Government is not the best answer in some areas: U.N. foundation chief
The United Nations Foundation highlights the virtue of harnessing the power of the youth, state of women empowerment and role of the media
In an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya English, President and CEO of the United Nations Foundation Kathy Calvin highlights the virtue of harnessing the power of the youth, state of women empowerment and role of the media in tackling major challenges.
The interview was conducted on the sidelines of the World Government Summit 2016, held in Dubai from Feb. 8-10 2016.
Al Arabiya English: How far does an event such as the World Government Summit go in addressing the challenges the world faces today?
Kathy Calvin: I think a Summit about government cannot be more timely. Government is one of the last institutions which undergo real reform and revolution. We have seen the private sector, we have seen the Catholic Church and institutions and organizations all over the world that embrace change. So to have people come together and share their ideas on how to make things more responsive, faster and more digital, more inclusive, is always welcome. These are all very good things and it’s not like some are for and others against it, more people don’t even know how to think about it. You have to have a conference like this to even get people sharing ideas so the change can come.
Al Arabiya English: You grabbed the headlines by calling for the harnessing of the power of youth. Is enough being done in this regard?
Kathy Calvin: Not at all. A lot more needs to be done. I think simple things like having a youth minister [announced by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid] is a good first step as it does bring young people inside the system. There has to be more dialogue about communications going more digital. There has to be recognition that in some areas the government is not the best answer, maybe the private sector is, because that is where young people are used to getting the information or services. So I think we are in an era when this is all kind of experimental but we have a long way to go and there is too much lip service all around the world. It is very easy to say it but much harder to do it.
The media does a pretty good job in a crisis and a horrible job in keeping attention and focus on a problem. I don’t think we do a good job on solutions journalism, which can do so much good to inspire people. I think there is a market for it but for some reason it is not treated that way.Kathy Calvin
Al Arabiya English: What areas have the U.N. Foundation been involved in in recent times and what have you managed to achieve?
Kathy Calvin: We focused the last two years on two big things that took place in 2015. One is the adoption of the sustainable development goals. It was a total of 17 goals that 193 nations adopted to create a framework for development by 2030. We were involved in helping the negotiations among member states, the publicity of the goals themselves, and the launch. And now we are involved in helping to ensure countries take them seriously, citizens hold them accountable, and that we help the private sector get engaged. We were also very involved in the Paris climate agreement, that took place in December, helping make the case that this is no longer a conversation about science but about what needs to be done regardless of what caused it and that there are solutions that are actually good for us. Many businesses, states and organizations are already shifting to a lower carbon future because it is in their interest to do so.
Al Arabiya English: But we don’t live in a homogenous world and there are countries willing to collaborate and others that that lag behind. How do you bring all of them onboard and address the lack of compliance?
Kathy Calvin: I think the good news about this agreement is that every country brought their plan to the table. There wasn’t a common agreement on how to move forward. So we know some countries will prioritize renewables, others may prioritize reducing fossil fuels in a different way. But everybody has to move forward. We also know that while they make commitments, there is an agreement for reporting and strengthening of their commitments. I think we have to acknowledge that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation but if everybody is moving in the right direction, we think momentum will build.
Al Arabiya English: As someone who has been part of the media world, and understand how it operates, can you share your views on whether it has played the role it should have?
Kathy Calvin: Well, my criticism is the one you probably have as well, which is the media does a pretty good job in a crisis and a horrible job in keeping attention and focus on a problem. I don’t think we do a good job on solutions journalism, which can do so much good to inspire people. I think there is a market for it but for some reason it is not treated that way.
I think the Arab world is full of innovation, progress and stories that we don’t know about. I came here with my mind open and am eager to come back and learn more.Kathy Calvin
Al Arabiya English: What about women empowerment? Are things changing on that front and what is triggering it?
Kathy Calvin: They are. I went to Davos [World Economic Forum] this year where the percentage of women is very low. But the urgency and impatience about this issue and gender parity on pay, on family leave, number of women on panels, number of women on boards, in politics, all seem ready to burst. Not just women, but men also recognize that they are leaving money on the table and it’s a $28 trillion impact to the economy that we aren’t fully employing and utilizing. In this state of the economy you cannot afford not to take advantage of everything that’s there. I think we are about to see a big time shift in this movement.
Al Arabiya English: How would you sum up your visit to the World Government Summit and the region?
Kathy Calvin: I think the Arab world is full of innovation, progress and stories that we don’t know about. I came here with my mind open and am eager to come back and learn more. I see so many women empowered here and while I realize empowerment still may be a challenge there has been real progress and that’s very encouraging.
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