Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thoughts About Choosing a New Director General for UNESCO

UNESCO is the lead agency of the United Nations system for education, natural and social sciences, culture and communication and information. More fundamentally, it was created in the aftermath of World War II to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men.

A new Director General of UNESCO is to be elected in October. The term is four years, but Directors General often serve two terms. Thus the delegates of the member nations will soon select someone to act as a global spokesperson for peace, for education, for science, for culture and the protection of our cultural heritage, and for freedom of expression for most of the coming decade.

Member nations have until the end of May to nominate candidates for the position. The nominations will be considered by the Executive Board consisting of the representatives of 50 nations. The Executive Board's recommendation will be acted upon by the General Conference of all 193 nations in October.

UNESCO has a unique governance structure in that its Constitution calls for member states to create national commissions which provide their educational, scientific and cultural communities with the means to exercise leadership in UNESCO affairs in collaboration with their governments. In no other United Nations organization is there such empowerment of civil society.

Now is the time for the national commissions to search for suitable candidates and to encourage their governments to make suitable nominations. This summer will be the time for the national commissions to consider the nominations, to evaluate the qualifications of the candidates, and to encourage their governments to support the best candidate.

The next Director General should be:
  • An articulate and charismatic spokesperson for peace and international understanding;
  • Capable of leading an organization with 2,000 staff and a $500 million annual budget which is capable of catalyzing global action;
  • A world leader in one of the fields of competence of UNESCO;
  • A capable diplomat, able to negotiate compromise among the disparate interests of UNESCO's member nations; and of course
  • A person of sterling personal and professional integrity; as well
  • As someone who can communicate effectively in the major languages used in UNESCO.
UNESCO's first Director General was Julian Huxley, a world class scientist who was one of the leaders in the synthesis of genetics and Darwinian evolution, a former Director of the London Zoological Society, and an effective disseminator of scientific information to the general public. The first Director General from the United States was Luther Evans, who had been the Librarian of Congress (the world's largest library) and who had organized and headed the Historical Records Survey (bringing order to the disparate historical records held in the individual states of the United States for the first time). Both of these men were known worldwide in fields of central importance to UNESCO, and both had demonstrated records in successfully leading major organizations. The next Director General should be add further luster to the tradition that they began.

If the nominations and selection of a new Director General is left to diplomats we can expect a diplomat to be selected. While diplomatic skills are important in the Director General, there are few diplomats who are qualified to lead UNESCO in its global mission. It is time for the educational, scientific and cultural leaders to stand up and be sure that the best representatives of their communities are considered for the post. The national commissions must exercise their authority to assure that a truly outstanding leader will be chosen to lead UNESCO into the new decade.

John Daly
(The opinions expressed are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO.)


bob maybury said...

In my opinion, John Daly makes a crucually important point when he indicates that the leader of UNESCO should be chosen by a country's civil society and not by its diplomatic corps, or otherwise we will just get another diplomat and not a person drawn from the country's culture. Perhaps it would be wise for UNESCO to do like many countries and elect a General Manager to run the place and a President to ensure its center of gravity remains in gthe cultural life of humankind.


Bob Maybury

John Daly said...


Thanks for the comment. I value it highly.

For those readers who may not know Bob, he is a former UNESCO staff member and a long time member of the Board of Directors of Americans for UNESCO, as well as an expert on the building of scientific capacity in developing nations, and a leader in the international community of chemists and the community of science educators.

John Daly said...

Dick Nobbe emailed me a comment on this posting, which he has allowed me to share. Dick is a long term member of Americans for UNESCO's Board of Directors. He also served in the State Department staff following UNESCO for a couple of decades. Here are his comments:

"I could not agree more with John"s general assertion that 'While diplomatic skills are important in the Director-General, there are few diplomats who are qualified to lead UNESCO in its global mission", and " it is time for the educational, scientific,and `cultural leaders to stand up and be sure that the best representatives of their communities are considered for this post" Altruistic as this may sound, I think US/UNESCO's history attests to these truths.. .

"Bullet One : "Articulate and Charismatic" are the magic words. This was Matsuura's biggest deficiency. What UNESCO needs is another Frederico Mayor who wowed audiences across the globe with his looks, charm, verbal skills, and vision..

"Bullet two : Don't disagree with this statement, but it is too general. A more important concept to stress is the importance of anglo-saxon management experience (Explanation: For years, the US`has bleated about bloated budgets, poor sectoral coordination, and over programing. Matsuura has left a legacy of significant administrative reforms such as overhauling the personnel system and downgrading posts, decentralization,, improving UNESCO's image in member states, revising the substance, periodicity, and attractiveness of UNESCO's publications, and winnowing out sunset program activities. UNESCO now needs a leader to build and improve on this legacy,and an Anglo-Saxon rather than French concept of management is likely to be more conducive to producing such results.)

"Bullet three : Agree.

"Bullet four : Suggest a rewording to mention "a leader with strong negotiation skills" to effect compromise etc.(Explanation: As noted above, we don't want a diplomat as a leader, and one does not have to be a diplomat to be able to negotiate.)

"Bullet five: "Sterling personal and professional integrity" goes without saying. A more important concept to stress is experience in development assistance. (Explanation :UNESCO needs a Director-General with a strong background in managing large bilateral/multilateral A.I..D. programs dealing with social, humanitarian,`cultural, and educational issues. UNESCO is essentially a developmental assistance agency. In this regard, it should be noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has officially declared that this "stool" will now become a vital and long-overdue priority component of U.S. foreign policy.)

"Bullet six : A good point which I would subsume in Bullet one. I propose a new bullet six which stresses intersectoriality. (Explanation : This is admittedly a tough nut to crack. Matsuura has made a good start in this direction with support from some western countries (including the United States) , but there is ample room for improvement.One of UNESCO's principal attributes is that it can bring a multidisciplinary approach to bear on world problems. This approach needs to be pursued more vigorously, and experience in this field would be a plus.)"