The UN we want (and that the world needs)

We, the Young UN network, are a group of committed, engaged, and enthusiastic young professionals brought together by our drive to make the United Nations ready for the future. Since the inception of our network, we have managed to rally more than 800 young professionals from around 80 countries and more than 50 funds, programmes, agencies and departments of the UN.

Our vision is that of a UN that fully embodies the principles and values it stands for, and empowers its people and those it serves. Our shared aim is to identify, promote and implement innovative ideas to achieve this vision. We believe that this can only be done if we operate in an open, inclusive and consultative manner. This is why anyone willing to work towards positive change within the UN system can join our network, ensuring we draw our inspiration and strength from the diversity and plurality of our members.

With relentless energy and optimism, we work in a collaborative spirit towards a different UN, guided by its Charter. We strive to demonstrate the commitment to the organization through our efforts, conducted alongside our professional duties, out of a sheer will to serve to the full extent of our potential.

But most importantly, we demonstrate a true ability to collaborate across UN agencies, geographies, ages, genders, and professional grades, in an agile and solutions driven manner. This is how we lead by example: if we are capable of such coordination, even without a mandate, then who isn’t?

The birth of Young UN

For some time Young UN was just an idea floating around the collective mind of younger UN staff that would come up in conversations in the corridors of the UN HQ in New York and other duty stations. It was only a matter of time before somebody would have the courage and determination to materialize this concept and bring together those that were willing to take it forward and make it a reality.

Following the example of recent social movements, we decided that this should be a flat, open, agile and distributed network of change-makers. All those willing to contribute to a better UN are welcome. An initial key milestone was the open workshop organized in July 2016, where more than 50 people gathered in New York and identified collectively a number of issues Young UN would deal with.

We also affirmed our goal to become a full-fledged advisory network and a generator of innovative ideas space for UN as a system. We aim to be a sounding board for senior management, as well as an implementing partner for reform. So far, we have in fact contributed our ideas to all three UN reforms streams: the management reform, development reform, and peace and security reform.

We also serve as a platform that connects people across the system and provides a voice for young professionals, because we wish for a UN that fully harnesses the potential of all of its human capital. A UN that is leaving no one behind. A UN that is strong and agile.

An agile approach based on results and rooted in principles

The strength of the UN is its global presence. As the Young UN, we believe that many solutions are and should be locally driven. As a first step, we structured the initiative and expanded it to a global network by reaching out to regional and field-based duty stations. This outreach coincided with the election of the new Secretary-General, to whom we sent a consolidated letter outlining the ways we would help further his mandate.

Since the inception of the network, the Young UN has been involved in various activities and strategic workstreams across the system. We have produced proposals related to human resource practices, frontier technologies, and other critical issues. Beyond the initial Focus Groups, we have organized workshops on diverse topics, such as value-based leadership and the integrity of the UN civil servant. We have also organized discussions on key topics such as the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) and maintained a dialogue with relevant partners both within and outside of the UN System.

Our work and the results from our dialogues have fed into proposals submitted to UN senior management who have expressed a clear willingness to work with us. But these initiatives are just a few among many. Our goal is to spark the spirit of activism and out-of-the-box thinking at all levels of the system as we move forward in making the UN fit for the future.

Addressing the paradoxes of the international civil servant

Our journey, however, has not always been an easy one. The practice of our daily work and the discussions held among our members not only unleashed creative ideas but also revealed struggles through which we have to navigate.

One issue that arose was the necessity for the UN and its staff to adapt to a radically new international political environment while remaining faithful to the Charter (something that Dag Hammarskjöld also dealt with throughout his years in the UN). Other central questions that came up were: How can international civil servants uphold the values of the UN Charter when political pressure can prevent them from doing so? How can we act in an impartial manner, while not allowing ourselves to remain neutral to injustices? What should be the UN’s position in a conflict-ravaged country, where support is needed for humanitarian access, but the human rights record is poor?

As we develop and grow as a young spirited network, we will draw on our enthusiasm to come up with innovative ways of modelling a UN that we can identify with, a UN that starts working today on solutions for tomorrow’s problems. There is no pre-established plan on how to do so, but by creating greater space and visibility for young ideas, and by tackling some of the paradoxes inherent in the current system, we believe we have already started working towards a more progressive and modern UN.

This is but the first in a series of blogs we will write over the coming months so stay tuned for more words and ideas from us, which we hope will contribute to generating some solutions for the big challenges ahead.

(This article was published in collaboration with the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation)