Interactive Panel Segment
The Assembly held an interactive panel segment titled “reflecting on perspectives of the United Nations work and future of the Organization, featuring ‘insider voices’”. Moderated by Jayathma Wickramanayake, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, it featured presentations by: Maher Nasser, Director of the Outreach Division, Department of Global Communications; Edem Wosornu, Chief of the Strategic Planning, Evaluation and Guidance Section, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; Moise Ballo, External Partnerships Officer, World Food Programme; and Yoka Brandt, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the United Nations.
Ms. WICKRAMANAYAKE, referencing a recent tweet from a fellow staff member in commemoration of United Nations Day, said that the concept of the United Nations is most often associated with the buildings in New York, Geneva and Nairobi. But the Organization’s biggest asset is its staff, risking their lives on the front lines to serve the most vulnerable in the community. She then opened the discussion by asking the panelists about their motivations to join the United Nations.
Mr. NASSER recalled his experience growing up and attending a school for Palestinian refugees. The United Nations flag flew above the school and adorned the pencils he used in class each day. He said that school and system shaped him, and he went on to join the local staff of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in 1987. Observing what the Organization does in the field to create a better future for all has kept him going for his 33 years in public service, he emphasized.
Ms. WOSORNU said her motivation to join the United Nations started after the 11 September attack in 2001 while she worked at a law firm in London. After witnessing these events, she wanted to join efforts to implement the Charter of the United Nations. She recalled that in 2005, United Nations staff stayed in tents in Muzaffarabad and guest houses in eastern Sudan after an earthquake there, because people in those areas were also going through difficult circumstances. The perseverance and dignity that people demonstrate in the face of conflict, natural disaster and war keeps her going, she said.
Mr. BALLO said that, like the other panelists, he did not explicitly plan to work for the United Nations. After completing his studies, he joined a Government institution involved in food assistance and monitoring poverty-reduction efforts in urban settings. He was then contacted by the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide expert services. He said that his frustration at the limited resources available to tackle human suffering motivated him to work in this field, satisfied with being in a situation to save human lives.
Ms. BRANDT said that the United Nations is fundamentally about teamwork. Detailing her work with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), she recalled efforts to raise funds for a water supply for the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan in 2014. She said that being able to secure the necessary resources for this endeavour underscored that work on the ground impacts the lives of many.
The floor was then opened for questions.
Mr. NASSER, asked about how to make people aware of the Organization’s successes when the media often focuses on its mistakes, said that the United Nations is not just a building in New York — rather, the way the world currently takes for granted concepts like the universality of human rights and sustainable development is because of the United Nations. He urged the Organization to use storytelling to detail its work, as numbers, figures and tables are good for statisticians, but the average person wants to hear a story with which he or she can connect.
Ms. WOSORNU, responding to a question about what it is like to coordinate a humanitarian response in an ongoing situation like a natural disaster, said that most of the disasters that the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination teams respond to are hydrological in nature. These teams arrive at the affected area 12 to 24 hours after the emergency and comprise Government, expert and United Nations personnel — representing a collective partnership and effort. She said that it was fascinating to watch the mobilization in 2005 in Muzaffarabad 20 days after the earthquake hit that area, noting that, by the time the team arrived, local first responders were already there. This must be remembered, she stressed.
Mr. BALLO, asked how he felt about WFP recently being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, said that it was satisfying to see the hard work of humanitarian workers in very different circumstances being recognized. He emphasized that this recognition also extends to and honours the work of national partners, non-government organizations and community organizers. It is a strong message to all actors that hunger and peace are still critical issues, as there cannot be peace without ending hunger and hunger cannot be ended where there is conflict. He stated that conflict is a major driver of food insecurity.
On how best to communicate the work of the United Nations to the public, Ms. BRANDT said that whatever work is done in meetings and working groups, however technical, must keep in mind the intent of the community of nations to make life better for people on the ground, to effect positive change for those who really need it. This must be explained to the public at home as well, and it falls upon Member States to communicate the Organization’s work to domestic audiences and taxpayers.
On how the United Nations can best position itself to respond to future challenges, Mr. BALLO said that it is important for the Organization to work with other key actors to end conflict and continue its prevention agenda. Further, it is critical for the Organization to improve its relevance with national Governments, to improve internal integration and to collaborate with external stakeholders to become more efficient.
Asked about his vision for the future of the United Nations, Mr. NASSER said that when the international community draws on the principles of human rights and sustainable development, it can lead action to overcome the climate crisis, COVID‑19 pandemic and rising inequality. The Organization’s role in this regard is to bring together Member States and a coalition of other stakeholders like civil society and the private sector. Likewise, Ms. BRANDT said that the United Nations can demonstrate the power it has to bring people and parties together in fighting the COVID‑19 pandemic. Leveraging this unique power, the international community must partner to fight the pandemic, along with the issues it has highlighted such as inequality and polarization. In addition, the Organization must increase its outreach, especially to young people.
Regarding advice for young people seeking to contribute to the Organization, Ms. WOSORNU said that passion is important, and urged such individuals to go to the field and be with the people “in the middle of it all”. She also emphasized the importance of listening to communities, saying that every single mother she has met has said that education is the thing they want most for their children. She further told those seeking to contribute to read the Charter of the United Nations.
Ms. WICKRAMANAYAKE closed the panel’s discussion by highlighting the dedication, commitment and passion of Organization staff, saying that they implement on the ground what Member States negotiate in the halls of the United Nations.