Sunday, December 05, 2010

Gretchen Kalonji on the UNESCO Natural Science Program

Gretchen Kalonji was appointed Assistant Director General of UNESCO and placed in charge of its Natural Science Program earlier this year. She is the highest ranking American on the UNESCO staff.

She recently spoke at the SciTech Europe conference. I quote from the coverage of her remarks:
"We exist to serve our member states," Kalonji said at Public Service Events' SciTech Europe conference. "One of the strengths of UNESCO is that we house large-scale intergovernmental science programmes, most of which focus on areas of science that really can't be done by one nation alone."

Some 200 UNESCO chairs sit at universities across the world, creating a collaborative "network of networks", providing "a good neutral space for convening scientific discussions for issues that are often very difficult to address".

The organisation has, Kalonji explained, placed Africa at the forefront of its recent policies, and seeks to utilise indigenous knowledge wherever possible, an area that she is keen to pursue, along with disaster relief – an area she described as "important and ripe for innovation" – and improving gender equality.

But she expressed her concerns and frustrations that the organisation had struggled to widen its scope beyond working with governments.

She said: "UNESCO hasn't done a very good job, to date, in partnerships with other sectors of society.

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