A new Director General of UNESCO is to be elected in October. The term is four years, but Directors General often serve two terms. Thus the delegates of the member nations will soon select someone to act as a global spokesperson for peace, for education, for science, for culture and the protection of our cultural heritage, and for freedom of expression for most of the coming decade.
Member nations have until the end of May to nominate candidates for the position. The nominations will be considered by the Executive Board consisting of the representatives of 50 nations. The Executive Board's recommendation will be acted upon by the General Conference of all 193 nations in October.
UNESCO has a unique governance structure in that its Constitution calls for member states to create national commissions which provide their educational, scientific and cultural communities with the means to exercise leadership in UNESCO affairs in collaboration with their governments. In no other United Nations organization is there such empowerment of civil society.
Now is the time for the national commissions to search for suitable candidates and to encourage their governments to make suitable nominations. This summer will be the time for the national commissions to consider the nominations, to evaluate the qualifications of the candidates, and to encourage their governments to support the best candidate.
The next Director General should be:
- An articulate and charismatic spokesperson for peace and international understanding;
- Capable of leading an organization with 2,000 staff and a $500 million annual budget which is capable of catalyzing global action;
- A world leader in one of the fields of competence of UNESCO;
- A capable diplomat, able to negotiate compromise among the disparate interests of UNESCO's member nations; and of course
- A person of sterling personal and professional integrity; as well
- As someone who can communicate effectively in the major languages used in UNESCO.
If the nominations and selection of a new Director General is left to diplomats we can expect a diplomat to be selected. While diplomatic skills are important in the Director General, there are few diplomats who are qualified to lead UNESCO in its global mission. It is time for the educational, scientific and cultural leaders to stand up and be sure that the best representatives of their communities are considered for the post. The national commissions must exercise their authority to assure that a truly outstanding leader will be chosen to lead UNESCO into the new decade.
(The opinions expressed are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO.)