The coming decade is a pivotal period for the international community, and, as a result, the importance of successfully defining UNESCO’s strategic direction cannot be understated. As a part of a comprehensive and pertinence-driven approach to this, in the framework of preparation for the upcoming Medium-Term Strategy (2022-2029), an official consultation process with National Commissions and Members States commenced earlier this year, led by the Bureau of Strategic Planning. Dov Lynch, Chief of Section for Relations with Member States, including the Unit on National Commissions, was involved in this process.
“Given the complicated circumstances, we had to be innovative in how we led the process. But the changes in format didn’t prevent us from having very rich discussions,” Dov notes.
Led with the Bureau of Strategic Planning, these meetings allowed participants to discuss regional and subregional challenges, and to formulate recommendations concerning UNESCO’s strategic direction for its future actions and programme priorities. The consultations were also an opportunity to showcase the timeliness and importance of regional and sub-regional consultations with National Commissions as part of developing key strategic orientations. The results of these official consultations contribute to UNESCO’s ongoing transformation, and specifically to reflection on the next Medium-Term Strategy.
Clear priority areas emerge
A number of key themes emerged throughout this valuable process, including climate change, Priority Africa (in line with the African Union's Agenda 2063), and gender equality. Weight was also placed on the necessity of UNESCO’s continued action with youth, and the crucial need to support Small Island Developing States (SIDS). During the consultations, National Commissions likewise focused on issues under the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals, such as quality education for all, water, sustainable cities and communities, peace, justice and strong institutions, and partnerships to achieve the goals. These themes emerged across all regions as international priority areas to tackle.
In the context of COVID-19, much discussion also surrounded the crucial role of education, including issues of access related to both gender inequality and distance learning, such as closing the digital divide and developing tools and frameworks for distance teaching. In addition, thought was given to managing the quality and relevance of educational content, with an emphasis on sustainable development and global citizenship education.
“What emerges is that the overall guiding framework for UNESCO’s actions from 2022 to 2029 should continue to be based on the overarching strategic objectives of achieving peace and sustainable development,” Dov explains.
National Commissions draw attention to urgency of the coming decade
The COVID-19 context also helped drive home the importance of UNESCO’s action as the world enters the next decade.
The responses of the National Commissions to COVID-19 have been rich, diverse and multi-faceted. They recognise the important moment we are in, but not just for the pandemic,” says Dov. “In fact, the really key overall theme that emerged was the deep awareness of States that the planning process for this coming Medium-Term Strategy as well as the Programme and Budget is occurring in a moment when it is vital for the organisation to get it right. We are in the key years leading up to 2030; the world is not on track for the Sustainable Development Goals, and there’s a real sense of urgency across the board.
This awareness, alongside the value that National Commissions draw from the diversity of their network, helps to target, contextualise and enhance their contributions, and corresponds with the significance that UNESCO attributes to this next Medium-Term Strategy. In light of this, the official consultations were complemented with several other processes organised by the Strategic Transformation Support Unit, including a public survey, which was disseminated in 25 languages and across a variety of networks thanks to the assistance of UNESCO’s field offices and National Commissions.
This collaborative approach was likewise reflected in the global mobilisation for UNESCO’s COVID-19 response. An online meeting held in April gathered representatives from National Commissions, Permanent Delegations and Field Offices, in order to confer on key initiatives launched by UNESCO in response to COVID-19, as well as actions undertaken by National Commissions to respond to the crisis.
“Across the world, from Iran to Colombia, Zambia to Canada, National Commissions have shown their ability to adapt to the challenges posed by the pandemic, through innovative actions to support their governments and societies. The crisis is showing the powerful role of the National Commissions in taking forward UNESCO’s values and objectives,” says Dov.
National Commissions a diverse network, bringing added value to UNESCO
This adaptive and innovative response is reflective of the strength that the National Commissions draw from their diversity.
The National Commissions are a constitutional part of UNESCO. They form a really unique platform that brings tremendous value and energy to the Organisation’s work
This diverse global network of National Commissions is complemented by their position as local actors, which means that many have immediate daily access to a vast web of potential partners. Modern partnerships, says Dov, involve sharing and innovating together. The position of National Commissions means that they are able to mobilize support and knowledge, to establish these kinds of “shared value partnerships” that move past purely financial support.
Beyond enriching UNESCO’s partnerships, National Commissions bring a significant amount of value to the work of UNESCO on the ground. A recent report prepared by the UK National Commission for UNESCO illustrates the concrete impact of UNESCO’s work in the United Kingdom, which they estimate to generate £151 million in annual financial benefit to local communities, while helping to protect and conserve some of the most important areas in the UK.
“The UK National Commission developed a methodology to measure the value of UNESCO’s work – in monetary terms, but not only: we also have to think about the overall value, including social, cultural and community, that UNESCO brings to the table,” Dov points out.
In addition, this report demonstrates the involvement of partnerships between 1300 charities, organisations and businesses, and underlines the importance of UNESCO projects for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in the lead up to 2030. In less than two months, UNESCO will celebrate its 75th anniversary, at the dawn of this crucial coming decade. Today, more than ever, UNESCO needs its dynamic network of National Commissions, to achieve its ambitions at global and national levels.