I recently read with some sadness — but little surprise — an announcement that France has decided to withdraw from The United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Joining earlier decisions by Australia, Canada and the US to do the same, and reportedly soon to be joined by Britain. The diplomatic reasons cited by the French government were financial constraints, but there had to be more about it than that.
I say sadness since I grew up and carried out my studies and preparation quite sure that the UN was going to be my place and challenge for life. My first assignment with them took me as a young development economist to the official opening conference in Athens in 1967, the first formal convening of the then latest member of the UN family. The key to rapid development of the Global South was industrialization, and UNIDO was supposed to be the vital interface.
What had happened? I picked up the phone and talked it over with a number of my UN colleagues from over the years, and the most interesting response — and the reason for this short post — was one I heard from a friend of many years who has given his life to working in the Global South and in the United Nations family.
He cited a number of reasons having to do with paralyzing rigidity, serious competence limitations, self-consuming bureaucracy and lack of any objective tests of performance, leading to a certain aimless wandering in the desert over the years and to this day. And to which he added the increasing ability of many of the developing nations to find more expert sources of counsel and support.
But his final wrap-up remark was so sharp that I feel compelled to share this with you. He wrote:
“The times they are a-changing…” Globalization has hit the dinosaurs of the UN
Sounds to me like it’s time for a reboot.
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