This guest post was written by Angelo Piro, one of the School of Diplomacy’s UN Youth Representatives. Angelo is a student majoring in Diplomacy and International Relations and Economics at Seton Hall University. Angelo’s focus has been on the role of international organizations in development and good governance. He is fluent in English and Spanish, and has a working knowledge of Russian. Angelo has studied at Dubrovnik International University, in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and has interned with the Permanent Mission of Honduras to the United Nations and the Office of US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). He writes for the Diplomatic Envoy, and is a member of the Seton Hall United Nations Association. He is featured in the photo attached to this article on the left.
With the 70th anniversary of the United Nations fast approaching, many in and out of the organization are looking towards the future and what shape the UN will take in the coming decades. To try and answer this, the Mission of Germany to the UN, the BMW Foundation, and various other diplomats, civil society representatives and representatives of the private sector came together on October 12th for the latest session of the Global Diplomacy Lab, an initiative from the German Foreign Ministry to foster innovation and exploration on topics of diplomacy. The forum was titled “The Next 70 Years: From the United Nations to the United Actors” and revolved around the inclusion and assistance of nongovernmental entities in the work of the United Nations.
While the event may have been aimed at promoting the relationship between non-state actors and the UN, it was quite obvious from the outset where the current relationship stood. In his opening remarks, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN noted that while Germany, and other states, have recently recognized the role that the non-state community has to play at the UN, many other states have not, and many are even hostile to the idea. One of the current vice-chairs of the Second Committee of the GA, Reinhard Krapp, further spoke on how there seems to be a disconnect within the UN, with NGO’s being mentioned as having a role in the UN Charter, but lacking formal involvement under the rules of either the GA or ECOSOC. Further compounding this negativity were representatives of NGOs and business who felt constrained by the current workings, especially the major groups operations during major conferences.
But while there were many grievances aired on the current state of NGO involvement, there were signs of hope and growth. There was a clear recognition, and call for further recognition, of the value of non-state actors, whether they be civil society organizations, business, or substate governments. These organs will serve as the future of the UN, according to Mr. Krapp. Mr. Krapp also commented on his ongoing work to change the rules of the Second Committee and ECOSOC to allow for more non state involvement, having already implemented these modalities at the Habitat III and Humanitarian Summit meetings. Others spoke of changing forums and structures, such as the fishbowl style forum used at the event, for greater access for smaller voices. All in all, there was a lot of energy behind the ideas, with matching substance and structure. Taking these notions forward into the next 70 years of the UN could yield significant change.
One important point of the event that came in a shift in the debate was the role of youth in the process and future of the United Nations. With a panel section that included youth representatives from Sweden, Germany, and the Seton Hall University School of Diplomacy, the voice and opinions of youth and their view on getting involved in the UN was clearly a focus. Speaking with the assembled representatives, the youth representatives spoke of the difficulty in finding entry points to the UN, or even getting their voices properly heard. This disparity is especially present with non-western youth. Various representatives gave their views on what can be called a youth gap, from expanding the number of countries that offer youth delegate programs, which currently stands at 27, as well as the quality and scope of these positions, reframing what the UN consider experts, and even cooperative projects with information and communications technology (ICT) companies like Google to promote inclusive action, among others. But the onus for change wasn’t solely placed on the UN to promote youth involvement. There were many solutions that saw youth empowering themselves, such increasing engagement to establish legitimacy and education on the relevancy of the UN in our daily lives. Even the upcoming SDGs Teach In was featured as a way youth can empower themselves as informed citizens and know how to get involved.