Fabrizio Hochschild-Drummond, Special Adviser for the Commemoration of the UN 75th Anniversary
4 Jun 2020

In the midst of a global pandemic is now the right time to celebrate the UN’s 75th birthday?

Covid-19 has shown how crucial it is for us work together – across borders, sectors and generations. It has laid bare our underlying interdependencies. As the whole UN system unites to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, we are also scaling up our efforts to give voice to the global public and give people the opportunity to shape its priorities. Now is the time to put into practice the commitment to future generations that is central to the UN Charter, and to make progress on the UN we need for the future we want, as envisaged in the Sustainable Development Goals. That is the spirit in which the UN’s 75th anniversary was conceived by the Secretary-General last year: not as a celebration, but as a moment of reflection, of listening, of coming together as a human family to discuss how we can overcome the big trends shaping our future, from the rapid changes in the make-up of our population to popular discontent in many parts of the world.

We want this anniversary to be a turning point in bringing people closer together, and in bringing their hopes, fears and priorities for the future to us – so we can better serve them and future generations.

UN75 engagement in a school in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Credit: UN Resident Coordinator Office, DRC

The response of our member states to Covid-19 appears to have challenged the concept of multilateralism. In this important year do you see better times ahead?

When the Secretary-General decided last year that the UN would mark the 75th anniversary in a new and unorthodox way, focusing on a global reality check rather than a celebration, nobody had ever heard of Covid 19. In very tragic ways, Covid 19 has highlighted the tragic importance of multilateralism. To put it bluntly: Lives will be lost or saved depending on how well countries work together. How fast we emerge from this crisis will depend on our individual behaviour and the solidarity we show within our communities and our countries, but also on the degree to which we work together across borders. This is the meaning of multilateralism, and never has multilateralism mattered more than it matters now.

The bigger question is what kind of world will we have after Covid? We will either come out of this more united with greater solidarity or alternatively, with greater fragmentation, more isolationism and more distrust. Which path will we take? That is the question of our time and one which will determine the welfare of those who came after us. It is in our hands to influence the outcome. To this end, we believe the UN 75 anniversary initiative, is more important than ever.


Youth takes the UN75 survey at the UN75 launch event with the Secretary-General, “Youth in the Driving Seat” at UNHQ January 2020.

A key part of this year’s activities is a global conversation reaching communities everywhere. Yet in the UN’s host country and our biggest contributor, the US, large sections of the population appear to have doubts about our usefulness. How will you engage them?

We want to hear from all communities and constituencies across borders, sectors, and generations, including naturally in the United States, our host country. The UN75 initiative is not a self-validation exercise aimed at gathering praise, but rather an attempt at rejuvenating multilateralism by having a clear and critical look at how multilateral institutions function and how equipped they are to address the threats to our common future. In that regard, we want to hear from our critics, hear their encouragement but also their grievances, concerns, and suggestions on how to make the Organization work better to support the people we serve.

As regards to engagement with the US public, the UN Foundation headquartered in DC is our key partner and has been active in raising awareness on the UN 75 initiative in the US, including through the UN Association for the USA. The US Mission to the UN has been supportive, including through the organization of a UN75 youth art exhibition at the Mission.

The world needs solidarity and every contribution counts.

Have your say at www.un75.online

* Ian Richards is an Economist at UNCTAD and a UNOG staff representative.
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