Friday, April 16, 2010

An Exercise on UNESCO Governance

Irina Bokova, the new UNESCO Director General

Yesterday we had a classroom exercise in the GWU graduate seminar on UNESCO focusing on the election of the UNESCO Director General last year. The seminar has focused on the history of UNESCO and UNESCO's programs to this point, while the exercise focused on UNESCO governance.

By UNESCO governance I mean
  • its legislative bodies, the General Conference and its Executive Board with representatives of its member nations,
  • the Director General which the legislative bodies elect, and
  • the Director General's senior staff who are contracted and are not under the International Civil Service.
Fortuitously, the nine members of her senior staff were announced this week.

The students in the seminar are all Masters level students from the George Washington University International Education Program. While most are employed or have been employed, they do not have experience either with upper management or with the the political bodies that determine policy for intergovernmental organizations.

Thus the purpose of the exercise is to help students to understand not only the formal operation of the governance structures to set policy and direct operations, but also the way that the processes of governance affect the organization. For example, when UNESCO was created 65 years ago, the Executive Board was composed of individuals chosen for their personal excellence and their commitment to the purposes and program of UNESCO; some decades ago the UNESCO Constitution was changed and the Board was thereafter composed of the Permanent Representatives to UNESCO of those nations elected to serve on the Board. This change significantly affects the processes of the Board, its choice of Director General, and thus the Organization as a whole.

Describing the process by which Irina Bokova was elected Director General of UNESCO not only shows by example how the legislative processes work in UNESCO (and how governments use diplomacy to influence the choice of a Director General), but also help the students to understand what kind of person is likely to be elected to the post.

The nine candidates for UNESCO Chief
and the Chair of the Executive Board

The election has been termed especially contentious, but I suspect that there have been other occasions in which the election of the Director General has also been vigorously contested, such as that won by Luther Evans or that in which Amadou M'Bow finally declined to run for a third term.

What was different about this election was that it was held in the Internet age. It was possible to quickly obtain reports on the election for all parts of the world and it was even possible to search for reports in languages one does not speak and quickly obtain acceptable translations of the reports found via the Internet.

Utilizing these aids I was able to create a website on the election some months before the Executive Board met and to add material to the website on a continuing basis during the critical period. Surprisingly, a number of people stepped up to help me in that effort and indeed people working for various candidates also began to correspond with me. I assigned students the website as a resource for the class exercise.

The naming of the nine senior staff members (Deputy Director and eight Assistant Directors General) provided an opportunity to discuss the problems not only in finding experts to lead the various program and administrative units within the Organization, but also to achieve geographic and gender balance, a team that can work together well with each other and the Director General, and to satisfy the Ambassadors from the key member nations and the various UNESCO constituencies.

If you are interested in obtaining the Power Point presentation for the class exercise, the educational objectives for the exercise and other related materials, please send an email request to:

The Executive Board in session.

No comments: