UNESCO’s commitment to reform

Irina Bokova started down the path to reform as soon as she was elected Director-General in 2009.  Her vision: to make UNESCO more relevant and more visible. She decided to implement the recommendations of an Independent External Evaluation (IEE) to stimulate fundamental reform along five major lines:

  • Focus the work of the organization:
    further focus efforts to address challenges consistent with its mandate. 
  • Deliver programmes more effectively in the field:
    a more mobile and deconcentrated workforce able to move flexibly between field and Headquarters.
  • Define UNESCO’s niche within the United Nations:
    Intensifying engagement with United Nations. 
  • Develop partnerships:
    develop a comprehensive strategy for partnership that looks outwards to civil society, expert communities and the private sector.
  • Streamline governance:
    clearer division of labor between UNESCO’s three organs (Executive Board, Secretariat and General Conference). 

This exercise is driven by a fierce desire to position UNESCO more effectively in the world around it – to make it more relevant to the UN system and to deliver development assistance with more impact.

When the U.S. with-held its funding after UNESCO voted to admit Palestine in 2011, UNESCO lost 22 per cent of its budget:  $160 million. It wasn’t easy; lots of people thought the cutbacks would derail reform.  But somehow, the reform effort and the budgetary shortfall supported each other. 

Now, UNESCO is a more focused Organization both at headquarters and in the field.  It’s been given the lead on new initiatives in Education and Science by Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General. 

Reform has become part of UNESCO’s organizational culture.