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This post also appeared on the Huffington Post.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday named former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet to head UN Women (full name: UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women), a new UN entity. Congratulations to Dr. Bachelet!

While the selection process was criticized for lacking openness and transparency, I hope that those of us, like me, who have been awaiting this appointment will put that concern behind us and let her get on with the job. In many ways, Michelle Bachelet is the ideal candidate, with the right credentials to make this important new entity function effectively:

  • Previous Head of State, Defense Minister & Health Minister of Chile—Check! (Read: Clout and Political Know-how)
  • Woman—Check!  (Read: Representation)
  • From the South—Check!  (Read: Representation)
  • Pediatrician & Epidemiologist—Check!  (Read: Technical skills)

Defining and operationalizing UN Women’s rather vague mandate (see paragraph 53 of the resolution), will be part of her job. I look forward to learning more about how she plans to shape this “entity” and make it a successful UN body.

The good news is that we have a strong leader taking charge in a foreign policy climate that embraces women and development. The United States in particular is poised to be a strong partner. Secretary Hilary Clinton has urged greater attention to the role of women and girls in global development and tasked the able Ambassador Melanne Verveer, who heads the Office of Global Women’s Issues, to make this happen. Here is an opportunity for U.S. leadership in a multilateral effort, helping to define key functions of this new UN entity: its policy role, program role, technical assistance role and the balance of all three.  I look forward to seeing well-thought-out decisions about objectives and results.

The less-good news involves funding. Bachelet will have a projected annual budget of $500 million, just half of what advocates had urged, and the majority of which must be raised from voluntary contributions. (Field operations, including support for local NGOs, will be funded by voluntary contributions from governments, while staffing and the normative functions will be covered by UN core support.)

Given the financial constraints, Bachelet would do well to think of UN Women as a start-up—a concept, one with serious potential investors, not a lot of money, but plenty of energy and commitment to make it succeed. With this in mind, she will need a savvy team that can help set up operations of the new entity, but not lose sight of its “profits”—the tangible outcomes for women.  How can we make this happen?  I suggest three early moves for Bachelet and her team:

  1. Set up an Advisory Group: Convene the best and the brightest thinkers and doers in global development from around the world—let’s not make it a NY-DC Club. Criteria for selection of members should include the following:

    a) Members should not only be gender specialists, but those who work in all sectors of development---trade, health, education, agriculture, climate, business, finance etc. By expanding the group of players, a two-way exchange of learning can occur.  Those that don’t normally think about women in their day jobs will begin to do so, and those who focus on women can learn how to make the world work for women.

    b) Members should include technical and policy representatives, but also those who make things happen on the ground—that is civil society, including women’s groups.

  2. Forge Key Partnerships with Other UN Agencies: UN Women, like UNAIDS, will have to leverage the strengths of other UN Agencies to succeed in its mission.  Without a doubt, the two Michel(e)’s—Sidibe and Bachelet—will establish a close relationship to share the do’s and don’ts of a UN entity vs. a UN agency.  Like UNAIDS, UN Women’s success will hinge on the relationships and therefore outputs/outcomes of other agencies like UNFPA, UNDP, so early learning on how to make the UN system work for UN Women —including the country and field operations--will be critical.
  3. Develop and Share a Communication and Learning Plan: How will the world know about UN Women and whether it is making a difference?  Early and careful thinking about how UN Women will share information (such as how it will define success) and learning as it progresses to a fully-functioning UN entity is key for its survival.  If stakeholders are kept in the dark, UN Women will lose a powerful support base in countries where it could have the greatest impact and/or the financial support of its funders. Again, the smartest communicators will need to be part of the UN Women team—to create and share messages about its objectives, plan and results in addition to contributing to a knowledge base about women and development.

What do you think will be important for the success of UN Women? Share your ideas here!