Inspired by the Past, Motivated by the Future
September 6, 2013 BY Chris Whatley
When Eleanor Roosevelt walked across United Nations Plaza and made a surprise visit to the offices of the American Association for the United Nations in 1953, she did so for a reason. As a principal architect of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she knew U.S. grassroots support would be key to the success of the UN. She put title and prestige aside, joined the staff of the organization that would later become UNA-USA, and went to work weaving Chapters and members into a tapestry of support that spanned a country.
While times may have changed, the pressures faced by the United Nations are no less severe than those that motivated Eleanor’s bold decision. Despite the crisis in Syria, the House Appropriations Committee has voted to eliminate funding for UN agencies like UNICEF, UNDP, and UN Women, which are critical to responding to humanitarian emergencies around the word. At the same time, an increasingly vocal network of detractors has moved the debate over the U.S. role in the UN out of the Beltway and into state legislatures and county commission meetings by spreading falsehoods and appealing to fears. The need for U.S. grassroots support is as strong today as in any moment in the UN’s history.
In its 70th anniversary year, the vision for UNA-USA is as fresh and relevant as ever. At the heart of its success has been a network of personal connections between proud U.S. citizens who embrace their global citizenship and the indispensable international institution that underpins it. It is this personal connection, that makes it possible to show an elected official that supporting the UN is in America’s, and the world’s, national interest. This connection makes it possible to build bridges among generations by helping a young professional chart a career in international affairs and find that first job.
That personal connection is also at the heart of UNA-USA’s future. Studies show that the so-called Millennial generation that is entering the workforce is imbued with a sense of service that parallels the ideals of their grandparents. Global citizenship, a concept which has been at the core of UNA-USA since 1943, is central to the identity of this new generation.
As an organization that brings together dedicated professionals who have worked on the frontlines of UN programs around the world, citizen activists working to advance the goals and ideals of the UN here at home, and a new generation of students and young professionals eager to make their mark in the world arena, UNA-USA is ideally placed to connect the wisdom of experience with the energy of a new generation and blend them together to affect change in the here and now. It is a true honor to be chosen to serve as Executive Director of a member-led organization, so confident in the accomplishments of its past, so cognizant of the importance of its present mission, and so focused on the direction of its future.
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