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10 September 2020

The World and the UN Association Lose a Bright Star at 100: Jim Leonard

By A. Edward Elmendorf, UNA-NCA Past President

Arms control experts and diplomats, experts on the United Nations, and United Nations Association friends and colleagues mourn the passing of Jim Leonard, a bright star in the UN world for many years.  His star was a shooting one, lasting a full 100 years.

As a US foreign service officer, Jim was Ambassador at the US Mission to the UN with special responsibilities for arms control. In UNA-USA he served as Senior Vice President responsible for policy and subsequently became President and CEO. He continued to engage on critical issues in his retirement years, and served on the Advisory Council of UNA-NCA.

Jim’s friends and colleagues know that Jim was a dream for UNA -- a subtle and knowledgeable supporter of American moral purpose in building a peaceful world. He stepped in to steady the UN Association during its upheavals in the 1990s, and he tried to teach his UNA colleagues how to navigate the shoals and cross-currents of politics in Washington when cooperative security or nuclear arms limits or the very existence of the United Nations was under challenge. Few knew or understood the UN – and its potential -- as well as he did.

Jim was a bright and kind person, and a wonderful, thoughtful individual. He played an important role in empowering UNA-NCA’s young professionals, and hosted a retreat for them many years ago.

In sum, Jim Leonard was a great leader for the United Nations and the United Nations Association. He will be sorely missed.

08 September 2020

Equal in Dignity and Rights: The UN, The US, and Anti-Racism

“You in the United Nations are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. I am asking you to help me get justice.” 

-Philonise Floyd

Our nation has been at protest for far beyond the nearly 100 days that have passed since George Floyd's murder; for generations, our neighbors, community members, friends, and loved ones have struggled for justice, support, and their inherent right to life. 
Recent violence and heartbreak in Kenosha, Wisconsin is a tragic reminder that our work to advance universal human rights and dignity is far from over.

UNA-NCA's Advocacy Team has produced a new report on the UN, the US, and Anti-Racism, documenting the UN's role in the global fight against racism. This report offers a foundation from which we can thoughtfully deliberate the future we hope to collaboratively forge.

Access the report here


Report Excerpt: 
"Through its Resolutions, Declarations, and Conventions, the UN has long cultivated a landscape of diverse legal instruments in support of its anti-racism agenda. The movement sparked in Minneapolis presents a critical opportunity for the United Nations to propel its anti-racism crusade forward.

Over twenty senior leaders in the UN, including the head of the World Health Organization and Executive-Director of UNAIDS, resoundingly declared that “now is the time to move from words to deeds.” Their statement calls on the United Nations to lead by example with “an honest assessment” of how it upholds the UN Charter. The current movement of reckoning also presents Member States with a critical opportunity to evaluate their compliance to international law and submit comprehensive reviews to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. 

Systemic racism must be acknowledged at all levels – international, national, and local. International instruments for reform instituted by the United Nations can in turn serve as critical frameworks and mechanisms through which local stakeholders can advocate for anti-racist legislation. The UN’s arsenal of legal precedent against racism in any form can guide U.S. attempts to reform racist policies and practices, representing a toolkit for a new, equitable future."

05 September 2020

A New Way to Move Ahead from COVID-19

While the immediate crises of health and human services, and the devastating effect of COVID-19, must be at the top of the global agenda, it is time now to think ahead, to contemplate further crises that might unexpectedly befall the world community and what can we do now. To this end we have prepared a draft speech for a Head of State of a UN Member State, in the traditional but now “virtual” General Debate of the UN General Assembly beginning on September 22, 2020.

Your Excellencies,

Today I "zoom" before you on this, the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. Who could have imagined we would have the electronic wherewithal and need to hold this Assembly virtually? Seventy-five years ago, our Charter was so beautifully written and wide enough to accommodate new Member States and in language sufficiently broad to allow for our Organization to address both known and, even more importantly, then unknown global challenges. From the original 51 Member States in 1945, we are 193, both small and large, rich, and poor, with diverse political structures, economies, ethnicities, and cultural orientations. We have encouraged our Member States and the wider community of business, civil society, and philanthropy to address new topics such as human settlements, technology, gender, and many more.  

We need now to look over the horizon and act together, beyond Covid-19, to another subject of common cause and future threat to all humanity. It is the interaction of human, animal, and environmental health. Let me explain why this new topic merits our attention and offer a simple and doable course of action for this General Assembly.

Let me first give you a sense my country.   Our land borders several countries much larger than ourselves. We are a mix of varied ethnic and racial groups, with different religions and cultural orientations, and many are under 21 years of age. Sadly, education at all levels is short of where we need and want to be, in part because we do not have the teachers and professional educators needed. But we have been improving and we expect to continue to do so.  

We are neither close to the bottom nor top of national economies Our domestic economy is dependent on livestock and tourism, complemented by modest mineral resources, which we export.  We have borrowed from international financial institutions, as well as some private lenders. According to the major financial institutions we have been prudent in managing our economy.

Given an agrarian history and traditions, our people are sensitized to both animal and human health and have come to appreciate that they are inter-dependent. Over time, with changes in weather, land, and water access, we have become even more attuned to such factors affecting our daily lives. 

My government and most importantly our people have recognized the need to better prepare to deal with viruses, bacteria, and parasites.  For us, a future epidemic might well come from a viral transfer from an animal, probably a bat, to an intermediary specie, and then cross over to humans.   As a result, some years ago we invited UN technical agencies, including WHO, FAO, UNEP, to help us understand  the challenges and prepare a strategy to deal with the interface of human, animal, and environmental health, often referred to as One Health. With their assistance  we developed a strategy which includes strengthening intersectoral coordination at national and district levels; enhancing  surveillance and risk analysis systems for prioritized zoonotic diseases; improving  the effectiveness of our communication tools and networks; strengthening coordinated joint field outbreak investigation and response; and investing in human, animal, and wildlife professionals.

We have not been immune from the COVID-19 threat, but we have been able to limit the number of positive COVID-19 cases to double digits, and the number of deaths to a single digit. When WHO first communicated with us and others about the virus, we responded with a major public awareness campaign, quickly instituted surveillance measures at entry points, undertook widescale testing and active contact tracing. This is our situation and story – a positive one.  

To date globally COVID-19 has resulted in over 25 million cases and 840,000 deaths.  The World Economic Forum COVID-19 Action Platform estimates that fighting COVID-19 costs 500 times as much as pandemic prevention measures. Some project that the global economy could lose up to $21.8 trillion in 2020 alone.  Damage done to social cohesion, the poor, and indeed, the effect on each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, will be incalculable.  

We must collectively take the next step to come to grips with the interface between human and animal health and our environment. Building on past Special Sessions which dealt with Pandemic Preparedness and Antimicrobial Resistance my country’s delegation plans to put forward a new agenda item, one which we entitle “One Health: Addressing the Interaction of Human, Animal, and Environmental Health.” We envision an initial, exploratory discussion during this Assembly, and adoption of a resolution calling upon the Secretary-General to convene an expert group to review and derive lessons from prior actions on One Health, and to propose a strategy for adoption by the United Nations and its partner agencies.  The strategy would foresee actions at the level of individual countries and by the global community. With UN agency engagement and endorsement, the Strategy would be presented to a Special Session. We hope other countries will join us in this initiative.

11 August 2020

Global Classrooms DC Prepares for a Virtual School Year

Despite the transition of most schools to online learning, the Global Classrooms DC program is prepared for a virtual school year.

The GCDC team has been hard at work for the past couple of months creating a global education curriculum that is packed with new topics and updated activities. We have also added distance learning options into each activity to make sure students have the necessary tools to become proficient Model UN delegates. Additionally, for the third year in a row, we are partnering with the International Organization for Migration and International Labour Organization to make sure our educators and students have access to the most up-to-date expertise and resources. 

Signing up for the 2020-2021 Year-Round Program will give schools and groups access to the following:

  • A hybrid curriculum that can be used both online and in the classroom
  • An optional pen pal program to connect students in the GCDC network
  • Invitations to monthly virtual Model UN committee sessions
  • A guide for conducting virtual Model UN simulations
  • Virtual presentations from Professionals and Academics in the international affairs field 

Interested in seeing what Model UN looks like virtually? Check out our virtual Model UN session with Ronald Reagan Middle School here.
Don't miss out! Registration for the 2020-2021 Year-Round Program opens on August 31st!

Questions? Email us at gcdc@unanca.org

30 July 2020

Careers in the UN Panel: Highlights and Takeaways

On Friday, July 24th, UNA-NCA collaborated with the Fund for American Studies (TFAS) to host a virtual panel discussion on “Careers in the United Nations.” The event was a great success with a very engaged audience and interesting questions for the speakers. Laura Blyler, UNA-NCA Vice Chair of Young Professionals, moderated the panel of our four speakers representing two different UN agencies and the UN Association of the USA. Farah Eck joined us from UNA-USA, bringing her experience as the Senior Director and a lifelong dedication to UN goals through volunteering and other international organizations. Sarah Jackson-Han, United Nations Development Programme, contributed the perspective of a Senior Adviser for Communications, Partnerships, and Policy with valuable lessons in transnational outreach and breaking down barriers that separate us. Stefania Piffanelli is the Deputy Director of the UN Information Center of Washington and brought expertise in global peacebuilding and communications among organizations. Finally, Kristi Pelzel joined us as an alumna of the UNA-NCA Graduate Fellows Program and a current Rostered UN Public Information Officer.

Colin Parks, the Director of International Affairs and Legal Studies Program for TFAS, presented opening remarks on the critical work of the organization and how the international field is adapting to the current state of affairs. Andrew Doll, the Managing Director of Programs and Membership for UNA-NCA, followed Parks with introductory comments on the work of UNA-NCA and its current highlights. The collaboration of TFAS and UNA-NCA on this webinar allowed the audience to learn about two distinct entities in the non-profit sector working towards goals that closely align with those of the United Nations. The opportunity to include panelists with diverse experiences in addition to the hosting organizations created a robust range of perspectives in addressing audience questions and comments.

After opening remarks from each panelist, the webinar transitioned to involve the audience members. Attendants were asked to submit questions along with their registrations and Laura Blyler posed some of the best ones to the panelists at the beginning of the Q&A segment of the event. The speakers discussed advice on standing out in applying for positions with the United Nations, including strategies to showcase personal determination and patience. They emphasized networking and volunteering in addition to directly pursuing careers in the organization, as advocacy for UN ideals is very valuable whether officially hired or not. In reaching their positions today, the panelists pointed to distinct and numerous cultures within the UN depending on the branch and agency; global goals and ideals, however, provide an overarching unifier for all employees. “It’s difficult to generalize,” Sarah Jackson-Han explained. “Because the UN is so decentralized, every agency has its own culture, its own hiring policies and its own metabolism.” Professionals and volunteers around the world share this set of values and, as Laura Blyler advised during the webinar, “if you aren’t doing what you love, find a volunteer position that helps you build skills that you can move into something that you truly value.”

Another highlight from the webinar was supporting the UN on a grassroots level, including the opportunity to join UNA-USA and find your local chapter. In discussing volunteering opportunities, especially with UNA-USA, Farah Eck commented that roles like these can “help develop compassion areas” and that caring about the field of international development and seeking out opportunities related to it, rather than solely focusing on the UN as an employer, is critical for youth leaders looking to join the cause. Kristi Pelzel added, “the odds of you needing to apply to multiple positions is very, very high.” Securing a helpful mentorship through these passions for international peacebuilding and goal setting can be very beneficial for young people, as well. Both UNA-NCA and TFAS provide avenues for students to join and engage with their missions, including internship programs, special events, and even coordinated professional opportunities in Washington. Stefania Piffanelli discussed the importance of language abilities when pursuing a career with the United Nations and how global dynamics constantly change the demand; thus, it boils down to skills in communication broadly.

Thank you to everyone who tuned in for our Careers in the UN Panel Event! There will be a recording posted of the webinar for those of you who missed it or want to revisit any piece of advice, information, or insight into joining and supporting the United Nations.

22 July 2020

UNA-NCA Shares Stories of Middle Eastern Young Leaders

By Henry Webster-Mellon, UNA-NCA Program Assistant

On Tuesday, July 7, UNA-NCA and New Story Leadership (NSL), a non-profit committed to bridging the cultural and political divide between Israeli and Palestinian young leaders, convened a panel of four young Palestinian and Israeli leaders as well as over 80 guests to consider the status of Israeli-Palestinian conflict and explore what role of the United Nations should play in the peacebuilding process. 

Welcoming panelist and attendees to the event was John Callaghan, a Co-Founder of New Story Leadership, alumnus of the Washington Ireland Program, and a current employee of Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade. John’s experience participating in the Washington Ireland Program (WIP) – an organization sharing the mission and approach of NSL but with a focus on Northern Ireland and Ireland – motivated him to found NSL in 2008. Not having known any unionists during his youth, participating in WIP gave John the opportunity to build relationships with those across the border and transform his understanding of the conflict. Eleven years on since the founding of NSL, John shared how thrilled he was to see the organization continuing to build bridges between Israeli and Palestinian young leaders and concluded his remarks by saying that such efforts towards a lasting peace must be joined by meaningful, concerted action from the United Nations. 

Following John’s remarks, the event’s moderator and UNA-NCA’s Vice Chair of Programs, Tom Bradley, turned to a conversation between the event’s two Palestinian panelists, Tareq and Mahmoud, and two Israeli panelists, Doron and Meshi. A wide-ranging discussion, panelists discussed such topics as examples of successful international cooperation, what’s missing from the current conversation surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how environmental issues can act as a bridge towards peace. When asked about the role of the UN in helping to resolve the ongoing conflict, participants agreed that while international participation is critical to creating the neutral space necessary for cooperation, it too often results in third parties injecting their own agendas and biases into the process. Through its convening power, the UN can play an important role in mitigating the distorting impacts of third-party agendas and biases. As to what the contours of a final resolution may look like between Palestine and Israel, participants unanimously agreed that the ideal solution would be the creation of a single “binational” state in which all citizens enjoyed equal rights. None, however, expressed much optimism as to the immediate prospects of such a resolution, noting that, among other issues, those in leadership positions are often too detached from daily realities to understand the consequences of their decision-making. Finally, when asked how Americans can play a constructive role in the peacebuilding process, participants stressed the need to first resist viewing one party as simply right and the other as simply wrong, but rather begin by appreciating the inherent complexity of the situation and acknowledging that fundamentally a solution must respect that dignity and worth of all parties involved. 

So often in matters of foreign affairs, discussions remain in the abstract; unable or unwilling to incorporate the perspectives of those living with the consequences of various policy decisions. To learn directly from the young leaders working towards solutions to this conflict and who are able to draw upon their own lived experience was both rejuvenating and enlightening. UNA-NCA was honored to take part alongside NSL in hosting this event and looks forward to many more collaborative efforts in the future.

20 July 2020

Mourning the Loss of a True Champion for Human Rights

As we commemorated Nelson Mandela International Day on July 18th, another champion and advocate for human rights left this nation and earth. Throughout his life, Congressman John Lewis was an example of someone who truly walked the talk and was deeply committed to social justice and equity, helping shape the civil rights movement and keeping it alive until today.     

Congressman Lewis was a follower and colleague of Martin Luther King Jr., participated in lunch counter sit-ins, joined the Freedom Riders in challenging segregated buses and --at the age of 23 -- was a keynote speaker at the historic 1963 March on Washington.

“If we do not get meaningful legislation out of this Congress, the time will come when we will not confine our marching to Washington… We must say, ‘Wake up, America, wake up!’ For we cannot stop, and we will not be patient.”

Despite many attacks and beatings, Congressman Lewis never lost his activist spirit, taking it from protests to politics. He was elected to the Atlanta city council in 1981, then to Congress six years later. Once in Washington, he focused on fighting against poverty and helping younger generations by improving education and health care. Known as ‘the conscience of Congress’ he brought in a new era in the struggle for equality in America, and in recent years became a moral compass during political turmoil.

The UN Association is committed to keeping Congressman Lewis’ legacy alive, standing up and advancing human rights at home and around the world. Our mission of educating and advocating for a strong US-UN partnership has never been more critical and needed to achieve racial justice.

The UN Association of the USA and its chapters around the country extends its heartfelt condolences to Congressman Lewis’s family, his colleagues in Congress and friends.

Let’s honor Congressman Lewis and the many lives and sacrifices made through decades and take the movement to the next level. Now is the time to bring lasting peace and human rights to all!

Paula Boland

President, UN Association of the National Capital Area
National Council Chair, UN Association of the USA

09 July 2020

2020 UNA-NCA Annual Membership Meeting

On Wednesday, June 24th, UNA-NCA held its Annual Membership Meeting which focused on the state of the organization, featured a panel discussion on racial injustice at the local and global levels, welcomed newly elected Board Members, and thanked outgoing leaders.
The meeting began with opening remarks from UNA-NCA Board Chair Stephen F. Moseley.  He welcomed the attendees and proceeded to discuss how this year’s annual meeting was unique compared to previous ones, having been presented in a virtual format. Noting that 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, while much progress has been made during this time, there is still much work that needs to be done in several areas for a more sustainable world.  Moseley stated that it is crucial, now more than ever, that we “make a better world through the multilateral, mutual cooperation among all peoples and nations to make a global reality that fully respects everyone’s human rights.” Moseley emphasized the local and global need to address the pain and suffering of people of color who have been systematically discriminated against in what is thought to be a modern age of progress and tolerance. This notion was further discussed later during the panel discussion.  
UNA-NCA President Paula Boland thanked our leaders on the Board, Executive Committee, Advisory Council, Program Committees as well as our volunteers, donors and staff for their incredible hard work and support this past year and particularly during this unprecedented time.  “While scary and filled with uncertainty, we stacked together and creatively adjusted our programs to virtual platforms; brought new programming and expanded our reach within and beyond our jurisdiction.  Seizing the moment and opportunities in the midst of challenges has certainly been our motto and it has served us well.” UNA-NCA’s mission of educating and mobilizing Americans for a strong U.S.-UN partnership along with over 20,000 UNA-USA members across the country has never been more relevant. “This is the decade of action to achieve the Global Goals working in partnership at all levels.”

UNA-NCA strived to bring the global-local dimensions throughout its programming and advocacy efforts. This past year saw a variety of timely and well-attended programs addressing the climate agenda, human rights, peacebuilding, and public health and more recently through our new Coffee Chat series which continues to experience record participation. UNA-NCA’s Global Classrooms DC Program, Graduate Fellows Program, and Young Professionals Program continued to have a strong year by utilizing virtual sessions and programming. Our Human Rights Committee produced two shadow reports, one on the state of human rights and another on the state of gender in D.C., which were submitted as part of the Universal Periodic Review process. UNA-NCA participated in UN75 consultations in our jurisdiction and district meetings.

UNA-NCA is in a solid financial position, had a balanced budget in 2019, strengthened its operational reserves significantly, and long-term investments. We had important staff transitions and built a strong team. Our Governance Committee worked diligently on updating the Bylaws to reflect current and best practices and to the Nominating Committee brought an outstanding and diverse group of new leaders. UNA-NCA will continue to work diligently and stand up for the UN while the UN is standing up for the world.

UNA-NCA Director-at-Large and President and Executive Director of the Global Health Council Loyce Pace moderated a discussion about the state of human rights, locally and globally focusing on racial injustice.  The panel participants included: Tonia Wellons, President of the Greater Washington Community Foundation; George Jones, President and Chief Executive Officer of Bread for the City; and Oona Nelson, rising senior at Howard University and UNA-USA National Council Representative. All the panelists and the moderator discussed their own experiences and perceptions of racial inequity in the United States as a person of color. When asked what role should the UN be playing for the US in this trying time, Wellons stated:

“I think the opportunity is thinking through our connected struggles globally and the return to the principles and ideals that this country was founded on.  Was the implementation flawed? Of course, because it did not include native or indigenous or African American people in the ideals or the framing. But the framing in itself has a unique opportunity to really live out its true, core value. But until then, the UN and the international community needs to hold us to account in order for us to really push forward meaningful change…  everything in international development is local as much as it is global. When you are doing work, you are doing it at a community level. The systems that you’re trying to impact and effect are all the same systems.”

When asked for further insight, as someone who works on human rights issues daily, Jones responded:

“There’s a saying about racism in America, ‘we didn’t invent it, but we perfected it,” … Yes, the rest of the world has every right to call America out, because we have portrayed ourselves as a beacon of freedom, equality, and justice. We’ve always fallen short of that… the truth about racial equity is that we all have to start at home and talk about what’s going on in our own lives, in our own households, in our own countries, and in our own organizations.”

When asked what is the call to action in order to confront and address racism, Nelson responded:

“We need to recognize our potential, educate ourselves, and not stay complacent with the status quo. The racial and economic elite take advantage of how people like to stay complacent. We each have a special gift and our own power. We have to tap into that power in order to do what we need to do to help make the world a better place. We must do our own part to drive our future forward.”

After listening to the responses of the panelists, Pace was able to reflect on her own life and stated:

“I really appreciate the historical context that each of you brought to the conversation. My mother picked cotton and she integrated her high school. I turn to her sometimes, in these moments, and I ask, ‘how are you managing this? How should I manage this?’. She went through all these things growing up in Tennessee and my father in Alabama. They have seen some things. This idea that we don’t have to be in despair, we can certainly be exhausted because it has been a long period. Yet, there is so much we can learn from the people who traveled this road before us.”

The discussion not only touched upon what the UN should be doing in light of the issues that have occurred in the U.S., but also about what people can do on an individual level to initiate change in their own communities.

UNA-NCA Vice Chair of Communications and Nominations Committee Chair Sultana Ali presented the results of the 2020 Board Election. To begin, the reelected Directors-at-Large who will be continuing their terms are Patricia Beneke, Renee Dopplick, Michael Onyemelukwe, and Richard Ponzio. The newly elected Directors-at-Large are Supriya Baily, Ambassador Steven McGann, Audré Park, and Aaron Sean Poyton. The newly elected officers are Board Chair-Elect Jill Christianson, Vice Chair of Advocacy Gayatri Patel, Vice Chair and Secretary Dawn Calabia (continuing for a second term), and Co-Chairs of the Advisory Council Ted Piccone and Nancy Donaldson. The newly elected Student Representative is Nursena Oktem, from Georgetown University. Learn more about our new Board members here.  

Board Chair Moseley then thanked the outgoing Board Members Dr. Diane Adams, Heather Lane Chauny, Michael R. Marsh, Ellen McGovern, Oona Nelson, Ambassador B. Lynn Pascoe, Kimberly Weichel, and Melissa Wolfe for their excellent work and service for UNA-NCA.

UNA-NCA ensures continuity and effective leadership by electing a Board Chair-Elect whose first year in office coincides with the last year of service for the current Board Chair. Board Chair-Elect Jill Christianson plans to look forward and work to ensure that UNA-NCA is a, “nimble, strong, efficient organization that also then is fully inclusive and addressing social justice and anti-racism issues.” Christianson wants to play to our structural strengths. She pledges to learn by listening, being a part of, and sharing her network with the organization to continue to grow.

Board Chair Moseley’s closing remarks focused on the remarkable work and progress UNA-NCA has been able to accomplish and the many opportunities ahead to strengthen our impact.  Moseley concluded, “there are plenty of us, plenty willing, plenty ready to work together and collaborate to address major issues.”

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