Former prime minister Helen Clark has received a damning performance review in a new report highlighting the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) failures.
Reducing global poverty is the core focus of the United Nations' development arm, which has an annual budget of $US5.7 billion ($NZ6.8 billion) budget.
Miss Clark has led the agency since 2009.
In a new evaluation, the UNDP's board is critical of how the agency is delivering on poverty reduction, saying many of its activities "have only remote connections with poverty, if at all".
Those activities include border management, helping to write reports on how a country is complying with international environmental agreements and advising on trade promotion.
Even the UNDP's poverty-focused activities are missing the mark with a "trickle-down approach" that presumes expanding trade and the private sector will create jobs and lift those at the bottom out of poverty, rather than an explicit "pro-poor bias".
While most of the UNDP's activities have the potential to reduce poverty, "this potential is not adequately realised", the report says.
The agency has the scope to undertake activities in environmental or democratic areas that also focus on lifting people out of poverty.
The report also says the UNDP's work is "seriously compromised" by a lack of learning from what works and why, in part due to rapid staff turnover at country offices, while the whole agency performs poorly in supporting nations to learn for themselves.
The board has recommended all UNDP projects have an explicit focus on the poor and that the agency avoid activities where that's not possible.
It also recommends strengthening ties with national stakeholders to better influence polices to focus on the poor, along with incentives for staff to institutionalise lessons of what works and what doesn't, so the whole agency can learn those lessons.