Key takeaways from UNSG candidate Georgieva's first UN appearance

By Amy Lieberman 05 October 2016

Kristalina Georgieva, candidate for the next U.N. Secretary-General, speaks to journalists following her exchange with member states on her candidacy. Photo by: Cia Pak / U.N.

Kristalina Georgieva is a late arrival to the United Nations race for secretary-general, formally throwing her hat in the ring just last week. But her tardiness didn’t appear to her detriment during the Bulgarian candidate’s first public dialogue with U.N. General Assembly representatives on Monday.

As Kenya’s U.N. Ambassador Macharia Kamau put it during the two-hour session, “Maybe, if you are the right person for the job, you were right on time.”

Georgieva, a former World Bank vice president now on leave from her position as budget chief of the European Commission, fielded queries from ambassadors, and later, journalists. Topics ranged from the U.N. response to the Haiti cholera epidemic and the Syrian refugee crisis to her managerial experience and opinions on U.N. reform.

Some questions remain unanswered, including whether Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power over her selection, will support her. “We live, we see. That is what the Russians would say,” Georgieva remarked to U.N. journalists Monday afternoon.

The session provided an overview of what Georgieva may prioritize if selected as secretary-general. Here are some key takeaways.

1. Gender parity and U.N. reform.

Georgieva said that as secretary-general she would invite women to apply for senior managerial jobs. Despite some gains in lower ranks of the U.N. system, women still only hold 21 percent of high-level positions, a proportion Georgieva said “is just not good enough.” She continued, “Forty-two percent is not good enough. Fifty percent is good enough.” She also noted her success in doubling the number of women in senior roles at the European Commission.

At one point, Georgieva also waved a copy of the U.N. charter and referred to Article 101, which calls for U.N. staff from a wide geographical basis.

“This means that we, at the management, look like the world that has sent us here,” she said.

2. Practical action.

Now is the time for implementation, Georgieva said. Members states have adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris climate change agreement and the Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction. Implementation is now key and could shape the new secretary-general’s legacy.

Georgieva offered a few ideas for getting started, many of them focusing on improving efficiency and results. Within her first 90 days as secretary-general, Georgieva says she would bring the U.N. and various regional organizations together to look at more efficient ways of working.

“If you want to get more money, you have to first demonstrate that you are using the money you have well,” she said. “And it would be a priority for me to demonstrate the resources we are trusted with in the U.N., that they are dedicated in the most efficient … way to serve our people.”

She also called for expanded collaboration on the SDG agenda. On peacekeeping, she said the department should move more nimbly. “It should not take nine months for a peacekeeping mission to be put into place,” she said.

3. Preventative work to avoid disasters.

Georgieva called for better prevention and early-crisis management to avoid disasters spiraling out of control.

She pointed to the flow of refugees leaving Syria, a conflict now in its sixth year. “We failed to see the warning signs of how bad it was going to be,” she said. “We have to identify these warning signs much earlier and not be complacent and act.”

She echoed a similar sentiment on the Haiti cholera epidemic, which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took responsibility for in August.

One “big mistake of the U.N.,” she explained, was “dragging its feet for a long time” before it recognized its peacekeeping unit’s role in spreading the disease. An $80 million trust fund underway will be “very key to help” and respond to the outbreak’s ongoing aftermath, she said.

4. The work is personal.

Georgieva reflected on her previous position as European commissioner for humanitarian aid, international cooperation and crisis response as the ”job that impacted me the most” and made her a better person.

She recalled once going from spending time with her grandchild, a talkative toddler, to a health clinic in the Sahel region. The silence amongst the admitted, sick children was “deafening.”

Georgieva’s words and direct manner seemed to echo with some observers on and off social media.

Georgieva spoke with the Security Council in private on Tuesday before the group takes one last straw poll vote Wednesday.

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About the author

Amy Liebermanamylieberman

Amy Lieberman is a reporter for Devex, based out of New York, where she covers global development around the city and out of the United Nations. She has previously worked as a freelancer, reporting on the environment, social justice issues, immigration and development. Her coverage has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, Slate and The Los Angeles Times, among other outlets. She received her M.A. in politics and government from Columbia Journalism School in 2014.

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