Friday, January 26, 2007

"U.S. Civil Society Views of UNESCO"

Read the full report of the meeting.

The Board on International Scientific Organizations of the National Academies in 2002 held a meeting of experts from U.S. civil society organizations to discuss the United States’ re-entry into UNESCO. The meeting was held at the request of the Bureau of International Organizations of the U.S. Department of State, and took place at the facilities of the National Academies on November 22, 2002. The report of the meeting represents the opinions of individuals who attended, and does not represent the formal recommendations of the National Research Council (nor does it appear to have been subjected to the Academies' peer review process required for more formal recommendations.) Still the material is of sufficient interest and importance to be quoted extensively.

General comments reported from the meeting were:
* Given that there is a significant overlap between U.S. civil society’s priorities and those of UNESCO, a mechanism is needed to better integrate U.S. and UNESCO programs and thereby multiply their effectiveness.
* Several people pointed out that in the United States there is a general lack of awareness and understanding of UNESCO programs. Civil society organizations can help inform the U.S. public about UNESCO and its programs. For example, the media can play an important role in promoting and increasing awareness of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
* UNESCO programs tend to be too compartmentalized; there is a need for more collaboration across the different UNESCO sectors.
* It would be useful to strengthen partnerships between UNESCO and other international organizations.
* UNESCO’s main role is as an advocate and convener, not as a funder.
* In addition to discussing how the United States can influence the programs funded through UNESCO’s appropriated budget, it is also important to look at how to impact extra-budgetary programs.
* In support of technical cooperation and international assistance objectives, the United States should encourage more partnerships, particularly with the UNESCO regional offices and institutes.
* In looking at UNESCO’s priorities and draft program, participants expressed concern about going to UNESCO with many specific changes to the program and budget without a good understanding of the overarching strategy and priorities. It was suggested that it might be helpful to reexamine UNESCO’s mandate since it has not changed significantly since 1946 when the organization was first established.
* As the United States looks at which UNESCO program areas are most important to U.S. goals, it should especially consider activities that engage large segments of different communities and activities where UNESCO would bring some unique added value that cannot be acquired anywhere else.
* As a member of UNESCO, the U.S. may have some new opportunities. These include: the ability to work globally and benefit from the capacity of each of the members of this global organization, and the formation of partnerships between government and non-government organizations.
* The principal priority for UNESCO’s education sector, Education for All, is also a priority for the United States education community. The United States can help UNESCO increase its staff and develop its resources to create the internal organization it needs to carry out this principal priority. It can also provide UNESCO with policy advice and talent from the U.S. government, private sector, academia, and the professional community.
* While UNESCO advocates the role of civil society in Education for All programs, its primary experience has been working government to government. To help develop public-private partnerships, the United States can contribute its experience in working with civil society through policy forums and by bringing U.S. education experts to UNESCO’s staff.
* The U.S. education community should help to develop programs that go beyond a sectoral framework. For example, programs could address themes such as international citizenship, dialogue between civilizations, and global awareness.
Science Education
* Science education is fragmented within UNESCO – higher education in the science sector and K-12 in education. The sectors are beginning to collaborate and hold joint meetings in an effort to develop a common direction.
* The United States is in a leadership role on the issues of gender in science and technology for development and science education.
* In higher education, UNESCO could play a key role on issues of mutual recognition of degrees, credentials, quality assurance mechanisms, and accreditation. It will be difficult for UNESCO to achieve international accreditation standards without U.S. involvement.
* Culture is a topic that the United States has traditionally been reluctant to discuss in government circles and in the international arena. Culture is an area that should receive greater attention, especially in the context of promoting good will and peace throughout the world.
* Because increased tourism could potentially be harmful to some World Heritage sites, there should be more emphasis on enabling governments and the world preservation community to better manage heritage sites rather than focusing primarily on the World Heritage List. The United States could contribute its expertise in preservation and conservation to the UNESCO World Heritage Fund program. Related to this, the UN Foundation has made the preservation of biodiversity at natural World Heritage sites a priority. It has developed partnerships with other foundations and organizations to generate additional funding for natural World Heritage sites.
* The United States could partner with UNESCO and other organizations in an effort to preserve cultural diversity. A possible project could be a web-based “cultural genome” that would map out all the existing indigenous cultures of the world before the records of these cultures are lost.
The role of U.S. civil society in advising the U.S. government on UNESCO

The UNESCO constitution requires each member state to have a national commission. U.S. legislation from 1946 allows for a commission of up to 100 people: 15 from federal government, 15 from state and local government, 40 from non-governmental organizations, and 30 other at-large groups. Several participants commented that it is important to look at new possible formations. Other countries, such as Canada, Germany and Brazil, are using their national commissions to help inform their domestic policies and programs, not just as the representative body for UNESCO. Participants discussed the idea of ad hoc committees or subgroups on specific issues. Linkages between such groups and good communication among the staff of the commission, the State Department’s IO Bureau, and civil society groups are key to a successful national commission.

There was a discussion on how to reach out to and include civil society – and the private sector – in the national commission. It was suggested that perhaps a few key organizations could have a permanent slot on the commission, with some sort of rotating mechanism so that all of the different professional societies are represented at some stage. The State Department could use the national commission as the head of a civil society network.

In order to facilitate its work and to reach out to the public, the commission could take advantage of information technology. A Web site and a regular online newsletter could be useful in engaging the public in activities of the commission and promoting greater U.S. participation in UNESCO.

The U.S. national commission could use the help of U.S. civil society in recruitment for jobs at the UNESCO Secretariat. Civil society groups could 1) inform the commission of any upcoming vacancies at the UNESCO Secretariat that they hear about through their networks; 2) identify which positions at the UNESCO Secretariat are of primary interest to the United States; and 3) help identify candidates for these positions.

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