The 5 Best Moments of UN Week

As the dust settles at the United Nations, traffic on the East side loosens up, and everyone prepares for a killer Global Festival in Central Park tomorrow, I thought I would take a look back at some highlights from UN Week.

And what a UN Week it was!

1) Best Speech #1: France

Unlike the flowery prose, showmanship and occasional bluster of  his predecessor Nicholas Sarkozy, French President Francois Hollande has a reputation for being fairly low key. It may be time to cast aside such preconceptions.

President Hollande delivered a forceful address, which actually made news when he indicated that France would support a West-African led military intervention in Northern Mali.  He also gets points in my book for name-dropping UNITAID and championing the cause of UNITAID’s leader Philippe Douste-Blazy who has been advocating for a financial transaction tax to fund global health. “I would like to welcome the success of UNITAID, financed by a levy on airline tickets,” President Hollande told world leaders. “Today we need to take a second step and introduce a tax on financial transactions – that has already been agreed to by several European states – so that the capital movements that profit from globalization can contribute to international development and the fight against pandemics.”

It was a surprisingly robust speech. Bien joué, M. Hollande! 

2) Best Speech #2: Tunisia

President of Tunisia Moncef Marzouki offered resounding remarks calling for nothing less than the end of dictatorships around the world. “Dictatorship is a disease,” he said, which he compared to polio and small pox.  Like polio and small pox, Marzouki called for the international community to come together around an eradication drive…but for dictatorships. He even proposed a  new “International Constitutional Court,” akin to the International Criminal Court, that would help depose dictators around the world.

The idea may seem fanciful, but coming from a man who has just unseated a longstanding autocrat, President Marzouki’s remarks from the rostrum were stirring.

3) Most Meme-Worthy Moment

Clearly this:


4) Best Side Event: A final push to eradicate polio.

Pictured from left to right, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, Bill Gates, co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, polio survivor Ramesh Ferris, President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, Wilfred J. Wilkinson, chair Rotary Foundation Trustees, and Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of World Health Organisaton, at a high level event, ‘The Legacy of a Polio-Free World’, at the United Nations,Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012. The event highlighted progress and challenges in the effort to achieve global eradication of polio. (Stuart Ramson/Insider Images for UN Foundation)


Not all the action takes place on the podium of the General Assembly. Rather, various groups use the opportunity presented by world leaders all being on one place at the same time to hold so-called “high level events” around a particular topic or theme.

On Thursday, the presidents of the three countries in which polio remains endemic –Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan —  took to podium with Bill Gates, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and pledged their support to eradicate polio in their countries.

This was a very powerful demonstration of political commitment. Now, the money needs to flow from donors to help them fulfill their pledges.

5) Outside the UN

Social Good Summit 

This was the year that the Social Good Summit went global. The summit was simulcast in seven different languages; and there were partner events in Mogadishu, Nairobi, Beijing and elsewhere around the world. As one participant put it, “The sun does not set on the Social Good Summit!”

It would be hard to pick just a single highlight, but the one’s that stood out to me were: US Chief Technology Officer Todd Park on the US government’s effort to turn data into “awesomeness;”  A UNICEF panel on innovative uses of social media for global development; and the inimitable Hans Rosling doing what he does best: making data come alive.

The event gets grander every year. This was certainly the best Social Good Summit yet.

Clinton Global Initiative 

Across town the Clinton Global Initiative held its fifth annual meeting. Several heads of state, dignitaries and celebrities all stopped by. So too, did Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Governor Romney used the opportunity to lay out his vision for foreign aid, while President Obama used his address to announce a new White House initiative to combat human trafficking.  The most interesting speaker, though, was Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. This was his first public address in the USA since becoming Egypt’s first democratically elected. He keynoted the closing plenary of CGI with a speech intended to reassure a rapt audience of his commitment to pluralism and democracy.

Other events deserve mention? Send me an email with highlights you’d like to see listed. UNDispatch-at-gmail-dot-com