“While United Nations reform constitutes a challenge for UNESCO, it is also an opportunity. Today’s world increasingly values knowledge as the key to achieving peace and sustainable development. UNESCO is a specialized agency that has knowledge at the centre of its mission. I am convinced that the nature of UNESCO’s mandate, and the concentration of competencies we possess – in education, the sciences, culture and communication – makes UNESCO more relevant than ever before.”
(UNESCO Director-General's speech at the Opening meeting of the 175th session of the Executive Board, UNESCO Headquarters, 2 October 2006).
While the quest for the UN reform has been on the international agenda for decades, it has arguably reached an unprecedented level of visibility and urgency since the 2005 World Summit, being pursued at the highest levels of government and seen as a once-in-a-generation necessity.
In February 2006, the UN Secretary-General commissioned a High-level Panel on the United Nations System-wide Coherence to explore how the UN system could work more coherently and effectively across the world in the areas of development, humanitarian assistance and the environment.
The Panel presented its report in November 2006, entitled Delivering as one (UN document A/61/583), which provides a clear and balanced analysis and series of ambitious but practical recommendations that can have a significant and long-lasting impact on the effectiveness and relevance of the UN system. Moreover, many of the proposals are meant to ensure a much more effective integration and strengthening of the policy and normative role of the UN and better alignment with operational roles and structures.
The recommendations of the Panel’s report, which are expected to chart the way for future reform measures affecting the entire United Nations system, make the issue of UN reform a priority in all United Nations organizations’ agendas. Discussions and decisions have now started among the organizations themselves especially in the framework of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) and the United Nations Development Group (UNDG). The practical implementation of these recommendations at the country level is on going through the 8 One UN pilots countries.
UN reform and its implications for UNESCO
When taking office in 2000, UNESCO’s Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura launched a major process to modernize, streamline and refocus the Organization’s work. So, UNESCO is already well advanced in its own internal reform that has anticipated much of the thinking of the High-level Panel on System-wide Coherence. Therefore, although UNESCO is heading in the right direction, further efforts are needed in order to align the Organization better with the overall reform process of the UN system.
In fact, the need for greater harmonization among UN bodies, for closer alignment with country-led development processes and for more transparency and accountability across the board are goals that UNESCO shares, and is already seeking to implement in its work.
UNESCO has been following the discussions on the UN reform very closely and actively participates in the processus .
Following the 174th session of the Executive Board, the Director-General set up a Working Group on UNESCO’s response to the UN Reform and reactivated the Decentralization Task Force to identify viable models for UNESCO’s participation in the UN action at the country
Some of the thinking on UNESCO’s position is integrated in a document (175 EX/INF.9) presented during a thematic debate on 4 October 2006 to the Executive Board at its 175th session. The said position is also contained in the Director-General's statements to the Executive Board at its 174th and 175th sessions. Further discussions on UN reform were held at the April session of the Executive Board. Prior to this, on 9 March 2007, the Director-General held an information meeting with all Permanent Delegates on the UN reform.
The UN reform agenda, aimed at coherence, efficiency and enhanced high-quality delivery is bound to have a major impact on UNESCO’s action at the global, regional and country levels for the years to come. It will be a challenge but also a real opportunity for UNESCO.