An Ambition for UNESCO

At a time when we see global tensions resurfacing, when we thought they had been eased, regression of fundamental freedoms, populations massively compelled to flee misery and violence, at a time when identity and religious vindications fuel national and international discord, at a time when environmental risks are becoming reality, UNESCO’s mission seems more crucial than ever.

UNESCO must ambitiously reassert its role as the conscience of the United Nations, in the founding words of Léon Blum, fully assume the entire scope of its missions and refuse any reductive vision of its mandate.

It is through education, culture, the dissemination of science and sustainable development, and the defence of humanistic values that UNESCO can bring to life the driving forces, the most sure in the long term, of the United Nation’s universal project of peace and democracy.

UNESCO is this unique and legitimate place that can offer men and women of goodwill a venue for dialogue, although not immune to world tensions, but allowing them to deal with these tensions other than through pointless stances of confrontation.

This ambition implies evolutions for UNESCO, in both the implementation of its missions and in its organization. UNESCO, as a forum for thought and operational organization, has a key role to play within the United Nations system.

It is important for it to embody each of the roles that it is entrusted, around the world, proactively and effectively, by using new technological and conceptual tools, by promoting a global approach in order to create synergies among all of its fields of intervention.

Education as a catalyst for development and gender equality

Although school enrolment has steadily risen throughout the world in recent decades, its progression has not been linear. School enrolment and the fight against illiteracy remain a priority for UNESCO, but the Organization must step up its action in a more targeted manner in areas requiring specific assistance for structuring basic education.

Beyond primary education, the Organization supports a global vision of education as a lifelong process accompanying citizens so that they can become fully fledged actors in a changing world. Sustainable Development Goal 4, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong education for all. Taking the lead to achieve SDG 4 Education 2030, UNESCO must now implement the four main strategic objectives defined in May 2016.

Science and culture, through education, help to emancipate individuals, thereby fighting obscurantism. Education is key to preventing identity politics and enabling a genuine openness to others. It enables people to discover and share knowledge and common values, based on respect for what is different. That is why education will be my priority. This ambition must be reaffirmed, especially in Africa, and with the support of major networks that are also the strength of the Organization, namely the UNESCO Associated Schools Project

Network and the UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme, which are innovative means to promote international educational and university cooperation.

Promoting education should involve taking full advantage of the opportunities provided by the digital revolution. Supporting the development of infrastructure that requires modern communication techniques is indispensable in education support plans.

Too many girls are still without equal access to the secondary education that they need to acquire the autonomy to which all human beings aspire. It has been proven that raising the education level of girls is one of the most effective drivers of social progress and economic development. And it is a woman’s conviction that the path towards equality is a path of progress for the entire society.

Rebuilding cultural ambition for UNESCO

Thanks to its expertise and its qualified staff, UNESCO has clearly become an international reference in terms of culture. It is at the heart of the international body of standards in this area. We must maintain and reinforce what we have acquired. Synergies between different agreements and programmes in the field of culture should be sought.

However culture is often the target of obscurantists since it is a link between individuals and a factor of freedom, democracy and development.

Heritage, whether tangible or intangible, is one of the cornerstones of the identity of the peoples who have protected it for centuries. Destroying a work of art or a building from the past is akin to attacking culture and the memory of peoples. From Timbuktu to Palmyra, from Bamiyan to Mosul, every time a thousand-year-old work of art is destroyed, humanity itself is being attacked, in its history and in its values. We must oppose the flaring up of passions regarding identity with the peace-promoting virtues of a world heritage designed as a basis for a shared memory between peoples, in a spirit of tolerance and recognition of otherness. We must also make it a basis for a common vision of the future.

UNESCO is a driving force in protecting and rebuilding destroyed heritage, such as in Bosnia-Herzegovina with the Old Bridge of Mostar and Angkor in Cambodia. The Director-General, Irina Bokova, is actively involved in safeguarding endangered heritage, in Mali, for example. Building on actions she has launched, such as Unite4Heritage, it is necessary to relentlessly pursue this mobilization in partnership with international and regional initiatives to find the necessary means to protect cultural property and sites.

This will be the case concerning the partnership with the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH), created after the International Conference held in Abu Dhabi in December 2016.

The fight against illicit trafficking, as a corollary of heritage protection, but also the fight against the financing of terrorism, should be stressed, by making international agreements more effective, by accompanying efforts to harmonize legislation and cooperation between government authorities, and by reinforcing education for all citizens aimed at protecting heritage.

The other hurdle we are facing is the rampant uniformization of cultures. In its 2005 convention, UNESCO firmly asserted that cultural diversity is a defining characteristic of humanity, that it must be preserved and promoted for the benefit of all. Diversity brings about tolerance, social justice and mutual respect between peoples and cultures.

The globalization of trade and the opening up of markets, combined with the digital revolution, pose unprecedented challenges in terms of access to culture, sharing knowledge, diversity and freedom of creation, the dissemination of artistic works and fair trade. In just ten years, we have moved from an age of scarcity to an age of providing access to online cultural heritage to the masses. There have been far-reaching consequences on the financing of creative industries. Simultaneously, other issues have emerged, such as the neutrality of access to information or the indexing of a diverse offering.

By adopting draft Operational Guidelines in 2016, UNESCO recognized that cultural diversity should also be preserved in the digital world. It is a new challenge to be faced. I undertake to promote all the mechanisms that foster the preservation of cultural diversity in new media.

Making UNESCO a key player in sustainable development

In a world that is reaching its biophysical limits, science and innovation technologies play a crucial role in meeting economic, social and environmental challenges, and in improving the sustainable management of our natural resources. Today, States must meet these challenges and especially the threat to climate and the environment, in partnership with civil societies.

UNESCO plays a major role in making tools accessible to fight climate change and promote research and scientific exchange as evidenced by the Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB). It is also a protector of natural areas rich in biodiversity that mankind protects and enhances.

Following the Paris Climate Change Agreement in December 2015, the Organization could become further involved in the strategic issue of sustainable development, as a key player.

As guarantor of independent scientific research carried out for the general interest, UNESCO should also foster a closer link between research and public policies so that they can better benefit from breakthroughs, in particular in the field of social science, as can be seen in UNESCO’s ambitious Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme. UNESCO should fully accomplish its mission of planning and promoting scientific education and cooperation. Work in the field of ethics and bioethics should be pursued; UNESCO is a forum for pooling scientific expertise in this area.

UNESCO as an intellectual forum serving universal values

As bearer of the intellectual and moral force that led to its foundation at a time of post-war reconstruction, UNESCO should strengthen its links with the great thinkers of our era, intellectuals, scientists, and great artists representing all cultures. They should act as representatives of the universality of human thought and progress of civilizations to transcend borders with their own values. The role of human and social sciences is fundamental in this respect, in order to better understand and grasp the major evolutions of societies, past and present. UNESCO should also draw from the dynamism and creativity of civil society but also other organizations in the UN system.

UNESCO is an advocate of freedom of expression throughout the world. In this respect, the safety of journalists remains a primary objective within its remit. New digital media should also serve this ambition in order to broaden its outreach.

Lastly, UNESCO is an organization for dialogue between peoples and not a forum for arguments between States. It is a place for discussions and important reflection of our time, a centre for dialogue where decisive players in science, education, culture and communication exchange with respect for one other and around shared fundamental values. Conflict prevention should always be promoted to avoid stalemates.

Making UNESCO more effective for the benefit of all

The crucial issues that we are collectively facing require the Organization to act more quickly, with a clear, comprehensible and effective governance method. For this reason, it is necessary to pursue efforts so that it is more present on the ground, as close as possible to States and populations, in particular by continuing the reform of field offices.
Based on the will of States, it is the Director-General’s responsibility to implement the guidelines that emerge by reaching the necessary consensus and by setting identifiable and assessable objectives taking budget realities into account.

UNESCO must reaffirm its universal nature, which entails the participation of everyone in financing programmes, according to their means. The Director-General should tirelessly pursue work to seek funding, among States, so that they increase their responsibility in relation to international solidarity, or through the implementation of new forms of finance. Cooperation with local governments, scientific and cultural institutions, foundations, and major museums should be institutionalized and reinforced. Greater visibility of available funds should be sought as part of structured financial dialogue to achieve better allocation of extra-budgetary resources in priority programmes.

Here are the outlines of the ambition driving my candidacy, which is based on the idea that UNESCO has more than ever a key role to play in today’s world and that of tomorrow.


Here are the outlines of the ambition driving my candidacy, which is based on the idea that UNESCO has more than ever a key role to play in today’s world and that of tomorrow.

Audrey AZOULAY