Wanted Now: A Pragmatic and Visionary Leader for the Improved UN Entity for Women

October 02, 2009
This is a joint post with Geeta Rao Gupta. In all of last week’s hoopla in NYC with the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the Clinton Global Initiative in full swing, news about an improved, composite U.N. entity for women (still to be formally named) went under the radar. The idea for consolidating several U.N. agencies into one has been in the works for about three years, but was finally adopted just two weeks ago. The resolution merely approves the creation of the entity and states that the Secretary General should announce the final plan for the structure and mission of the agency at next year’s UNGA. Now that’s classic UN style—to take one entire year to figure out what has already been figured out! It’s time for urgent and quick next steps, which if implemented smartly (not just politically) can make all the difference. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon must move quickly and strategically to appoint a technically qualified, pragmatic, high-performing Under Secretary General (USG) to lead the agency. A few different proposals are circulating with suggestions for how the agency should be structured and purposed, but the process should be led by the new USG. Selecting a leader should be based not on national quotas, politics or horse-trading. We need a leader who:
  1. Gets it: Technically, the leader should be an expert on global development and women and most importantly someone who can narrow the distance between a U.N. level agency decision/action and impact on communities on the ground, in villages, towns and cities.
  2. Knows the ropes: Understands how the U.N. system does and does not work and can challenge the old way of doing things.
  3. Has the vision and the smarts to get the job done: A pragmatic vision to drive an effective business strategy for an agency that will empower women in the world’s poorest communities.
The U.S. Government’s current and high level focus on women and girls in global development offers a perfect reform moment in the history of the U.N. and global development. The Secretary General must seize it now. The world cannot wait any longer.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.