Monday, October 5, 2009

Battle for Leadership is just the beginning for UNESCO’s Bokova

It was a long, drawn out fight to determine the next leader, and the work of repairing and strengthening the organization which suffers financially means the real battle has only just begun. I’m not talking about a company, but about the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization more commonly known by its acronym, UNESCO. This past week, Irina Gueorguieva Bokova, a former Bulgaria foreign minister, won over her apponent, Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni. There is little question that Hosni’s comments that he was ready to ‘burn’ Israeli books led many to question him as anti-semetec – hardly appropriate for the leader of a global educational and cultural institution. Bokova will need to spend much of her first few weeks building bridges with those countries who supported Hosni, a painter much favored by the Arab world.

But Bokova has more to do than ease complicated relationships. To achieve some degree of sustainable development, she will need to put the ‘S’ for ‘science’ back into UNESCO, which has, of late, done little to advance science (much less on science for enhancing sustainability) around the world. If she is able to do that – and thus far there is only a little evidence that she is interested in sustainable science policies - sustainable development will have a greater chance of success. Like so many UN organizations, UNESCO has the potential to make a tremendous difference. And as is unfortunately all too common, the extent to which it can make that difference is compromised by a lack of financial resources, diverse political commitments, and weak political leadership. Hopefully Bokova can make a difference in at least some of those constraints.

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