Revitalizing UNESCO’s Programme

©UNESCO/Fiorenti

The Independent External Evaluation of UNESCO recommended that the Organisation better define its niche in the UN system. Energized by the conviction that its mission has never been more relevant for lasting peace, poverty eradication and sustainable development, UNESCO has made significant headway in aligning its mandate with the UN's post-2015 development agenda.

The year 2015 is the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the eight anti-poverty targets agreed by world leaders at a UN summit in 2000. For UNESCO, achieving real progress in development and peace requires a veritable breakthrough in human knowledge and capacities – the cornerstone of sustainable development. To quote its Constitution, “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” This means developing the full talents of every person, starting with education, science, culture, and communication and information. UNESCO is building on its core strengths in these areas to craft new solutions that are inclusive, just and sustainable. By identifying the conditions for sustainable development, UNESCO works to make peace last. UNESCO is, as Jawaharlal Nehru once said, “the conscience of humanity”.

©UNESCO/Fiorenti

Over the past 18 months, UNESCO has demonstrated exceptional leadership in the field of education, as the lead agency in the United Nations Global Education First Initiative. The Organization has notably recast the global development debate, which had focused on the quantitative issue of access to school, such as enrolment ratios. In the post-2015 agenda, UNESCO believes that the main challenge will be to improve the quality and content of education, throughout life, especially for girls and women.

For example, UNESCO is focusing on teacher training to improve education quality, launching a new distance-learning teacher-training project in eight African countries. UNESCO plans to support countries accelerating towards Education for All goals by 2015 and to shape a bold new goal on learning thereafter.

Building on the world’s knowledge revolution, Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) allow for the sustainability of all development. UNESCO has established itself as the global reference point in STI, by piloting the International Year of Water Cooperation, as well as the new Scientific Advisory Board, launched UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Looking ahead, UNESCO will focus on increasing cooperation in ocean sustainability and sustainable water management, as well as building stronger links between science, research and policy. It will also step up its work in disaster risk reduction, in early warning systems, in support to peace-building and democratic transitions.  

©UNESCO/ P.A. Lablaude
UNESCO continues to safeguard cultural heritage, especially when it is under attack. In the image, Egypt's Malawi museum

For UNESCO, the post-2015 agenda should acknowledge the power of culture as an enabler and driver of sustainable development. When culture is taken into account, it ensures the mobilization and commitment of entire peoples, the condition for making development sustainable. This was the major lesson learned from the 18 projects financed by the UNDP- Spain MDG Achievement Fund, which demonstrated how cultural activities can help accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals at the country level. Cultural industries create hundreds of thousands of jobs in tourism, the crafts sector and the creative arts; they are engines for jobs, revenues and social cohesion, especially in developing countries. Cultural heritage is a symbolic force, bringing stability and meaning to communities everywhere. It gives people strength and confidence to look to the future. For this reason, UNESCO will continue safeguarding cultural heritage, especially when it is under attack. 

For UNESCO, peace is not just the result of a treaty, but rather part of a global culture, the way we all behave in society. The post-2015 agenda must build bridges of understanding between peoples, encouraging them to share information as widely as possible and to deepen respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially freedom of expression. It is essential for good governance, open societies and sustainable development. “The future we want will be built on learning, on knowledge-based societies, where all have access to new technologies, to open educational resources (OER).This is not just about education; it is about the knowledge divide that is deepening across the world – I believe UNESCO has a key role to play in bridging this divide, in promoting access and the skills necessary to make the most of all opportunities,” said the Director-General.

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