The Director-General takes stock of progress on roadmap
The Member States of UNESCO’s Executive Board met on Tuesday 10 July for the second Information Meeting to be held since the last session of the Executive Board in February.
The meeting addressed two main topics:
- Current information on the financial situation and progress made in the implementation of the reform of UNESCO.
- The results of the Rio+20 conference and the Director-General’s preliminary proposals for the next C/4 medium-term strategy.
The Director-General and her team replied to around thirty questions raised by Member States prior to the meeting, before engaging in an active debate throughout the day.
In her opening address and replies, the Director-General referred to the different short- and long-term parts of the current reforms: “On the one hand, it is about decreasing the budget deficit, but it is vital also in my opinion to better position UNESCO and to better define our added value”.
The Director-General put into perspective the Organization’s current difficulties, highlighting the results of efforts towards strategic positioning taken over the past year. These include the UN Secretary-General’s Global Initiative on Education (in which UNESCO is playing a leading role), the Scientific Advisory Board, the Global Oceans Compact, the opening of a new field office in Libya and many more.
The Director-General reviewed the financial situation and the measures taken to address it in three principal directions – a deep reduction of costs, accelerating reform on the basis of the Independent External Evaluation, and the raising of additional funds.
“The facts are clear,” said the Director-General. UNESCO is facing “a 29% reduction in resources for its ordinary programme, and I have fixed this sum as a ceiling… In the course of the first 5 months of 2012, we have already reduced our expenditure by 13% in comparison to the last biennium, and according to our current forecasts, we should achieve an 18% reduction over the whole biennium. In 5 months, this is considerable progress. We are advancing towards our goal”.
In explaining to member states the latest measures taken (reductions in mission costs, the amalgamation of central services administration offices into one unit, a 100% recruitment freeze apart from rare exceptions), Irina Bokova reviewed the progress made to meet UNESCO’s roadmap. Work plans have already been reduced by 17%, the ratio between staff numbers in headquarters and field offices is improving, and there has been a 35% reduction in central services administrative posts. Responding to questions posed by the United Kingdom, Saint Lucia, the Netherlands and Denmark, the Director-General addressed in detail the obstacles encountered in these reforms, notably in the speed of implementation and the level of decentralization.
Despite real advances, the Director-General underlined the difficulties faced currently by the Organization. She stated that “this situation is not viable in the long-term”, as it has led to the cancellation or delay of numerous programmes, some of which examples she gave. “We are conscious that the reform of procedures and administrative services is not enough”, an opinion also shared by Egypt. She added that “there are limits to what UNESCO can cut, without risking losing its purpose, and today we are arriving at that limit”, and she called for a concerted reflection on UNESCO’s priorities and the realignment of its activities.
For the immediate future, the Director-General gave further details on the amount of Emergency Funds created to finance the C/5 priority programmes. She warmly thanked Saudi Arabia for its contribution to the Fund of 20 million USD. In response to the Peruvian and Mexican delegations, and taking the example of the new subsidiary body created for the 1970 Convention, the Director-General made clear her intention to bring Member States together in 2013 in order to maintain momentum in this vital area of priority programming, even if this entails using Emergency Funds.
The Director-General also presented to Member States her vision of the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development that met in Rio on 20-22 June, 2012.
“Despite all differences and difficulties,” she said, “this Conference brought the world together -- to agree on problems, identify areas for action and set in motion a process for undertaking them, and in this, it succeeded.”
The Director-General underscored deep engagement by UNESCO at the Rio+20 Conference – from the pre-Conference Forum on Science and Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development to the organisation of three official side events on education for sustainable development, on the ocean and on the 2013 International Year of Water Cooperation.
The Rio+20 Outcome Document placed sustainability firmly onto the global agenda, with strong messages for UNESCO on education for sustainable development, on the role of the sciences for sustainability, on the ocean, and on the importance of ICTs. In a breakthrough for sustainability, the UN Secretary-General asked UNESCO and the Director-General to take a leading role in his new Scientific Advisory Board.
“No big commitments were made,” explained the Director-General, “but there were big ideas –the sustainability agenda is now firmly in place, in national agendas across the world.”
She underlined the strategic importance of the agreement in Rio on defining a set of concrete Sustainable Development Goals, to be integrated into the global development agenda post-2015. In this context, the Director-General shared thoughts with the member states on the process underway to define UNESCO’s next Medium-Term Strategy.
This process draws on regional consultations, on questionnaires, to which a record 113 States have replied, and on the “Leaders Forum” held during the last General Conference as well as the Thematic Debates held in 2011 and 2012 with Permanent Delegations.
The Director-General underscored that the next C/4 must respond to times of global change and uncertainty, adding that “We must map the C/4 against the needs arising from this wider context and not simply against what we think we do well. UNESCO must not be a fragmented place with a few ‘niche’ strengths – it must be a single Organization, whose efforts converge to provide a coherent response to needs.”
In response, the Director-General highlighted three strategic directions for the Organization: Learning to live together in an age of diversity; learning to develop sustainably in an age of limits; and innovation for building peace, notably in fragile states.
Before opening the floor to debate, the Director reminded member states of the goals they share – to strengthen UNESCO as an effective and agile global leader responding to the challenges of the 21st century. “Circumstances are difficult, and constraints are sharp – but these must spur us to action, and they are doing so.”