities funded by the UN Development Programme (UNDP); and (3) extrabudgetary activities financed by contributions provided directly to the executing agencies by multilateral funding organizations within or outside the UN system, other than UNDP, and by contributions from governments and nongovernmental organizations.

To consolidate the responsibilities and resources within the UN Secretariat in support of technical cooperation activities, the UN General Assembly in March 1978 set up the Department of Technical Cooperation for Development (DTCD). In 1993, under further restructuring of the United Nations, this became the Department for Development Support and Management Services (DDSMS).

DDSMS provided technical and managerial support and advisory services to member states of the UN, relevant research, and parliamentary services to expert groups and intergovernmental bodies. It had a twofold mandate: (i) to act as an executing agency for programs and projects relating to institution-building and human resource development in areas such as development policies and planning, natural resources and energy planning, governance and public management, and financial management and accounting; (ii) to act as a focal point for the provision of management services and implementation functions for technical cooperation.

In 1997 DDSMS was merged with the Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development and the Department for Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis to form the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). DESA provides policy analysis and facilitates international dialogue on development issues in the General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and the specialized inter-governmental bodies reporting to them. It also provides technical assistance to member states at the national and sub-regional level. DESA's staff researches and analyses a broad range of economic and social data and information on development issues and trends. It also advises and supports countries in implementing their development strategies, with the aim being to help build national capacities as well as to strengthen economic and technical links among developing countries.

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