The UN Public Service Awards – what does it take to earn the highest accolade?

Every year, UN DESA grants the most prestigious international recognition of excellence in public service – the UN Public Service Awards. Institutions from around the world are honoured for their creative achievements that lead to more effective and responsive public administrations. As the call for nominations to the 15th edition of the Awards opens this month, we ask Stefania Senese, Governance and Public Administration Officer in UN DESA’s Division for Public Administration and Development Management, why public service is so important.

Who are public servants and why do we need them?

“Public servants are the men and women who dedicate their lives and careers to serve their fellow citizens. They are the officials who run the day-to-day matters of government and design, implement, and deliver public services to people. Without them, governments would not be able to function. They are the essential link that allows people to access the services they need to improve their lives.”

How is the public servant profession different from any other occupation?

“A public servant is selfless – it is about service to others with no regard for personal gain. Their objective is to improve the lives of the people and it is the people that public servants are ultimately accountable to. A public servant works for the common good of their fellow citizens, the people and the country. Their profession is, by its very nature, public, which means they work for everyone, especially for the poorest and the most vulnerable. That is why some people refer to public service as a vocation rather than a profession or occupation.”

UN DESA runs an award programme for outstanding public service institutions from around the world. What qualities are you looking for in such institutions and teams? Why?

“We look for creative institutions and initiatives that improve peoples’ lives and support the Sustainable Development Goals and the principle of leaving no one behind. These ambitious Global Goals can only be achieved with the public servants on board, encouraging innovation in public institutions and helping people living in poverty. There are no shortcuts to effective, inclusive and accountable delivery of social services. The only way leads through having the best talent in the public sector. The UN Public Service Awards programme rewards teams of civil servants that introduce innovation in the public sector. By shining the spotlight at the most innovative and efficient approaches, it helps public sectors from different countries learn from each other’s experiences.”

What makes a great public servant?

“A great public servant is someone who listens to the views of different people, tries to understand their needs and works tirelessly towards enhancing their lives. They are motivated and resilient and demonstrate an inclusive attitude. A great public servant is never afraid to innovate and change.

Past winners of the UN Public Service Awards are inspiring examples of such people. Particularly those, who work to empower and elevate the role of women in the society and boost their socio‑economic opportunities. From an initiative that uses conditional cash transfers to prevent child marriage in India, to a team that fights fraud against senior citizens in the UK, these dedicated, selfless people stand for all that’s best in public service.”

Nominations for the UN Public Service Awards 2018 are now open! Apply here (deadline 7 February 2018):

Get inspired by previous years’ winners: To follow the conversation via social media, use the hashtag #UNPSA2018

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