New UNESCO Chief Eyes Strategic Reforms

Irina Bokova could be considered lucky once she is formally approved as the next UNESCO director general. The Bulgarian diplomat won't have to move or adjust to life in glamorous Paris, where the U.N. agency's headquarters are located: She has been her country's ambassador to France since June 2005.

Bokova emerged victorious after a hard-fought race for the United Nations cultural, scientific and education agency against eight other candidates, including Farouk Hosny, Ivonne A-Baki and Sospeter Muhongo. Devex interviewed those three candidates in the past weeks. UNESCO's 193-member General Conference is expected to approve Bokova for the job in mid-October.

Is UNESCO as lucky as Bokova?

With her diplomatic background, Bokova certainly appears qualified for the job. She has been Bulgaria's permanent UNESCO delegate since the country joined the organization in 2007, and has served as deputy chairperson of its Group of Francophone Countries.

Looking back is not as important as looking forward now, of course. So what can UNESCO - and the international aid community - expect from its new leader?

Bokova's vision for UNESCO is guided by what she calls a "new humanism," an approach to science, education, culture development that is ethical, social and humane.

She has pledged to coordinate with member states, nonprofits and the intellectual community to streamline UNESCO operations and focus on a reduced set of priorities. She wants to create a Scientific Advisory Committee made up of luminaries in the field that will help to address key challenges such as climate change, biodiversity, mitigation of natural disasters, water resources management, energy and pandemics. She plans to kick-start a debate about the role of culture in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. She is advocating for "more coherent coordination of good governance, quality education, financing education and reducing disparities based on gender or income," and wants to press development partners to "deliver on commitments and ensure the timely flow of adequate resources through various bilateral and multilateral aid channels in accordance with the Doha Declaration."

Would Bokova's planned reduction of UNESCO priorities prompt job cuts? How would this affect the organization and U.N. in general?

What specific steps would she take to include culture in the MDGs? How significant would this be for international development? Would she be able to compel donors to follow through on funding pledges?

Would UNESCO be lucky to have Bokova as its director general? That surely remains to be seen.

About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.