SUMMARY Judged by the perspectives of 50 years, the UN system has had more influence and more successes than is often realized, especially in the economic and social arena. Priorities for future UN action in these areas have largely been set by the series of summits and other high level global conferences held over the last five years. These priorities should now be made a focus for country?by?country action, with the different UN agencies and organizations providing support. This would help provide practical guidelines for reform and a means for strengthening UN relevance, coordination and cost effectiveness in the economic and social sphere. This article illustrates this approach in relation to the goal of achieving major reductions in the worst aspects of global poverty during the next ten years, the goal made central by the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen.