My Life at the United Nations

I've just counted the years I've been involved with the United Nations: 37 to date!  Twelve as a delegate of the Order of Malta (since 2004) and 25 as UN staff, working for one of the major UN technical agencies (FAO, Food and Agriculture Organization) - where I started in 1979  at the lowest level (P-1, i.e. Professional - Step One) and ended at the highest, as Regional Representative for Europe and Central Asia...OK, not really the highest: just below the level of the Director General.

In many ways, the UN has been part of most of my adult life. First, I am the daughter of a diplomat who worked at the UN in New York in the 1960s, in the Belgian delegation - he had to deal with the "Congo crisis" when the Belgian Congo achieved independence and he brought me many times to UN Headquarters to watch the (heated) debates. Second, I am married to an Italian who has closely collaborated with the UN when he was Secretary General of ICEPS - at the time (in the 1990s), it was one of the few Italian Non Governmental Organizations recognized by the UN/ECOSOC - giving me a chance to see the UN from the standpoint of civil society and NGOs involved with the UN system. You could say I am exceptionally well-positioned to talk about the UN and its role in the world. Even when discussing UN agencies I have not worked for (but that I have often cooperated with in my working life as a programme and project evaluator in touch with all the stakeholders involved in development and humanitarian aid), there is little doubt that I have an insider's knowledge of what works and what doesn't work in the UN system and why...

You may like it or hate it, but there is no denying that the UN is a major player in the international community, on a par with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Indeed, from a strict institutional point of view, the World Bank and the IMF are part of the UN system and lately have become even more closely connected to the UN family as a result of new institutional arrangements. There is in fact a bewildering variety of entities that are part of the system, ranging from the International Court of Justice (ICC) to "specialized agencies" (such as FAO where I worked) to "related organizations" like the International Atomic Energy Agency. For a full list, click here.

Likewise, the scope of action of the UN system is breathtaking: from food security to road safety, from peace-keeping to social justice, from youth employment to climate change and health.

The UN is constantly in the news as the world is hardly progressing - in fact it is moving backwards.

I am deeply concerned about this - when I retired back in 2004, I had hoped the world might be going forward, ever closer to the UN ideal of a world without war, a world of peace and justice, where all men are treated equally and nobody goes hungry. A world where climate change is addressed, where the number of refugees diminishes instead of rising (it's at the highest level ever, 60 million people), where immigrants don't have to brave death in the Mediterranean (and elsewhere) just to earn a living.

This beautiful brave new world certainly doesn't look like it's happening.

Yet, it could happen, if only men of goodwill would make it happen. And there are many such wonderful people working for the UN or otherwise cooperating with it in civil society  - but they keep a low profile, the media rarely talks about them. Yet they deserve the spotlight, they deserve our support. They are working every day to make our world better, even in small actions, for example like this one, giving advice to farmers:

Irrigation project - keeping crop diversity is a way to help farmers cope with climate change
That's why I decided to write a book about the United Nations.  A book that would explain exactly how the UN works, who does what and why - and what are the chances of achieving the goals set out in the UN Charter.

And here is the first post on this blog where I announce my intention to write this book, tentatively called "SOFT POWER: The Way Politics Play out at the United Nations", click here to read the post.

The post is entitled "The Gap between the UN and Political Reality" and gives as an example the ICC's struggle with the President of Sudan  - and that is something we all urgently need to work on: that gap should disappear!

In 2014, I was asked by the online magazine Impakter to write about the UN for their philanthropy section and so far the following articles have been published (all under my real name, Claude Forthomme, for a full list of all published posts, click here):

 The United Nations Is Not What You Think

Sorry to disappoint, but the UN is neither. Not a beast, not a dream utopia. Too often in the news...  (to read, click here)

What’s wrong with the UN Security Council

To an idle observer dropping in from Outer Space, the UN Security Council is the strongest organ of the United... (the rest here)

FAO: a United Nations Agency Born with a Dual Personality

The oldest United Nations technical agency, and at one point in its chaotic history, the largest, has a bizarre name... (the rest here)

FAO: From a Technical to a Highly Politicized Agency

The inclusion of food issues has meant from the beginning that FAO had a very broad scope: it wasn’t simply...(the rest here)

  FAO: A Descent into Hell 

In the 1990s, the political world,  the so-called “international community” could not countenance the growth of a UN agency that apparently...(the rest here)

FAO: Revived But For How Long?
Over the past 100 years, agro-biodiversity has steadily disappeared with the adoption of modern agricultural practices and the globalization of...(the rest here)
Diary of a UN official: Mission #1 – Mauritania
My (Adventurous) Life at the United Nations: First Mission, Mauritania October 1980. The sky is an intense blue over Mauritania’s...(the rest here

Diary of a UN Official #2: The Gentleman From Iran
My (Adventurous) Life at the United Nations: An Unexpected End to a Drafting Committee Session. 14 November 1991, 26th FAO... (the rest here)

The World Health Organisation: Ebola reveals what is up
Ebola is a perfect example of what is wrong with the World Health Organization. More and more people have been...(the rest here)


WFD: The Big Fight
WFD, another United Nations World Day? How boring! But this one isn’t. In spite of its bland name, WFD or World Food Day, it’s not about cooking for foodies, masterchef techniques and filling yourself up.
On the contrary, it’s about fighting hunger...(the rest here)

Diary of a UN Official #3: When Women Make the Difference. Guinea-Bissau, October 1990, I don’t remember which day. But I remember how it was that morning when I woke up. Hot, very hot, the way it is in the tropics, damp and cloying, with a low sky of dark clouds, like a lid. I got out of my room, with just a bathrobe on, and ran to the nearest mango tree...(the rest here)

ICN2: Where a Pope, a Queen, a King, a Princess and Melinda Gates Come Together ICN2 is not a new disease, it’s the bizarre acronym for the Second International Conference on Nutrition, held in Rome,  19-21 November 2014, at FAO Headquarters.  Anyone familiar with the United Nations “alphabet soup” won’t be surprised. And in spite of this unpromising name, it drew...(the rest here)

I also covered other broad challenges to our future, like this one:

Overfishing, Climate Change and Hunger. Overfishing, climate change and hunger, a is what you call a “triple whammy”on the planet. You may wonder what they have in common, but at the United Nations, no one doubts that the three are dramatically inter-linked.  The point was forcefully made in a recent report from...(the rest here)

Go visit Impakter to see my articles and more in the magazine's philanthropy section, including the United Nations.