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Conference of the British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce “What the Geneva Region Needs to Do to Remain Competitive”

2 June 2014
Conference of the British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce “What the Geneva Region Needs to Do to Remain Competitive”

Introductory remarks for Mr. Michael Møller
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva

Conference of the British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce
“What the Geneva Region Needs to Do to Remain Competitive”

Panel Discussion:
“The value of International Geneva: a United Nations perspective”

Hotel Mandarin Oriental
Monday, 2 June 2014 from 16:45 to 17:05

First of all, thank you to the British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce for organizing a conference on a topic so close to my heart. Thank you for including the views of the United Nations in what I consider an absolutely critical discussion on the future of our “International Geneva”, which I believe we have a collective responsibility to safeguard and to strengthen.

To open the discussion, let me highlight three points: first, what is the value of “International Geneva”; second, how do we maintain this value and make it better known; and third, what is the role of the private sector in this effort.

First, the value of Geneva from the perspective of the United Nations:

Geneva is a central platform for the United Nations and has value as such: close to 10,000 United Nations staff are based here – actually more than in New York; we host over 10,000 meetings at the Palais des Nations on an annual basis; more than 100,000 guests visit the Palais des Nations every year.

But, the real value is not derived from the extent of the presence but flows from a combination of factors: the range and extent of actors based here, the variety of the topics they address, the synergies they create across these topics, and the expertise and knowledge accumulated in institutions and individuals as part of this work. Proximity matters: it enables networking, creative thinking and connections, that simply cannot be made virtually.

This is what makes International Geneva more than the sum of its parts. And together all of this translates into a direct impact on every single person on the planet – every single day. It is an impact through ideas that shape policy, standards and norms that organize our lives, humanitarian assistance delivered, human rights that are protected – and much more. And it is in this impact that we find the real value. The richness of the substance produced in this city is unparalleled anywhere else.

Second, how do we maintain that value?

This comparative advantage has been built up over time. It is the result of a concerted effort on the part of the Host Country and all the actors here working together to deliver in the best possible way. It is part of what makes Geneva competitive also from a business point of view. It should not be taken for granted, however; it must be actively nurtured. This requires focus, hard work and investment from all of us based here. And investment is not only a financial aspect; it is an investment of time and conscious effort.

The value is undisputed but we need to share it better and more widely. This is why I have launched the International Geneva Perception Change Project, to share the impact of our work more effectively to sustain the comparative advantage over time. I am now working with all my colleagues throughout the United Nations system and partner organizations to change the perception of International Geneva. If not, there is a real risk that we will lose some of the ingredients that make International Geneva unique. International Geneva is a brand that must be protected.

And this brings me to the third point: what is the role of the private sector in this?

There is no doubt for me that the private sector needs to be a partner in perception change. As businessmen, capitalizing on the image of Geneva as an international hub, you also have a responsibility to ensure that this image – the brand of International Geneva – is maintained. This is a question of reputation management – and the private sector has a clear business interest in contributing in safeguarding the reputation of International Geneva.

In the context of our plans to renovate and modernize the Palais des Nations, I have already been reaching out to the private sector. And I have been very encouraged by the positive response. There is clearly recognition that the international image of Geneva – driven in large part by the work and reach of the international organizations – is a value-added that we need to preserve together. It is simply good business to ensure a positive perception of Geneva. And part of this is of course safeguarding the Palais des Nations, which more than anything symbolizes International Geneva.

The title of this panel signals that I bring a distinct perspective from the United Nations. But, in fact, it really does not make sense to speak of a separate United Nations point of view. All of us working here make up “International Geneva”. All of us benefit from the value-added of this “International Geneva”. And all of us have a responsibility for – and a role in –maintaining it.

And I look forward to discussing that with you.