8 November 2012
British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce
Remarks by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce
Thursday, 8 November 2012 from 07:45 to 09:00 a.m.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is an honour and a privilege to be with you this early morning. Let me thank the British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce for organizing this event, which is welcomed by the United Nations and useful in our efforts for greater public-private partnerships.
An English breakfast is one of those traditions that have become an institution; an institution that is well-recognized across borders. It also provides me with a captive audience for a discussion on the current role and partnerships of another global institution that reaches across borders - the United Nations.
This institution, the United Nations, is undergoing tremendous change. A symptom of that change is that part of what we do, and how we do it may no longer always be fully recognized, in particular when it comes to our partnerships. I would therefore like to concentrate my remarks today, first, on the challenges we face, second, on how the United Nations engages with the private sector in addressing these, and third, the role of Geneva in this respect.
We are living through a time of transition. Nowhere is this more evident than in the global economy. We experience an a high degree of fragmentation, with a combination of deflation, inflation, recession and growth across countries and regions In October, the IMF revised its forecast for next year’s growth from 2% down to 1.5% for advanced economies, and from 6% down to 5.6% for emerging markets and developing economies.
Recovery continues, but has weakened. In advanced economies, growth is now too low to make a substantial dent in unemployment. The International Labour Organization, based here in Geneva, estimates that there is still a deficit of around 50 million jobs in comparison to the pre-crisis situation. The ILO also predicts that it is unlikely that the world economy will grow at a sufficient pace over the next couple of years to both close the existing jobs deficit and provide employment for the over 80 million people expected to enter the labour market during this period. The trends are especially worrying in Europe, where the unemployment rate has increased in nearly two-thirds of these countries since 2010. By 2017, 600 million additional jobs need to be provided. Otherwise, the world will be thrown into unprecedented difficulties and even recession.
Also politically, the global landscape and relations are changing. Emerging economies such as the BRICs look for a political role to match their increasing economic weight. The G-20 has introduced a new dimension in global governance, which complements the United Nations’ role. Democratic transitions are under way in the Arab world, Myanmar and many other countries. This brings opportunities, but also insecurities and potential for instability, which in turn affect the economic context.
And even at such a time of transformation, long-standing challenges remain. Climate change represents an existential challenge for us, the human family. Hurricane Sandy is just the latest reminder of the increase in extreme weather events that are linked with our changing climate. 1.3 billion people continue to live in deep poverty; over 780 million of them have no access to clean drinking water and 2.3 billion lack sanitation.
Against this background, the Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon has set out an action agenda for his second term, which started this year, with five imperatives, as follows: sustainable development, prevention, building a more secure world, helping countries in transition and empowering women and youth. None of these can be fully achieved by any one country or any one institution in isolation. The Secretary-General has therefore identified partnerships as a critical enabler to achieve all five objectives. This includes a commitment to scaling up our capacity to engage in transformative multi-stakeholder partnerships with the private sector, civil society, philanthropists and academia.
The United Nations has intensified the relationship with the private sector over the past decade. A number of programmes and initiatives have been launched to enable the private sector to contribute to United Nations goals, especially towards the Millennium Development Goals – the MDGs. Cooperation covers areas as diverse as education, energy sustainability, access to banking, and the fight against corruption. In development, the private sector makes an important contribution by fostering innovation, providing funding and promoting entrepreneurship in developing countries. According to the World Bank, 90% of jobs in the developing world are in the private sector. It is from here that the necessary economic growth must come.
A key platform for engagement with the private sector is the United Nations Global Compact. It was launched here in Switzerland, in Davos. The location was not a coincidence. Switzerland not only has a strong private sector, but also a tradition of collaboration and partnership, which is reflected in the Global Compact. A voluntary initiative, the Global Compact pursues two complementary objectives: first, mainstreaming ten principles on labour standards, human rights, sustainability and anti-corruption; and, second, catalyzing actions in support of broader United Nations goals, including the MDGs.
The growing awareness of the good business sense of the ten principles is reflected in the Global Compact’s rapid growth. With over 8,700 corporate participants and other stakeholders from over 130 countries, it is the largest voluntary corporate responsibility initiative in the world. Last year alone, 1,861 companies joined the initiative – an increase of 54 percent over 2010 growth figures.
While there is no doubt that the interaction between the United Nations and the business community has accelerated, I believe there is still significant potential for a closer and more constructive relationship, in support of common goals. Let me highlight four areas where I believe we should concentrate our efforts.
First, we need to move away from lingering stereotypes. Some continue to view business in the context of the wealth of a few. Likewise, some see the United Nations as more concerned with symbolic words than meaningful action. The reality is that we both have necessary and complementary roles. This requires outreach on the part of the United Nations, and also continued commitment on the part of business.
The United Nations is not engaged in business. We, as staff members, are prohibited from doing so. But our obligation is to build bridges between both public and private sectors for the benefit of the whole international community.
Therefore, and this is my second point, we need to help business help us. The United Nations is a vast system, with multiple entry points. It can be difficult for business to identify the right partner and the appropriate project. Progress has been made, for example, with the UN-Business website, which functions as a portal for business. But the complexity of the United Nations, with different rules and regulations for different types of entities, can still impact the possibilities for an effective engagement.
That is why the Secretary-General has committed to creating a new United Nations Partnerships Facility, to complement the Global Compact, in coordinating system-wide partnership efforts. Third, we need to strengthen capacity. Our frameworks reflect our intergovernmental character. And they must continue to do so. At the same time, they need to be adapted continuously to changing realities and to developments in relation to public-private partnerships. In my opinion, it may be worth reflecting on how best to adapt and further develop the United Nations Guidelines on Public-Private Partnerships to allow the Organization to engage with a larger number and a more varied spectrum of private sector entities. We also need to build knowledge and understanding, within the Organization, of the value and the practical modalities of public-private partnerships. The active involvement of our Member States is critical in this respect.
Fourth, we need to expand the options for public-private partnerships. In certain areas, such as public health and education, the public-private partnership model is well-developed and well-known. Impressive results have been achieved. For example, malaria deaths have fallen by some 25% since 2000, in large part thanks to partnerships.
At the same time, there is scope for looking more concretely at how to integrate public-private partnerships in our infrastructure projects.
Let me give you a local example: Together with our Member States, we are exploring this as part of our efforts to renovate the iconic Palais des Nations through the so-called Strategic Heritage Plan. The Palais des Nations was designed for the needs of the League of Nations in 1929. Eight decades later, the majority of our buildings face considerable maintenance challenges stemming from age and intensive use. It is not an easy process; it is rather a difficult process to pursue public-private partnership models in this context. But it is a process which holds the potential to break new ground in how the United Nations and the private sector interact.
So, what is the role of what we call “International Geneva” in this area?
Geneva represents a unique multi-stakeholder platform. We have here the largest concentration of Member States outside of United Nations Headquarters – 187 Permanent Missions and observer offices. More than 35 United Nations entities, of which more than 20 are headquarters, are based here, employing close to 10,000 staff. We host more than 10,000 meetings at the Palais des Nations every year, on disarmament, human rights, humanitarian action, sustainable development and other key issues on the United Nations agenda. Many of these take place outside the spotlight of the media but decisions are made that have a profound impact on people’s daily lives across the world.
The United Nations family here already has an important engagement with the private sector through its procurement activities. The United Nations Office at Geneva, for which I have responsibility, procured goods and services for more than 110 million dollars in 2011. UNOG also acts as the Secretariat for the Common Procurement Activities Group, which consists of 15 United Nations entities that work together to harmonize procurement practices and to leverage their large procurement volumes. This unique collaboration not only enables a more streamlined interaction with business, but also achieves benefits for the Organizations. For example, an estimated cost avoidance of more than 21 million Swiss francs was achieved in 2011 in the area of travel services over a total expense of more than 80 million Swiss francs.
Against this background, I believe that the United Nations in Geneva has potential to play a greater role as an interface with the private sector. As Director-General, I represent the Secretary-General, and I link with the wider system here and at Headquarters. The concentration of stakeholders here and the variety of subjects that are addressed, combined with the tradition for cooperation, make for a strong partnership basis.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
When I arrived in Switzerland, I was told that here we rise early but sometimes wake up too late. There is no doubt that we, as the international community, need to both rise and wake up to confront the challenges before us. Your kind invitation to breakfast this morning is a good example of both! I look forward to continuing the engagement with the private sector here in Switzerland and beyond, as part of our common efforts for a better world.
Thank you for your attention.