A United Nations for these modern times – part two

From the C4D office, Sunamganj, BangladeshI don’t have children of my own, but I do have a delightful (usually!) nephew and niece, five and two respectively. As I age and watch others do so too, I increasingly realise that we have two legacy options (conscious or unconsciously): a devil may care attitude that says ‘I’m old and going to die anyway. I’ll just leave a trail of destruction behind, just as long as I’m alright.’ Or, to look at my own kids or those close to me and think: how can I leave this world a better place for you? The United Nations and its agencies do good work, often quietly away from the public eye. It’s up to people like me to communicate these to a sceptical public. The UN now strives to use new tech to tap into the world of young people: for example, UNAIDS use of crowdsourcing; the UNDP and Government’s, YouthConnekt in Rwanda. But good projects and PR can’t wallpaper over cracks, not for ever, anyway. And I fear the organisation as a whole will run itself into the ground unless it addresses some of its own potentially fatal car crash issues: heavy bureaucracy, lack of innovation, lack of transparency, misogynism and other prejudices, poor monitoring and evaluation of projects, too much obfuscation. Getting older doesn’t mean giving up a youthful spirit, or being closed to change, renewal and a dose of good sense and integrity. I’m not saying the UN doesn’t have these. It just needs a whole lot more. Innovating whilst continually referring back to core UN values (whilst refreshing those) is just one way to go.

National spending on aid and development

The UN's scope is wider than the Commonwealth countries. For example it reaches these Nigerien children.
The UN’s scope is wider than the Commonwealth countries. For example it reaches these Nigerien children.

0.7 % towards aid is nowhere near as high a portion of the UK national budget paid to defence or other areas. And I’m happy to pay my tax as long as the government(s) or receiving institutions use our money wisely. But, do they? The post-2015 vision of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Ms Clark and their colleagues at the UN will cost trillions, not billions, of dollars. Some of that long term development will be paid through the private sector and other avenues, not solely the public purse. Quite right. But for a sustainable future of greater peace and global stability, that money must still be put to good use. And the public made to understand that such is the case. In other words nonchalance isn’t an option. In the end much needed institutions like the UN and governments aren’t just impersonal systems. They are built and governed by people, for the people. People like you and me. So should we fail we can only blame ourselves.

Watch Helen Clark’s lecture here –


Published by Mail

International communications consultant

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