Opening of the 206th session of the Executive Board by the Director-General of UNESCO: “Anchoring our mandate in the challenges of today and tomorrow”


Opening the 206th session of UNESCO’s Executive Board, the Organization’s Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, welcomed renewed confidence in UNESCO. She also stressed the need to further strengthen the Organization's capacity to respond to current challenges, notably with regard to artificial intelligence, girls’ and women’s education, press freedom and the fight against violent extremism.

“To meet these challenges, it is our collective responsibility to reduce political tensions while moving on substance, that is, to anchor our mandate in the challenges of today and tomorrow, as a modernized and effective institution, in line with the ambition of the United Nations’ Secretary-General,” said Ms Azoulay. “Unity is the premise of effective multilateralism,” the Director-General added, stressing the Secretariat’s determination to pursue consensus-building mediation work within the Executive Board, as has been done with all texts concerning the Middle East both at the Executive Board and the World Heritage Committee since her arrival at the helm of the Organization.

Ms Azoulay also pleaded for the development of heritage diplomacy at the service of peace, which allowed for the joint inscription by the two Koreas of a traditional wrestling sport on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity last December. The “Reviving the Spirit of Mosul” project, is another symbolic example of UNESCO’s action in support of peace, said the Director-General.

More broadly, the Director-General recalled the scope and depth of UNESCO’s contribution to Agenda 2030, highlighted in a recent evaluation by the Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN), which has the support of 18 States. The evaluation notably recognizes UNESCO’s contribution to the crucial area of education. In this regard, the Director-General said that “we must conceive education as capable of facing the challenges of the 21st century.” Ms Azoulay emphasized the importance of the education of girls and women, of migrants, refugees and displaced persons and the need to develop new standards in higher education. A convention on the recognition of qualifications in higher education will be submitted to the approval of Member States at the forthcoming session of the General Conference in the autumn.

UNESCO is also carrying standard-setting work in science, with a recommendation on open science to be submitted to Member States. At the crossroads of development, research and higher education, “open science” is the human right to share scientific progress and its benefits, Ms Azoulay declared.

The Director-General concluded her speech with a review of the current state of the Organization’s reform, which has already made it possible to “lay the foundations for a better management culture” and “greater transparency of processes, better evaluation and greater mobility.” Finally, Ms Azoulay welcomed the substantial increase in Member States’ voluntary contributions to UNESCO, which rose by 35% over 2018, a sign of “renewed confidence” in the Organization.