Friday, October 30, 2009

The UN and Global Challenges Conference

I just got back from a conference held at Fudan today by the United Nations Foundation on the subject of the UN's current global challenges. I was really excited for the conference, given the topic of interest and the star studded panel of people-who-have-influenced-so-much-of-my-studies-and-research. But, I walked away feeling more frustrated and limited than before.

The talk had such potential for giving real information, but it seemed as though the panelists underestimated their audience's intelligence and came unprepared to give that information, or even just opinions - which is really what we were all looking for. Granted, they received several fluff questions that I could have easily answered (but they didn't really even go in depth into answering those) but they also got some great questions which they pretty much avoided answering entirely.

Each panelist started off the discussion by stating what they thought the major problem facing the UN was, and a question and answer followed. Senator Timothy Wirth talked about climate change. Professor Emma Rothschild talked about climate change as a source for the economic crisis and urban planning as a way to combat both issues. Professor Ni talked about what his students talked about. Ted Turner talked about nuclear proliferation and climate change in terms of energy production. Muhammad Yunus talked about technology and the UN as a vehicle for our generation. Professor Yuan Ming talked about a need for leadership and and a projection of Chinese culture. Then the Q&A started.

After that (seemingly) good start (since the Chinese professors didn't actually say anything), things just got frustrating. Yunus started things off by talking about how nothing can be created until you imagine it. Without a vision you're just drifting. Having a vision leads to organization, and common vision leads to inspiration. You should use this inspiration to start small and then get involved big. This is great, but frustratingly was the answer to almost every question. The panelists responded to almost every inquiry ("What should we do about climate change?" "What is the UN doing about internal reform?" "How should we use technology?" "How do we influence the people in power?") with a plea to our generation to join the UN or government organizations. Over and over again it was the "have a vision and go for it, the power lies in the young generation" speech. Who are you, Walt Disney? We've all heard the "if you can dream it you can do it" speech. What we were looking for was the inspiration for that action and the affirmation that SOMETHING is going on among the higher-ups right now. Also, is the UN doing anything NOW, or is it just WAITING for my generation to join up and fix it - because thats what all these appeals were making things sound like.

Not to mention, I, and my peers would LOVE to get involved with the UN or a government organization, but for someone of my age, means and experiences it's so easy to feel limited by the opportunities available. Don't talk to me like I've never tried and that there are limitless opportunities out there if I'll only commit myself to them. I guarantee you half the people in this room have tried and it's not that we're all under-qualified - we come from some of the best universities and the best international affairs programs, but the fact is those internships are competitive, there are only so many entry level spots available in government, the UN can't take everyone who was a vision - you need to do something big to stand out so we needed inspiration from you to feel like it was POSSIBLE for us to become involved.

After the discussion was over I went up to Senator Wirth and attempted to articulate this, although I think he thought I was more accusing him of denying me some state department internship or something, which was not my intention. He gave me a little talk on the UN Foundation not having the resources to provide internships for more than 20 or so people. I tried to backpedal and say that I understood that - which I do - and explain that I just wanted some advice on what else I could be doing. Myself and so many of my peers are unable to get these opportunities, what else can we do to educate ourselves and work towards bettering the world? He had nothing to say besides commenting that the internet must be a great resource.

The internet is a great resource, but I want to learn and I want to one day be able to make a difference, and I want to not be frustrated by the lack of achievement I have going with my "vision." Sometimes it's not enough to "post it to my wall for inspiration" per Mr. Yunus' advice and too often the "start small action" is under-appreciated and overlooked. The least you could do is give me an idea of what is going on on the international stage regarding these issues right now. What should I use the internet to be researching?

All that said, there were some interesting ideas discussed in this panel and I did take copious notes. Professor Rothschild in particular had really interesting things to say regarding urban planning and specific changes that could be made in the economic model of mass consumption in developing countries. Mr. Yunus discussed his utopian vision of a world without passports and visas, and the problem institutions being based on state lines even though these problems are cross-boundary. He also talked about the philosophical interpretation of the human being as profit-maximizing. But, none of these ideas were expanded upon the way I would have liked. It seemed like the panel thought they were talking to uninformed children. They asked if we had ever heard of Model UN or the Copenhagen summit. Sure, there are people who haven't, but not those people who fought to get tickets to this particular conference.

Bottom line, you're preaching to the choir and I think we all really wanted to hear a bit more.

1 comment:

  1. This is a very true!! Professor Lubekman (sp?) would be proud. I think there are just three ways to truly make a difference and they all require money and support. You need parents who were willing to let you make a difference when you were younger (ex.let you travel, gave you a word view, paid for trips, instilled values of making a difference, etc) and you continue from there. This leads you to have major experience that will secure you an entry level job.
    Or your parents are senior level people in organizations that already do it who can get you connections and probably already let you travel with them. Or you have a trustfund and want to use it to better the world. But you still need money and the support of older generations to really make a difference. Le sigh.