Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why is UNESCO the Way it Is?

Michael Abiola Omolewa, President of the General Conference 2003
Photo by Andrew Wheeler © UNESCO

The Problem

Students in our UNESCO seminar are increasingly aware that the Organization has some quirks. For example:
  • UNESCO stresses programs in Africa but most of its staff is in Paris.
  • Its budget is tiny compared to the huge global challenges it faces in education, science, culture and communications.
  • While :Science" was added to the UNESCO Charter almost as an afterthought, there are now both "natural science" and "social and human science" programs; the combined science budget is larger than that for either the education or the culture programs.
  • The social and human science includes sports and philosophy, but not disciplinary programs in economics, sociology, anthropology and the other social sciences.
  • UNESCO is supposed to focused on promoting progress in developing nations, yet it has relatively little focus on promoting the applications of social science knowledge for that purpose, nor on promoting cultural changes that will facilitate such development.
  • While two-thirds of the UNESCO budget comes from assessed contributions, the rest is from extrabudgetary resources which are always hard to predict and which tend to bias efforts away from those directed by UNESCO's governing bodies.
  • The governance is vested in an unwieldy 193 nation General Conference that meets only every other year, but largely delegated to a 58 member Executive Board that also meets relatively infrequently and is also unwieldy.
Moreover, there are other governance bodies for portions of the program, and a couple of score of "Category 2" UNESCO Centers as well as hundreds of UNESCO Chairs which are not funded by UNESCO, nor effectively governed by its governing bodies.

The question comes up, how did the Organization come to be so quirky? One thing is clear. UNESCO is not the result of a rational decision as to how to allocate available resources to best achieve the Organization's mission.

The Charter

Perhaps surprisingly, there is and always has been a considerable effort to keep the Organization's programs closely linked to UNESCO's original charter which focuses the Organization on building the defenses of peace in the minds of men, promoting global efforts in education, science, culture and communications towards that end. (Students in our class have been treated to a lecture by Dick Arndt and Ray Wanner on how that charter was created, and have been provided with readings on the subject.)

The UNESCO Secretariat generally tries to do that which its member nations instruct it to do through UNESCO's governing bodies. It does so with the resources that are available for those purposes. While that is true, that statement does not respond to the fundamental questions about the decision making that resulted in the current structure of UNESCO and the composition of the portfolio of its programs.

Incrementalism and Fit

Clearly, an important factor in UNESCO's design is the niche that it fills within the web of intergovernmental organizations. That web itself has been evolving since World War II. UNESCO is clearly seen as complementary to the United Nations, and is deeply affected by U.N. products such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Millennium Development Goals. UNESCO seeks to work in ways complementary to the efforts of other decentralized agencies such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization, and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. So too, it seeks to complement the efforts of United Nations programs and funds such as the United Nations Development Program and the United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF). It participates in United Nations interagency programs such as the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, and works in the context provided by other United Nations bodies such as the Human Rights Commission, the High Commission on Refugees, the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development and the U.N. Commission on Science and Technology for Development.

UNESCO today is the result of six decades of incremental decision making. Decisions were made at each step that had to take into account the then existing staffing and organization of UNESCO, its existing programs and their importance and degrees of success. Essentially there is a kind of inertia in an organization and a program as large and complex as those of UNESCO.

During this long period there were major trends in international diplomacy that had profound affects on decision making affecting UNESCO. UNESCO's programs evolved from helping to repair the intellectual systems damaged by World War II, to dealing with problems raised by the Cold War, to helping with nation building that followed decolonization, to dealing with the cultural impacts of globalization.


To understand the decisions that have influenced UNESCO one must consider its governing bodies. The delegates to these bodies can be expected to function in predictable ways, forming coalitions, trading votes, etc. UNESCO's General Conference delegations each represent a member nationl each delegation is usually composed of government officials and representatives of the national educational, scientific and cultural communities, often as members of the national commission for UNESCO. The members of a delegation do not always agree on how to promote the interests of the country that they represent; delegations vary in success according to the interests and abilities of their delegations.

Decisions made by a government with respect to UNESCO are affected by and affect the position of that government with respect to other agencies. This year a new Director General is to be elected by the UNESCO General Conference on the basis of a recommendation from the Executive Board. Few individual decisions are likely to have more impact on the organization and programs of UNESCO. Several announced and several unannounced candidates are angling for the post. Each will wish for his/her government to use all of its diplomatic means to advance his/her candidacy. However, the governments are concerned with the entire web of intergovernmental organizations and overall foreign policy. In choosing to offer or deny support to their own national they must consider other elections in other organizations. The debts incurred in lobbying for a candidate for UNESCO will generally have to be paid in some other venue at some other time; the favors given to other nations can be redeemed in other elections.

Decisions with respect to UNESCO, however, are not made by member states in isolation. This year a new Director General is to be elected by the General Conference on the basis of a recommendation from the Executive Board. Few individual decisions are likely to have more impact on the organization and programs of UNESCO. Several announced and several unannounced candidates are angling for the post. Each will depend on his/her government to use all of its diplomatic means to advance his/her candidacy. Yet the governments are concerned with the entire web of intergovernmental organizations and overall foreign policy in choosing to offer or deny such support. The debts incurred in lobbying for a candidate for UNESCO will generally have to be paid in some other venue at some other time.

For the outsider, understanding decision making in UNESCO's governing bodies is difficult. The culture of governance of intergovernmental organizations tends to hide processes and disagreements. Public decisions are often made by consensus to project unanimity but only after it becomes clear to the delegates which option is most popular. While insiders in the delegations and ministries of foreign affairs may be very much aware of disagreements, the outside public seldom is.

The Secretariat

If in theory legislative bodies make policy and executive agencies implement policy, in practice executive bodies lobby and use other techniques to influence legislation and extend policy in implementation. In the case of UNESCO, the original planners of the organization -- in the belief that its legislative body would be unwieldy -- designed the Organization with strong powers in the office of the Director General. The eight elected Directors General have left the imprints of many of their decisions on the organization.

Decades of development of management science has revealed that decision making in bureaucracies is decentralized to varying degrees, is often done by committees rather than individuals and is often implicit rather than explicit. Even the explicit decisions are made with limited rationality and incomplete information. The cumulative set of bureaucratic decisions has profound influence on the structure, procedures and culture of the organization, and thus on organizational performance.

In the case of UNESCO, the Secretariat is multinational, multiethnic and multilingual, located in scores of offices spread across the entire world. Educational, scientific, cultural, and communications officials also come from different professional cultures. The come to the organization with different educations, different work experiences, in different countries. Decision making in a bureaucracy so staffed can not be simple.

The Professional Communities

The Man and the Biosphere Program of UNESCO is generally considered to have grown out of the consensus created in a scientific meeting. Similarly, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission is believed to have been created as a result of lobbying by Roger Revelle and other oceanographers. Indeed, the addition of science to UNESCO's charter is attributed importantly to the efforts of Joseph Needham to raise support among an international network of scientists.

These are examples of fundamental decisions affecting UNESCO which came out of the scientific community. Similar examples could be adduced for the other UNESCO programs of initiatives arising from the intellectual community served by the program. UNESCO was specifically designed to serve and link the intellectual communities of its member nations. Indeed, UNESCO's constitution, calling for national commissions drawn from civil society as well as government, is unique and was intended to involve the larger educational, scientific, cultural and communications communities not only in UNESCO's work but also in its governance.

As scientists network internationally via meetings and journals, so too do members of the other UNESCO communities network globally within their own professional communities. Indeed, with improvements in transportation and communications, this networking has become much stronger. Not only do professionals travel more often to international meetings, but journals have proliferated as has their international distribution, and the Internet and other modern communications technologies have resulted in a quantum leap in speed and a radical reduction of costs as compared with snail-mail communication.

Social scientists are improving their understanding of such professional networks. We know something about how their structure influences their behavior. We know that there are individuals who are especially important in communications networks, and that influence and authority are not uniformly distributed within the networks. Social science research is thus helping us to understand how professional leaders, well connected and authoritative within their professional communities, can lead decision making within the educational, scientific, cultural and communications communities.


UNESCO's structure, procedures and programs have thus evolved over time, under the influence of major global trends, based on the decisions made in its member states, its legislative bodies, the bureaucracy of its Secretariat, and its constituent communities. So too, reforms and improvements in the organization will come from decisions made in these arenas through a complex process of negotiation and compromise.

The history of the organization shows that individuals and non-governmental organizations (as well as governments) can have profound influence on UNESCO. Efforts to improve the organization will probably not work well if naively based on simplistic models of rational decision making, but may be quite effective if they are advanced through recruitment of allies, networking, and coalition building.

Friday, February 27, 2009

ISMAIL SERAGELDIN Towards a Culture of Peace & Knowledge

Ismail Serageldin, director of the Library of Alexandria, talks about a culture of peace and knowledge in relation to universal human rights and responsibilities, and on the significance of Wikipedia. The talk is from a session titled "Towards a Culture of Peace & Knowledge" that was held in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Mr. Serageldin is speaking from his library, and the inset is of remote UNESCO participants in the seminar.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

International Women's Day 2009

Every year in March, UNESCO celebrates International Women’s Day (March 8) by hosting round-tables, conferences, exhibitions and cultural events that highlight issues relating to the empowerment of women and the promotion of gender equality.

Progress on the UNESCO Biotech Center in India

According to Yahoo India, today the Indian Science and Technology Minister, Kapil Sibal, announced the setting up of the UNESCO Regional Center for Biotechnology in Faridabad and Haryana. The agreement for the creation of the Center was apparently signed in 2006, after the proposal by the Government of India was reviewed by UNESCO's Secretariat and approved by the General Conference.

According to OrrisaLinks, the Regional Center for Biotechnology Training & Education will be a UNESCO Category II Center -- an autonomus institution fully funded by the Department of Biotechnology of the Government of India. It is expected, however, that other nations in the region will provide some funding for the Center that it will compete for research funding from international sources; UNESCO may fund specific activities of the Center according to the availability of funding.

The Center is to support disciplinary & interdisciplinary education, training and research in biotechnology in order to produce skilled human resource to drive innovative research and development in the important gap areas. It is to be part of a new industrial center serving a cluster of biotechnology industries.

The Center is to provide MS and PhD degree programs, short term training, and training for physicians, biologists and engineers through networking with local hospitals and medical & engineering schools. It is also to have a Technology Management & Enterprise Development Unit. Faridabad, in the state of Haryana, is about 25 kilometers from New Delhi, and is to be a center of innovative industries for India.

The Center is to have the provisions for Visiting Professorship for Indian Nationals & International Scientists and Adjunct Professorships; it is to provide Re-entry Grants and Young Investigator Awards.

It is to also support participants in the Stanford-India Bio-design Program, which is funded by the Government of India, Stanford University and others. Fellows of this program work in multidisciplinary teams which combine engineering, medical and business expertise to examine clinical needs in India and to identify opportunities for medical technology innovation.

A meeting was held in 2007 with a delegation from Boston University led by Robert Brown, to explore possible collaboration between that school and the new Center.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

World Social Science Report

UNESCO has given the responsibility for preparing World Social Science Reports to the International Social Science Council (ISSC), an international non-profit scientific organisation with headquarters at UNESCO House in Paris. The ISSC was founded in 1952, following a resolution adopted at a UNESCO General Conference and continues to be supported by UNESCO.

The ISSC will produce a new World Social Science Report (WSSR) in 2009, and will renew this report every two to three years. The WSSR is to:
  • call attention to the availability of social scientific expertise on major issues
  • monitor trends in the development of social scientific knowledge systems and to anticipate future developments and opportunities
  • reflect on major policy and funding issues – scientific, institutional, infrastructural and ethical – facing the social sciences across the world.
  • influence policy as well as research practice, and
  • include recommendations for action.
These elements of the WSSR are to be debated with scientists, policy makers and funders at meetings of the World Social Science Forum. The forum will also serve to determine the themes of future reports in the WSSR series.

A 12 member Editorial Board has been appointed to oversee the WSSR. Among its members is one from the United States: Craig Calhoun. Professor Calhoun is on the faculty of the Department of Sociology of New York University and is President of the Social Science Research Council.

The first, and only previous World Social Science Report was published by UNESCO in 1999.

Monday, February 23, 2009

UNESCO and Ecomigration

Source: "Climate Fears Are Driving 'Ecomigration' Across Globe," Shankar Vedantam, The Washington Post, February 23, 2009.
There were about 25 million ecomigrants in the world a little more than a decade ago, said Norman Myers, a respected British environmental researcher at Oxford University. That number is now "a good deal higher," he added. "It's plain that sea-level rise in the wake of climate change will inundate the homelands of huge numbers of people."

In Bangladesh, about 12 million to 17 million people have fled their homes in recent decades because of environmental disasters -- and the low-lying country is likely to experience more intense flooding in the future. In several countries in Africa's Sahel region, bordering the Sahara, about 10 million people have been driven to move by droughts and famines.

In the Philippines, upwards of 4 million people have moved from lowlands to highlands as a result of deforestation. And in an earlier era, about 2.5 million Americans became ecomigrants after droughts and land degradation during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s.
Editorial comment: UNESCO has a program utilizing its expertise in education, science, culture and communications to help small island developing states meet their development problems. Climate change will be especially devastating for those states, and UNESCO can help them to deal with the challenge. UNESCO natural science programs play an important role in encouraging the global scientific community to develop the understanding of natural resources and ecology, and that knowledge should underly all policy related to ecomigration. So too, UNESCO social and human science program can illuminate the phenomenon of ecomigration and its impacts.

UNESCO's education programs can help prepare people for ecomigration, both in the the countries that they will have to leave and in the countries to which they will have to move. The communications program may help countries deal with the use of media for the same purpose. Perhaps especially relevant will be efforts by UNESCO to help ecomigrants from these states to deal with the cultural impact of their forced migration.

That is not to say that the need for UNESCO services to assist other ecomigrants will be less acute or extensive. An ecomigrant fleeing from desertification in the Sahel will not face lesser challenges than one fleeting from inundation of his island home.

History suggests that when a people are forced into wholesale migration, violence often follows. UNESCO's primary mission is to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men, and doing so in the minds of ecomigrants may be especially important in the prevention of war.

John Daly
(The opinions expressed are mine alone, and do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO.)

A New Project in Basic Molecular Biology

UNESCO, the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) and the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) have launched the "ICGEB-TWAS-UNESCO/IBSP Joint Project in Basic Molecular Biology". The project aims to promote research on plant and animal pathogens that affect agricultural productivity in developing regions, and to create a network of laboratories involved in this research and that could stimulate South-South and North-South co-operation thus building research capacity in scientifically lagging countries and in the developing world at large.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

David R. Sokoloff Now Vice President on AAPT Executive Board

Source: Physics Today, February 20, 2009.

"The American Association of Physics Teachers announced that David R. Sokoloff has assumed the role of Executive Board Vice President. Dr. Sokoloff, Professor of Physics, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, will serve as Vice President in 2009, President-Elect in 2010, President in 2011, and Past President in 2012......

"Since 1999, he has been part of UNESCO teams presenting active learning workshops in Australia, Vietnam, Korea, Sri Lanka, The Philippines, Malaysia, Ghana, Tunisia, Morocco, India, Tanzania, Brazil, Mexico, Zambia, and Cameroon, most recently as part of the UNESCO program for developing countries, Active Learning in Optics and Photonics. He is editor/contributor to Active Learning in Optics and Photonics Training Manual (UNESCO, 2006)."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A World of Science (January-March 2009)

This quarter's issue of UNESCO's online magazine on the natural sciences includes the following contents:

10 Forum urges new approach to health research
11 Reform of tanzanian science system gets under way
12 Corrosive seas may prove costly for fisheries
13 SESAME team takes up residence
14 Towards a law of transboundary aquifers
14 Inequities in Latin America affect schoolwork
15 40 winners for photo contest

16 Giovanni Valsecchi on preparing for a cosmic disaster

18 Ageing youthfully
21 Ulugh Beg: the scholar on the throne

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Comment on the Natural Science Program of UNESCO

Frank Method and I are coordinating a graduate seminar at George Washington University titled "UNESCO: Agenda for the 21st Century". Last night one of the students presented an overview of UNESCO's natural science program and led a discussion of that program.

Her presentation showed the complexity of UNESCO's natural science activities with
There are also some 200 UNESCO university chairs in the natural sciences, as well as 22 Category 2 UNESCO science centers. These Category 2 centers are do not depend on UNESCO for funding and separate governance mechanisms. UNESCO also influences the global natural science community via programs and activities managed by its
  • 27 cluster offices covering 148 member states,
  • 21 national offices (each serving a single member state),
  • 10 regional bureaus (5 of which -- Nairobi, Cairo, Jakarta, Venice and Montevideo -- are for sciences),
  • and liaison offices in Geneva an New York.
UNESCO can reach out to the scientific community through its linkages with 350 NGOs (including key professional associations in science and engineering), partnerships with the private sector, thousands of UNESCO clubs and Associate Schools, and through the National Commissions for UNESCO in each of its 193 member states.

The UNESCO natural science program publishes many books and a few journals, publishes The World Science Report, and holds occasional global meetings on aspects of science policy. It has promoted global networking through such efforts as its global network of biosphere reserves. It has raised global awareness of the importance of natural sciences in social and economic development.

There are significant problems in understanding the impact of the natural science program. Hydrology can be used as an example. Many people do not recognize the importance of Hydrology and the impact it has on their lives. However, in a world facing future water shortages in many places, understanding the magnitude of water resources and the ways in which those resources may be managed will have increasing economic value, and indeed may help to maintain peace. Hydrology informs road and railroad builders as to how to protect their constructions from washing out. It informs urban planners as to how to plan flood-safe neighborhoods. It informs agricultural planners about beneficial and dangerous water conditions. UNESCO's work has encouraged the development of hydrology and trained many people in the science. The benefits of that work however comes in the improvements in works based on the application of the science, often by the people trained by those trained by UNESCO direct beneficiaries, and often only realized by losses averted long after the hydrological research.

Another example illustrates both the difficulty in estimating the value of the program and its importance. UNESCO helped catalyze the development of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which not only has helped revolutionize man's understanding of the nature of matter, but provided employment for Tim Berners-Lee while he developed the technology which underlies the World Wide Web. It would be impossible to evaluate the value of the World Wide Web and it would be equally impossible to decide how much of that value to attribute to UNESCO's influence, yet my intuition suggests that even a few such huge successes can justify all of UNESCO's budget.

The United States' scientific community has been very influential in the development of this program, and several of its components resulted from U.S. initiatives. On the other hand, parts of the program such as Man and the Biosphere have been politically controversial in this country, and of course the precipitous departure of the United States from UNESCO and its 19 year absense had a deleterious affect on this as well as other UNESCO programs. (However, the U.S. scientific community continued its involvement during the hiatus, and the U.S. Government not only continued to observe the program but also provided funding for some of the U.S. scientific cooperation with UNESCO during the two decade absence.)

The discussion in class focused on the fact that this complex program is the result of a six-decade long process by which activities have been added to the Natural Science program by the General Conference of UNESCO acceding to the initiatives of member states and the general political climate of the time, as well as to the mandate of UNESCO. Were one to begin anew at this moment, with UNESCO's mission and budget in mind, one might well develop a different portfolio of activities.

We also discussed the decentralization of the program governance. In part this may be a response to the need to have science programs governed by peer scientists with profound knowledge and understanding of the specific scientific issues before them. In part, the introduction of many different governing bodies within the same program may be due to donors seeking to control the way that their funds are spent, rather than leave that control to the 193 member nation General Conference. It was noted that the natural science budget of UNESCO is primarily funded through voluntary contributions rather than from the regular budget derived from the assessed contributions of the member states.

The budget of the Natural Science Program is miniscule as compared with global spending on the natural sciences, even when all the extrabudgetary resources are considered. Moreover, the control over those resources is very fragmented and decentralized. The fundamental question that was addressed was whether this approach resulted in effectiveness as UNESCO seeks to promote natural sciences globally and to promote the use of the natural sciences to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men.

It was suggested that the parsimonious budget has benefits in forcing the secretariat to network and work through partnerships, while it was also suggested that a larger budget might be appropriate for the program.

The recent review of UNESCO's science program called for more central planning and management as well as more coordination among natural science subprograms and with the social and human science program. It was suggested in our seminar discussion that a large degree of decentralization of decision making for such a program is very desirable; however, there probably should be more central coordination of the very peripheral elements such as the Category 2 centers.

The seminar with eight students and two coordinators small enough to allow strong participation, and the discussion seemed to be both vigorous and interested.

More about the class...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

IPDC Meeting: February 25-27

Local, pluristic media projects will be given a large forum later this month during the 53 meeting of the International Programme for the Development of Communication February 23 through the 25th in Paris. During this meeting, the Bureau of the Intergovernmental Council will meet to discuss and allocate funds for submitted projects regarding how freedom of expression and local media can be promoted in developing countries. For more details about submitted projects and for the agenda, click here.

The IPDC itself was created in 1981 as a result of a 1980 report given by the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems. Its focus is to rally and organize the international community to promote media development in developing countries. Since its inception, IPDC has supported over 1,100 projects in 139 countries.

Past IPDC-supported projects have included the International Freedom of Expression Exchange Network, Radio Toco for youth in Trinidad and Tobago, and the Cambodia Communication Institute.

Editiorial: The IPDC is a wonderful organization well worth supporting. For more information on how to become involved, click here

Memory of the World Program Survey

UNESCO's Memory of the World Program was created to encourage the preservation of the valuable archival holdings and library collections all over the world and to help ensure wide access to their contents. These U.S. contributions have been registered:
The program is currently conducting a survey and is seeking information from library, archives and museum specialists on awareness of the program and how that awareness could be increased.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

2009 World Conference: “The New Dynamics of Higher Education”

The 2009 World Conference to be held from 5 to 8 July 2009 at UNESCO, Paris. The last World Conference on Higher Education was held in 1998 and this year's Conference will provide a forum for review of the changes in higher education that have occurred since that time. The participants will also consider the strategic agenda for the development of higher education policies and institutions in the foreseeable future.
To what extent is higher education today a driver for sustainable development in the national and international context? Does the sector live up to the expectations placed in it to induce change and progress in society and to act as one of the key factors for building knowledge-based societies? How does higher education contribute to the development of the education system as a whole? What are the most significant trends that will shape the new higher education and research spaces? How are learners and learning changing? What are the new challenges for “quality” and “equity”?
Last June a preparatory conference was held on Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean. Conference participants included 25 ministers, deputy ministers and state secretaries; rectors and directors of higher education institutions; in total, there were 3,500 participants from 33 countries. Thus the Paris Conference in July should be very well attended.

The 2009 Conference should be of great interest to universities, community colleges and other institutions of higher education in the United States. Moreover, given the strength and prestige of the U.S. higher education system, the Conference should provide an important opportunity for the Obama administration to make an initiative in public diplomacy.

I am told that in the distant past, the U.S. delegation to such an event might include the presidents of 50 American universities. I also understand that given the change in administration little has been done to date to select the U.S. delegation for July. Given the busy schedules of the key leaders of our higher education system, one hopes that nominations will be made soon.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Risk-Based Evaluation of UNESCO’s Capacity to Deliver"

The Evaluation Section of UNESCO's Internal Oversight Service has just published an analysis of the risks perceived by the Organizations leaders as they face the organization's future. The top ten risks that were identified are:
1) The gap between expected and available resources;
2) Uncertainty about future regular budget and reliance on extrabudgetary funding;
3) Complex structure which does not promote intersectoral collaboration;
4) Lack of responsiveness to our clients;
5) Inadequate information and network systems;
6) Insufficient accountability;
7) Incomplete performance-based monitoring;
8) Untimely succession plan;
9) Imbalance between process control and program delivery;
10) Predominance of central services over programs.

Editorial Comment: These risks seem rather bureaucratic to me.
"SINCE WARS BEGIN IN THE MINDS OF MEN, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed."
From the preamble of UNESCO's Constitution
UNESCO was created after World War II. The United Nations, and especially the UN Security Council were created to allow the community of nations to take political action to prevent or limit wars. UNESCO was created simultaneously, with the primary mission of building the defenses of peace in the minds of men. The job of building those defenses is far from complete, and indeed the worsening global financial crisis may bring with it greater likelihood of intra and international wars. Perhaps the greatest risk faced by UNESCO is that it will not be able to make sufficient progress in the current crisis in building the defenses of peace in the minds of men.

I understand the charter of UNESCO, with the inclusion of education, science, culture and communications in its programmatic responsibilities, to include services to help develop the intellectual capacities of the world's societies. While the genesis of UNESCO was in the concerns of the allies to rebuild the educational and scientific institutions destroyed by World War II, decolonization has led to a major emphasis on helping developing nations to build towards "information societies" and indeed toward "knowledge societies".

UNESCO's flagship program in this respect is the Organization's support for Education for All, and that global initiative is surely going to fail to meet its goals set for 2015. Even those ambitious goals fall far short of what is needed to achieve a global community of knowledge societies. Thus there is a great risk that UNESCO will not adequately play the role envisioned by its founders and its member nations in helping to develop the intellectual capacities of the societies of its member nations.

John Daly
(The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO.)

Memory of the World logo competition

Image source: UNESCO

UNESCO has decided to launch an international competition for a new the logo for the Memory of the World Program. The logo should reflect the mandate of the Program which is "to promote, protect and preserve the world’s documentary heritage".

Since the logo will often be shown alongside of the UNESCO logo, the new logo should not repeat elements of the UNESCO logo. The two logos should look good side by side.

Proposals should be sent by 31 May 2009. The winner of the contest will be announced by July 2009 and will receive a monetary award of US $2,000. He/she will also be featured in a special news item on the Memory of the World website.

All rights for the selected logo will be held exclusively by UNESCO.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Some Readings About UNESCO's Ethics Program

The Avicenna Prize Medal
The Avicenna Prize is awarded every other year
for achievements in the ethics of science.

UNESCO has for several decades sought to build and reinforce linkages among ethicists, scientists, policy-makers and civil society to assist its member nations in enacting sound and reasoned policies on ethical issues in science and technology. UNESCO pursues its ethical mandate in primarily in the fields of
There are also cross sectoral programs, such as the work in ethical education of children which resulted in the production of a book, Learning to Live Together: An Intercultural and Interfaith Programme for Ethics Education.

The Bureau of Public Information has produced some short bulletins describing aspects of UNESCO's ethics work:
Of fundamental importance are three UNESCO Declarations dealing with ethics:
The Eubios Ethics Institute provides a useful webpage on UNESCO's ethics resources with many links to UNESCO documents.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Election of the Director Genera

A new Director General of UNESCO is to be elected, with the final decision taking place in the meeting of the General Conference in October. The election seems to be heating up. Here are excerpts from two recent articles:

From the Media Line (February 2, 2009):
Controversy continues to follow Egypt’s minister of culture Farouk Hosny as he attempts to build a global consensus for his candidacy as the next chief of the United Nations cultural organization, UNESCO, with Israel and the United States the most outspoken critics of his election......

The United States and Israel have been lobbying against Hosny’s candidacy, arguing that he is not equipped to deal with the international community. The Bush administration allegedly asked Egypt to reconsider the minister’s nomination.

An American Embassy official in Cairo confirmed the Bush administration was opposed to Hosny’s election, saying that his past comments and actions had threatened to undermine international cultural institutions.
From an article by Beth Day Romulo in the Manila Bulletin (February 9, 2009):
Ambassador Irina Bokova, of Bulgaria, is campaigning for the post of UNESCO Director General with a tour of 15 countries, to drum up support for her campaign. In Asia, she will also visit Japan, South Korea and Thailand, then travel to the United States, Moscow and African countries.
From Petar Kostadinov in the Sofia Echo (Bulgaria):

In May 2008, Bulgaria's Government nominated the country's ambassador to France, Irina Bokova, to become Unesco director-general in the place of Koichiro Matsuura, whose term of office expires in 2009.

Bokova has already received the full support of the majority partner in the ruling coalition, the Bulgarian Socialist Party.
From the Penki News (Lithuania) (January 30, 2009):
During his visit to Davos for the World Economic Forum, President of the Republic of Lithuania Valdas Adamkus met with President Ilham Aliyev of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Prime Minister Gillani Syed Yousaf of Pakistan.......

President Adamkus asked for Azeri support to the candidature of Ina MarĨiulionytė nominated by the three Baltic states for the position of UNESCO Director General. The issue of support for the Baltic candidature was also brought up in the meeting with the Prime Minister Gillani Syed Yousaf of Pakistan. According to the President, support from Pakistan as a member of UNESCO Executive Council would be highly appreciated in this matter.

Editorial Comment: I have heard rumors that current and former staff members of the UNESCO Secretariat are interested in running, if they can get the support of their governments.

I wonder whether there might be an intellectual leader from Latin America, India or China who might be a better candidate than any of those who have so far announced for the position. Ten years ago there were eleven candidates, so perhaps more will appear.

The time is fairly short for before the deadline for countries to nominate their candidates. For all practical purposes, the decision will be made long before October as the delegates and their governments pledge to support one candidate or the other. JAD


The UNESCO Future Forum will be held on 2 March 2009 at UNESCO Headquarters to reflect on the ramifications of the present financial and economic crisis and their implications for international cooperation in general and in particular for UNESCO’s domains, namely education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Celebration of Darwin Anniversaries

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species. Incidentally, 50 years ago there was a centennial edition of the book with an introduction by Julian Huxley (the first Director General of UNESCO, known for his seminal book Evolution: The Modern Synthesis); the centennial edition remains instructive and has been reissued this year in paperback. Huxley came from a distinguished family. His brother was the writer Aldous Huxley, and his half-brother a fellow biologist and Nobel laureate, Andrew Huxley; and his paternal grandfather was Thomas Henry Huxley, a friend and supporter of Charles Darwin and protagonist of evolution.

Down House, Darwin's Home and Workplace from 1842 until his death in 1882 has been on the list of tentative candidates for inclusion in UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites since 1999 and is the nominee of the United Kingdom for 2009.

As part of the commemoration of Darwin's work, UNESCO is sponsoring a series of symposia with the International Union of Biological Sciences. (Read more about the symposia.)

Perhaps the most enduring memorial to Charles Darwin would be the protection of the Galapagos Islands. These have a unique biological diversity, and Darwin's visit to the islands was instrumental in helping him to develop his theory of evolution. The Galapagos Islands have been recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1978 and the Galapagos National Park (of Equador) has been a part of UNESCO's global network of bioreserves since 1984. Unfortunately, the Galapagos Islands have been on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in Danger since 2007.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Editorial: Possible Fields for UNESCO Ethical Instruments

UNESCO is holding a special cycle of four ‘60 Minutes’ meetings in February 2009 to consider examines it might take to advance ethical standards, guidelines and principles in four areas: the environment and climate change, education systems, information society and human cloning. The effort is apparently under the direction of Henk Tenhaven, Some of the materials in support of that work are:
In support of that effort I present two ideas that UNESCO staff and advisors might explore in the area of ethics of science and technology.

A Convention on the Ethical Conduct of Research

There might be a need for work on the standards, guidelines and principles for the ethical conduct of research.

In the United States there are a large number of standards and guidelines for researcher that include:
  • The ethical treatment of human subjects
  • The ethical treatment of non-human primates
  • The ethical treatment of other laboratory animals (not including rats and fish)
  • The ethical treatment of livestock
  • The ethical treatmenet of wild animals
  • The containment of hazardous materials
  • The containment of human pathogens
  • The containment of animal pathogens
  • The containment of exotic species
  • The containment of genetically altered organisms
  • The international shipment of plants and plant materials
  • The international shipment of hazardous materials
  • The public availability of experimental data
  • Fraud and deceit in the proposals for research funding or in the description of research results
  • Plagerism
For many years I managed programs which financed collaborative research between scientists in the United States and scientists in developing nations. It was my experience that many developing countries did not have strong institutions to deal with one or more of these ethical issues.

An example that seems humorous in retrospect may illustrate the problem. One of the programs on which I worked involved studies of the mosquito vectors of malaria. In such research it is often necessary to use "human baits" -- people who sit outside and let mosquitos bite them so that the mosquitos can be captured and studied. Many people serving as human baits come down with malaria. In the peer review of an early proposal for a study under the program, the reviewers asked about the protection and treatment of the people involved as human baits. We contacted the proponents of the project who responded that they would follow the WHO guidelines on the subject. The proposal was approved, and a series of other proposals were subsequently submitted and approved, all of which relied on the WHO guidelines. It was only later that we discovered that there were no WHO guidelines for the ethical treatment of people serving as human baits in mosquito vector research.

International research collaboration has been increasing for decades. All such collaborations in principle require that the research be conducted in accord with the ethical standards of the countries in which each of the researchers works. Moreover, the research must pass the review panels and procedures institutionalized by the countries involved.

There are a number of intergovernmental organizations that relate to this situation including UNESCO, FAO and WHO. Of course other intergovernmental organizations or programs that fund research, such as the World Bank and other international financial institutions and the UNDP are also affected. UNESCO may have the broadest mandate among these to deal with the ethical conduct of research, especially under the auspices of its Commission on the Ethics of Science and Technology.

Perhaps UNESCO might convene a meeting with representatives of the relevant intergovernmental agencies, working scientists and experts in the ethics of the conduct of research to consider whether an international instrument for the harmonization of guidelines, standards principles in this field might be useful.

The Ethical Responsibilities of Governments to Support Regulatory Research

Another area that might be explored is the responsibilities of governments to carry out research to enable appropriate regulation of emerging technologies. It seems to me that if industrial R&D is heavily funded within a country in areas such as new materials, biotechnology, nanotechnology, or pharmacology then the government of that country should have a responsibility to fund the research required to establish a basis for suitable regulation of the commercial application of the technologies. While UNIDO might have a role to play in this field, it seems to me that regulatory science is not really under the jurisdiction of any other UN agency. Therefore UNESCO might quite appropriately lead in exploring whether some instrument might be appropriate to require signatory nations to allocate public resources to regulatory research in an appropriate ratio to the national Gross Expenditures on Research and Development of emerging technologies.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Editorial: A Concern Raised by Change in U.S. Members of COMEST

Robert P. George, a U.S. citizen, is currently a member of UNESCO's World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST). Midge Decter, another U.S. citizen, is now listed among the former members of the Commission.

The Commission, founded in 1998 with a Bureau provided by the Social and Human Sciences program of UNESCO, is an advisory body and forum of reflection composed of 18 independent experts. "The Commission is mandated to formulate ethical principles that could provide decision-makers with criteria other than purely economic."

Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, where he lectures on constitutional interpretation, civil liberties and philosophy of law. According to Wikipedia, he "is a prominent proponent of 'New Natural Law Theory,' a distinctive approach to moral, political, and legal philosophy that views moral truths as accessible to rational inquiry, and postulates as the criterion of sound ethical judgment the integral directiveness of various basic and irreducible aspects of human fulfillment, such as knowledge, friendship, critical aesthetic appreciation, and personal authenticity and integrity." He currently serves on the U.S. President's Council on Bioethics and "is involved in pro-life and pro-family advocacy."

Midge Decter is described by UNESCO as an author and editor. She is also a member of the board of trustees of the Heritage Foundation, the board of Security Policy, Institute on Religion and Public Life, Philadelphia Society and is chairperson of the Clare Booth Luce Foundation.

Editor's comment: These are the only two people from the United States who have served on COMEST with the exception of ex officio members. Both are very conservative politically; both have ties to the Bush administration. While Professor George appears to be a distinguished legal expert with a strong interest in a number of ethical issues, neither seems expert in the ethics of science and technology.

The most recent meeting of COMEST, for example, dealt with the following topics:
  • Environmental ethics, including ethical implications of climate change;
  • Science ethics, including particularly the implementation of the 1974 Recommendation on the Status of Scientific Researchers;
  • Nanotechnology ethics, and;
  • Information ethics.
These are very complex issues and COMEST is expected to deal with them with deep understanding of the science and technology as well as with the applicable ethical principles and theories.

It is the responsibility of UNESCO to appoint the members of this Commission. It should do so seeking first to assure that the individuals are not only qualified professionals, but global leaders in their understanding of the ethics of science and technology. Its secondary responsibility is to assure that the Commission as a whole represents a spectrum of philosophical positions so that its recommendations are not unduly biased toward any one point of view.

The appointment in recent years of two U.S. citizens who have such close ties to the Bush administration and such apparent lack of expertise in the ethics of science and technology, taken together with the lack of appointments of U.S. citizens prior to the reentry of the United States into UNESCO, makes me suspect that there may have been undue deference by UNESCO's Secretariat to governmental representatives in the appointments of members to this Commission. If so, that would be most regrettable!

It is the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State to pressure UNESCO resist undue political pressures from the governments of member states. While the U.S. government, in cooperation with the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, can be very helpful to UNESCO in helping to identify Americans with the necessary qualifications to serve on UNESCO's advisory bodies, it should do so with considerable tact and diplomacy. It should certainly refrain from pressuring UNESCO to appoint unqualified persons because of their close ties with the administration in power. If the State Department indeed pressured UNESCO to appoint these two people to COMEST, that too would be most regrettable!

John Daly
(The opinions expressed above are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO.)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

2009 Will Be “The Year of Climate Change” for UNESCO

Ban Ki-moon has stressed that 2009 will be "the year of climate change" culminating in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-15) in Copenhagen in December 2009.

UNESCO will host two conferences in 2009 on climate change and education, and climate change and journalism, in addition to preparing sessions at the third World Climate Conference.

UNESCO OER Discussion: Open Access

Next week offers a wonderful opportunity to begin exploring and contributing to the voices and educational resources of the global community. Beginning on February 9, UNESCO's Open Educational Resources (OER) community is launching a three-week discussion on the subject of access issues to its web-based materials that are used for teaching, research, and learning. The discussion is open to all and ends February 27.

The first week will focus on identifying and classifying the primary concerns in accessing OER materials. Then, the second and third weeks will be devoted to sharing solutions to the problems encountered when accessing them. The discussion will be facilitated by Bjoern Hassler, a senior research associate at the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies.

New and established voices are extremely welcome; if you desire to participate, please contact Catriona Savage. Please note you need to indicate you would like to become a member of the community to be given the ability to participate in present discussion. The discussions will take place in English, although there are translation tools available, and will take place through a community mailing list.

The OER Community itself began in 2005 and has over 700 members from 102 countries that includes 72 developing countries. Slightly over half its members come from Western Europe or North America; around half of its members are also affiliated with or work for a university. For more information on its vast resources:

New Issue of the UNESCO Courier: Submerged memory

Underwater remains dating back to the first century B.C. (Croatia)
© D.Frka/Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture, Croatia

More than three million shipwrecks are lying on the ocean floor today. Hundreds of underwater decorated caves, towns and monuments remain to be discovered. How can we make use of the knowledge contained in these remains? How can they be presented to the general public? This issue of the Courier tackles these questions.

This issue was prepared in collaboration with UNESCO’s Section of Museums and Cultural Objects. It coincides with the entry into force of the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage this January and the first Meeting of States Parties to the Convention, which will be held 26 and 27 March at UNESCO.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

UNESCO’s photo contest on The Changing Face of the Earth

The UNESCO's photo contest on the Changing Face of the Earth has been won by Anil Risal Singh from India in the adult category.

Education for All

This weeks session of our seminar on UNESCO at George Washington University focused on the Education for All program, and UNESCO's role in its monitoring and coordination.

While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights identified basic education as such a right, when the first EFA meeting was held in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990 few development professionals regarded the concept as more than a pipe dream, something beyond the realm of possibility. Today, 19 years later, even though the 2008 EFA status report said that the goals will not be reached by 2015, most development professionals not only feel that universal primary education is possible, but that it is within reach.

  • the donor community has narrowed the scope of the efforts to focus on primary schooling rather than the more expansive concerns of lifelong learning promoted in the 1990's
  • the quality of schools is dismal in far too many countries
  • the financial crisis that is before us for the next few years makes it unlikely that the financial commitments of national governments or of donors will be met.
Still, the progress made in expanding basic education to reach hundreds of millions more kids is a great triumph for the world.