The Way Forward for UNESCO: The Director-General’s proposals are now available
The future direction of UNESCO is beginning to take shape. Irina Bokova, the Director-General, has made available her first proposals for the Organization’s next Medium-Term Strategy (2014-21) plus its Programme and Budget (2014-17). They will be presented to the Executive Board in October and discussed by Member States, before they take a final decision at the General Conference next year.
The take-away messages are clear: UNESCO must better define its priorities, refocus on areas where it has impact and reinforce the implementation of its programmes.
Irina Bokova’s proposals for UNESCO’s Medium-Term Strategy together with its Programme and Budget draw on an inclusive consultation process, incorporating replies to a questionnaire sent to Member States, conclusions of regional consultations and recommendations of an Independent External Evaluation. All of these consultations have conveyed a clear message on the need for UNESCO to focus more sharply, position itself better in those areas where its impact is greatest, and to strengthen the operational implementation of its ideas and programmes.
Important steps have already been taken to reposition the Organization. UNESCO has been given a lead role in developing and driving new global initiatives of the UN Secretary-General – namely, the Secretary-General’s Education First initiative to be launched on 26 September, the creation of a Scientific Advisory Board on sustainable development for the Secretary-General, and the Oceans Compact, an initiative to strengthen United Nations system-wide coherence to deliver on its oceans-related mandates.
This is the first time in decades that UNESCO has been called upon in this way to take on such a level of responsibilities. UNESCO has also been tasked with drafting the global report on the creative economy, together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). All of this shows that the Organization is deeply integrated into the United Nations system and its role as a lead agency is recognized in vital areas.
The development of the strategy marks a new stage in the reform process, providing a unique opportunity to rethink both the functions and the functioning of the Organization. In line with the timeframe presented in January to Member States and the principles developed by the Director General, reform is not just a technical issue, but must pursue a shared strategic vision. There can be no lasting reform of the structure and functioning of the Organization without a clear diagnosis of changes in the global environment and a clear vision of how to respond to Member States’ needs. Discussion of the Strategy offers a timely opportunity for this analytic thinking.
On this basis, the Director General proposes the refocusing of UNESCO on two overarching objectives (compared to 5 for the current Strategy) -- contributing both to lasting peace and to sustainable development. It is proposed to break these down into six strategic objectives (instead of the current 14). To take these forward, UNESCO programmes would be reorganized around three major areas of action: (i) education (ii) the sciences, technology and innovation and (iii) culture, creativity and freedom of expression. This re-centering will allow for greater consistency, thanks to the regrouping of activities and the reduction of counterproductive fragmentation and resource dispersal.
In response to global changes, the Director General proposes also, for instance, to reconsider the way UNESCO intervenes in countries in transition and fragile states. A growing number of countries in transition, including those undergoing democratic change, are experiencing situations that can not be tackled with conventional "post-conflict" or "post-disaster" tools. These precarious situations require more comprehensive, coordinated and long-term approaches.
In a new global context of instability and uncertainty, UNESCO must demonstrate its vital role in helping societies understand, anticipate and adapt to the unexpected, through education, the sciences and culture. The Medium-Term Strategy is designed to highlight this contribution and build a stronger organization in line with the demands of the 21st century.