President Correa's lecture - called "Ecuador: Development as a Political Process" - covered efforts by his country to build a model of equitable and sustainable development, as well as the lessons learned from implemented policies.
Ecuador is one of the few countries where inequality is being reduced, President Correa said. In the last seven years it had continued to grow compared to its neighbours, and this was despite the 2008 financial crisis and dollarization in 1999. Extreme poverty has been reduced to single percentage points, but President Correa said that "one poor person is too many and an insult to humanity".
"An economist at the time of Columbus would have predicted a brighter future for Latin America than North America. But why didn't this happen? It is one of the enigmas of development," President Correa said.
"The answer is that development is a political issue: who is in charge? Elites or the majority? Capital or humankind? The market or society? The greatest harm done to societies is to separate politics from economics and we have been led to believe that economics is a 'technical' issue. Many academics are now discovering that development is a political issue. Institutions, policies and programmes depend on who holds the balance of power."
President Correa went on to describe how Ecuador had emerged from what he called "the long, dark night of neoliberalism" to apply new socialist methods of redistribution, social spending and novel mechanisms, such as mandating a "dignified wage" for households. As a former academic, Correa also said that he placed a premium on investing in education.
H. E. Rafael Correa delivering Raúl Prebisch Lecture, 24 October, Geneva
"Education is the cornerstone of democracy," he added. "To improve our skills base, we are investing more than the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] average in higher education, at almost 2 per cent of GDP [gross domestic product]."
In order to safeguard against volatility caused by the globalization of financial capital, which he said was a threat to the sovereignty of developing nations, President Correa said that regional integration would be key.
"If I have learned anything during my time as President, it is that the world is dominated by transnational capital and the interests of the hegemonic countries. Regional integration can guard against neo-colonialism: the world of the future is a world of blocs," President Correa said. "I personally restate what I said in 2009 - Europeans will have to explain to their grandchildren why they united; and we in Latin America will have to explain to our grandchildren why it took us so long!"
President Correa concluded by saying that, if inclusive and sustainable development was to succeed, "people must prevail over capital and society must prevail over the market".
UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi, in welcoming remarks, said: "At UNCTAD, we know that how a country deals with its own challenges is more important than any outside advice. Therefore I am keen to hear what President Correa has to say about Ecuador's experience and how we might learn from it."
President Correa's lecture, delivered in room XX of the Palais des Nations (the "human rights room"), was the fifteenth of UNCTAD's Raúl Prebisch Lectures and the first to be given by a sitting Head of State.
The Raúl Prebisch Lecture Series was established in 1982, by then UNCTAD Secretary-General Gamani Corea, to honour Argentine economist Raúl Prebisch, UNCTAD's founding Secretary-General.
Dr. Kituyi said that it was fitting for a Latin American leader to speak during the UNCTAD fiftieth anniversary year because it was development thinking that had originated in Latin America which led to the establishment of UNCTAD.
The first Raúl Prebisch Lecture was given by Dr. Prebisch himself, followed by a number of eminent thinkers in the field of trade and development, including Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India (1983); Joseph Stiglitz, Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist of the World Bank (1998); and Jeffrey Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and an adviser to United Nations Secretaries-General Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon (2009).
President Correa, who took office as President of Ecuador in January 2007, has a background as an academic, government minister and consultant for international organizations. Successfully re-elected twice, his current term ends in 2017.