United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres sits down with Devex President and Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar. via YouTube.

NEW YORK — Fears that the world is spinning apart are commonplace today. Walls, stolen elections, jailed journalists, shuttered NGOs, even tweets can provoke this reaction. To kick off Devex’s United Nations General Assembly coverage, I spoke Wednesday with someone who quite literally gets a paycheck countering these trends and shackling the world together — U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.

The head of the U.N. had just returned from former Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s funeral in Ghana, an experience that must bring up thoughts of legacy. For Guterres, who ascended to one of the world’s most influential leadership roles in a precarious time, a big part of his own legacy will center on how much — or how little — progress is made on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate agenda during his tenure.

Guterres told me, “we are not doing enough” on either count. We are slipping behind due to a lack of “political will,” he said.

In recent years, the UNGA meeting has spawned a growing web of announcements, reports, high-level meetings, side events, conferences, galas, and cocktail receptions. It can feel like much activity with little to show for it, but the narratives formed here reverberate throughout the year in capitals and institutions around the world. They help to advocate for and focus that political will.

Guterres’ narrative is a combination of passion and pragmatism. He implores “urgency” while outlining practical steps from a reform of the U.N.’s resident coordinators to working more through the UN Global Compact to achieving more gender balance in U.N. positions. He didn’t utter the name “Trump” or the blended term “Brexit” once.

As Devex begins a week of UNGA coverage — including our own events, report, and special-edition newsletter — Guterres spoke to many of the themes we’ll be reporting on, from U.N. reform to noncommunicable diseases, to the climate finance architecture, and to #MeToo at the U.N.

The bottom line? According to Guterres, “either we are able to create the conditions to fully engage societies in general, the business community in general, or we will make [some] progress but we will not really correspond to what was the ambition expressed by all the heads of state and government when they approved the agenda 2030.”

NCDs. Climate change. Financing. Read more of Devex's coverage from the 73rd U.N. General Assembly here.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Raj Kumar

    Raj Kumar is the Founding President and Editor-in-Chief at Devex, the media platform for the global development community. He is a media leader and former humanitarian council chair for the World Economic Forum and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. His work has led him to more than 50 countries, where he has had the honor to meet many of the aid workers and development professionals who make up the Devex community. He is the author of the book "The Business of Changing the World," a go-to primer on the ideas, people, and technology disrupting the aid industry.