A planetary crisis requires a new approach to leadership © Pixabay

A world in permacrisis: how the UN empowers future leaders
UNITAR seeks to prepare young professionals for a changing world
1 Jul 2023

In a world where the challenges we face are constantly evolving, one thing remains constant: the need for visionary leaders who can inspire change and drive progress. With this priority in mind, the United Nations is actively working to cultivate the next generation of game-changers, thought leaders, and trailblazers. Through a variety of innovative programs and initiatives, the UN is empowering young professionals and those advancing in their careers to educate themselves, connect with like-minded peers, and acquire new skills to create a lasting impact on a global scale.

Gaining these skills is imperative when facing current challenges as a young leader today. Indeed, some argue that we live in an era of “permacrisis”, in which we move from one crisis to the next. In less than ten years, leaders have had to grapple with a pandemic, a financial crisis and rising geopolitical tensions. Consequences of such developments, be it high energy prices, disrupted supply chains, or general discontent about the future state of the economy, are forcing young professionals to be adaptive, flexible and responsive.

While the world is confronted with this situation, leaders are also facing trust challenges. The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer, for instance, reports that distrust in CEOs and government leaders has significantly increased. Expedited by increasing misinformation, greater cynicism among the public and consequently, greater distrust, may be expected. A growing lack of trust will compel leaders to hone essential leadership capabilities, and to show integrity for their decisions and actions.

The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) is a UN entity which has been working for six decades to equip young people and professionals with the knowledge and skills they need to make a positive impact on the world and to hone leadership skills. One of UNITAR’s Master Programmes, an Online M.S. in International Affairs and Diplomatic Practice that is offered in cooperation with Seton Hall University, has been specifically designed to provide young and mid-level professionals with capacities that are essential to navigate this new, uncertain environment throughout their careers.

One of Unitar’s training activities in action © UNITAR

Mr. Rabih El-Haddad, the Director of the Multilateral Diplomacy Division at UNITAR, agrees that current developments indicate that we are moving towards a leadership crisis. Upon asking how UNITAR contributes to overcoming these challenges, Mr. El-Haddad emphasizes: “Institutes like UNITAR have the capability and the responsibility to equip the leaders of tomorrow with tangible skills, so that their organizations can respond to the complex realities of current crises and challenges. Our Division’s academic portfolio has been developed with the overarching objective to combine traditional and theory-based courses, which provide students with the foundational understanding of international relations and diplomacy, with highly practical, action-oriented modules, which expose students to real life scenarios. These range from ‘Project Management’, to ‘Overcoming Negotiation Deadlocks’ to ‘Leadership in International Organizations’, among many others”.

Another UNITAR initiative, the “Art for Inclusion and the Sustainable Development Goals” – (“Art for Peace Collection” –, aims to employ Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) as a means to raise funds, with the end goal of facilitating the access of future leaders from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to join UPEACE – UNITAR Master’s and Certificate Programmes. The mechanics of this innovative fundraising initiative include the creation of a unique collection of digital art (NFTs) developed by local Costa Rican artist, Gussa, and directing profits generated from the NFT collection sales towards funding the enrolment of 50 students from LDCs and SIDs in one of the five UPEACE-UNITAR Master’s or Certificate Programmes offered (Development Studies and Diplomacy; International Law and Diplomacy; International Law and the Settlement of Disputes; Gender and Development; Environmental and Social Sustainability of Business).

Moving forward, it will be essential that programs such as those created by the UN and partners, continue to serve as hubs for young professionals and innovators, to enhance their knowledge and skills and empower them to develop new ideas and solutions for the many challenges we face as active global citizens. This next generation of leaders will consist of agents of change, mobilizing to advance the SDGs to improve the lives of people and the health of the planet. By investing in the development of tomorrow’s leaders today, the UN is supporting efforts to build a brighter, more inclusive, and sustainable future.

* Hanna Knutsen is a Consultant at UNITAR.
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