UN Day remarks by Nardos Bekele-Thomas, Resident Coordinator at the opening of the Model UN Debates-South Africa

Over the past 75 years, the United Nations has been instrumental in creating an important platform for dialogue between nations with the sole intention of build

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, future diplomats and leaders of our world. How wonderful it is for me to kick start our UN @75 Celebrations in your company. It is equally exciting to be in a room with such unlimited potential – the potential to innovate and find solutions to many of the developmental challenges facing our youth. You are the generation to take the baton from me and my generation to continue the work of bringing a better life for all – particularly those who live in poverty, inequality, conflict and violence. 

For many years I have watched in awe how you – the young orators confidently and enthusiastically participate in these Model UN debates – especially on a weekend – AND so close to exams. I want to thank the South African Institute of International Affairs for hosting this Model UN debate with us to mark UN Day. 

Almost every year at this time we are confronted with the question: Is the United Nations still relevant? As we ponder this question and its answer – we do so fully cognisant that we are in a very different world from 1945 when the UN was founded. We have newer challenges confronting us while still enduring some from 75 years ago. These range from economic and social development within and between nations, to gender inequality and poverty and of course the emergence of climate change as one of the most daunting challenges of our time. What is abundantly clear is that all these cannot be solved by any individual nation. It requires collaboration, engagement, a partnership, sharpened focus and action of all players in the international community. 

Over the past 75 years, the United Nations has been instrumental in creating an important platform for dialogue between nations with the sole intention of building a better world for all. To this end, Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals have been a significant milestone in defining the future we want. This blueprint for development would not have been possible without the leadership and convening power of the United Nations. 

But we also know that the attainment of the goals is near impossible without the requisite partnerships and financing. In this regard, the UN has also played a vital role in elevating the issue of financing for development to achieve the goals. We are convening stakeholders from the development AND finance sectors to find innovative methods to financing development. We must consider all approaches and innovations to transform the global financial architecture and secure greater resource flows for developing countries. These are all important contributions that would have otherwise been very difficult to achieve without an effective multilateral system.

As we look to the future, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that development is not the domain of Governments only. It is an exercise that must include the active participation of non-state actors such as civil society and the private sector.

In many parts of the world there is a real trust deficit between Government and these non-state actors. The UN, through its neutrality and power to convene, can and must play a greater role to bring these various actors together for progress. This is one way of guaranteeing a whole-of-society approach to development and transformation. That whole-of-society approach also begins here – with you – at these Model UN Debates. 

The UN country office in South Africa is proud to have supported this endeavor since 1995. We have seen the programme develop and grow over the years. I applaud and acknowledge the research precision, dedication, commitment and time you put into these debates. It gives me hope for the quality of leadership we are nurturing. The Model UN Debates have produced some really outstanding individuals who have gone on to make major contributions across various sectors. Some have even proceeded to the United Nations Headquarters in New York and embarked in careers in international diplomacy. In my own office, a student from the first cohort in 1995, who travelled to the UN in Geneva and then joined former President Nelson Mandela at the UN General Assembly in New York, now serves as the Partnerships and Development Finance Officer. There’s no telling where the class of 2020 will find itself. 

The skills you acquire through this process will carry you throughout your professional careers regardless of the path you choose. We are proud to be part of this journey in shaping your future and providing you with the necessary support and platform to gain a head start. 

These debates train you in the delicate art of Diplomacy, whilst being constrained by having to adhere to government policy versus personal opinion.

Today you will put this art and science into action. 

I will keenly follow your arguments on today’s topic “the Future we Want and the UN we need”. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it much change to our regular way of life from the way we learn, the way we conduct business and interact with family and friends. The pandemic has also impacted some of the gains made in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals and achieving Agenda 2030. But I must hasten to say that all is not lost, and that is why I will be listening with keen interest some of the solutions that you will put forward today. 

The pandemic has shown us just how important working together is – from the various vaccination trials to the financial contributions between member states and provision of PPE’s as well as the various support networks that have been formed to assist people in managing the virus and its impact – we realize that we cannot fight this pandemic in isolation. 

I want to leave you with the words of South Africa’s first democratically elected President, Nelson Mandela who said, “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.” 

May these words guide you to VICTORY.

I wish every team the best of luck and we hope to engage with you all soon, hopefully in a less virtual but more social setting. 

Thank you.

Speech by
Nardos Bekele-Thomas
Resident Coordinator
Nardos Bekele-Thomas
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office
United Nations Information Centre
United Nations Children’s Fund