BCUN Hosts “2012 at the United Nations”
The UN is Open for Business
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Over 70 business leaders, UN officials, ambassadors and country representatives gathered at the UN Foundation’s New York office on Tuesday, January 31, for a rich discussion of what 2012 may bring for the United Nations. The reception was hosted by the Business Council for the United Nations (BCUN), a program of the United Nations Foundation. The event provided a unique opportunity for private sector leaders to connect with the UN and to discuss global topics of mutual interest, all in a relaxed and informal setting. Businesses, member states, and UN representatives were able to discuss themes as timely and relevant as UN strengthening, sustainable development, and how the private sector can engage and even become a leader for change through the UN Global Compact.
Guests heard from a diverse program of speakers including Ambassador Joseph M. Torsella of the US Mission to the UN, who discussed the US’s vision for strengthening the United Nations; Mrs. Maria Teresa Mesquita Pessôa, Minister Plenipotentiary of the Brazilian Mission, who discussed Brazil’s vision for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development—better known as Rio+20-- and how the private sector can make its voice heard there; and Mr. Georg Kell, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact, who urged businesses to engage in transformative partnerships with the UN.
Ambassador Torsella, the U.S. Representative for UN Management and Reform, conveyed to the audience the Obama administration’s deep commitment to both engagement and reform at the UN, noting that the U.S. wishes to strengthen, not tear down the UN. The Obama administration views the UN as an “imperfect but indispensable” organization, he said, noting that the world has changed drastically since the UN’s founding, and that it can sometimes remain stuck in divides that are no longer relevant to today’s changing global landscape. Ambassador Torsella cited “economy, accountability, integrity, and excellence” as the top U.S. priorities for strengthening the UN, and noted that the U.S. is eager to collaborate with partners on these ideas. Though there is often a great deal of attention on what the UN is doing, Torsella encouraged the business community to engage in how the UN does things, noting that all could benefit from the expertise of those with experience in solving similar types of challenges in the private sector. Torsella, who two weeks ago laid out details of the U.S. comprehensive agenda for UN reform, encouraged business leaders to share their expertise with the UN.
Maria Teresa Mesquita Pessôa, Minister Plenipotentiary of the Brazilian Mission to the UN, the host country for Rio+20, outlined her country’s hopes for the conference. She said that the main objective of Rio +20 is to renew political commitment to sustainable development, while incorporating all three of its pillars– the social, economic and environmental aspects. Mrs. Pessôa highlighted the tendency to work on these issues in silos, and explained the urgency of consolidating these efforts and fully integrating them into all decision-making processes. She cited poverty eradication as the single-most important goal, and noted that sustainable development goals, or “SDGs”, would not replace MDG’s after 2015, but may consolidate them more broadly. She highlighted major themes that the conference will focus on such as: the green economy and green jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security, water, oceans, reducing disaster risk, and creating an overall institutional framework for sustainable development. Mrs. Pessôa welcomed the voices of the private sector and looks forward to bringing them into the formal phases of the conference in Rio this summer.
Georg Kell, key architect and director of the UN Global Compact, spoke about the world’s largest corporate social responsibility program. He noted not only the ways in which companies can engage in the UN’s core values and principles, but also presented a business case for doing so. Building inclusive, sustainable markets is not only beneficial to society, he explained – it also leads to long-term profit chains and thus, a more sustainable success. Mr. Kell explained that scaling up these efforts is now the biggest challenge, and this means embracing principles of change, transparency, and engaging in partnerships with local communities. He challenged business to take the lead, as it is increasingly in a position to offer creative solutions. He cited the Every Women Every Child initiative and the Sustainable Energy for All initiative as positive examples of transformative partnerships – but noted that the private sector is necessary to continue to make these models a reality. Mr. Kell sees Rio +20 as an opportunity to restore the fundamentals of why the UN was created; he said that “we must keep the spirit of openness alive” and that together, “we must make corporate sustainability truly global”.
Given highly ambitious goals for the UN in 2012, all speakers seemed to agree that in shaping a bold vision for the future, both the UN and the private sector would benefit greatly by working together to make the vision a reality.