Mr. President, Chairperson, Madam Director General, Excellencies. I am going to speak in French, at least a little bit; so please bear with me, especially those who are native French speakers. It is a pleasure to be here again with you for my second Executive Board.
Much has occurred since our last meeting. Shocking attacks on freedom of the press, violent extremism and cultural destruction only underscore the importance of UNESCO’s work.
These events provide the context for a set of core priorities for the U.S. at UNESCO that I would like to share.
But before outlining our strategic priorities, a word about the criteria used to select them. First, it goes without saying – but I will say it anyway – that our threshold criterion is that our priorities must be within UNESCO’s mandate and of high priority to the United States.
Second, our focus is on areas where there is a significant unmet need where we believe we can bring creative, impactful leadership.
Third, since results matter, there must be a strong likelihood of achieving tangible and sustainable results, which, among other factors, requires genuine political will for improvement.
And finally, we need strong NGO and private sector partners who will support and leverage our efforts.
Improving governance at UNESCO is a top priority for the United States. From the Boards I have served on, I know that an organization is only as strong as its leadership and governing body.
Dynamic, effective Boards can have a positive impact on an organization; ineffectual ones will not.
An informal poll taken during last month’s Governance retreat revealed that the vast majority of participating Member States and UNESCO staff believe that the Executive Board has significant room for improvement.
When we first started working on governance after the fall Executive Board meetings, we were uncertain if there was the political will for reform.
But the quality of the ideas that emerged from the retreat, and the 35 delegations joining an informal task force, show that there is an appetite — a hunger, even, — for constructive change, and I am hopeful we can make real headway.
A second priority is building a global coalition to combat violent extremism through educational resources that impart the lessons of the Holocaust and modern genocides. Violent attacks around the world and the intentional destruction of historic artifacts are painful reminders that UNESCO’s mandate to promote peace and inter-cultural dialogue remains unfulfilled, and requires even greater focus.
For this reason, we plan to launch a new public-private partnership to develop state-of-the-art, interactive digital education materials that will impact youth in meaningful ways.
I was struck recently by a New York Times account explaining how eight Norwegian teenagers were enticed to join ISIL by a Jihadist soccer star in their community. “Everybody loved him,” one teenager said. “He was the cool guy everyone wanted to be.”
As this story and many others illustrate, we need compelling inputs to persuade youth to reject the forces that divide, foment hatred and demonize the “other,” and equip them with the tools and values they need to embrace tolerance and inclusion.
A third priority is improving educational opportunities for girls and women, a core goal of UNESCO and the United States. Our focus is two-fold: improving literacy for primary school students through teacher training, use of mobile technologies, and early parental interventions, and expanding educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, art and math, known as (STEAM), for girls in secondary schools.
This summer, for instance, in conjunction with the U.S. State Department, UNESCO, and other partners, we will host a three-week camp in Rwanda for 120 girls – 30 from the United States and 90 from eight African countries. We hope to launch a similar program in the United States, and over time, to build other regional STEAM camp centers around the world.
The pilot Rwandan camp will expose girls not only to coding but to leadership and entrepreneurial training in a multi-cultural setting. Our goal is to activate interest in technology fields, and then provide opportunities for continuous learning at home. I invite my colleagues to help us identify powerful role models who can inspire the girls to expand their conceptions of what’s possible for their lives.
A fourth priority is deepening our work in protecting freedom of expression and the safety of journalists. We are focused on developing ways to elevate public attention to threats to press freedom, while enhancing training and other resources for journalists in danger zones, in conjunction with the UN Plan of Action.
Fifth, we are working actively to develop new UNESCO partners, including prominent private sector leaders and celebrities, who can help raise UNESCO’s visibility and impact.
Finally, in light of last week’s challenging meetings of the CR, we hope to facilitate further dialogue on how we can improve the functioning and impact of the committee to uphold UNESCO’s human rights mandate. But we need to respect CR’s governing rules, integrity, and commitment to consensus in the process.
As we mark UNESCO’s 70th anniversary, the United States reaffirms our commitment to find concrete and creative ways to help this organization advance. Together we can achieve new heights.