THE BLOG

An Open Letter to the Next UN Secretary General

08/07/2016 15:02 | Updated 08 July 2016

Dear Madam/Mr. Secretary General,

I would like to congratulate you on your election, especially against such an experienced and talented group of candidates. I wish you well in maintaining the United Nations' impact as one of the leading global institutions, and its role in promoting international cooperation on the most important issues facing humanity.

Your predecessor, Ban Ki-Moon, played a key role in promoting the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a truly ambitious agenda that will inform the development landscape for the next 15 years. The product of many hours of consultation among a wide range of stakeholders, the SDGs are noteworthy for their emphasis on building productive capacity and economic and environmental stressors. As a businessman, I also appreciate that they acknowledge the private sector as a crucial driver of development.

During Mr. Ban's tenure, the United Nations has also successfully stewarded years of negotiations around climate change, culminating in the historic Paris Agreement. What makes the Agreement so important is that it will provide developing countries $100 billon per year in climate finance by 2020. As Amadou Sy of the Brookings Initiative argues, this funding will strengthen the African continent's efforts to implement adaptation and mitigation strategies to reduce its vulnerability to climate change. What's more, 177 parties have signed the treaty and 17 parties have ratified it, demonstrating the international community's real dedication to combatting climate change.

Furthermore, the UN has demonstrated a strong commitment to helping achieve sustainable and inclusive development in Africa. As the chairman of an international NGO and charity working for Africa's scientific independence, I would exhort you to further strengthen the organisation's impressive work to spur scientific and technological advancement on the continent as well.

UNESCO has led the charge in this area with its programmes to build capacity in science policy and encourage quality scientific education at all levels. Additionally, 17 years ago, L'Oréal and UNESCO founded the For Women in Science programme to promote greater participation of women in science. Every year, they acknowledge five brilliant young female researchers in Africa and the Arab States, Asia/Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and North America for their contributions to physical science. Such initiatives are an excellent means of combatting perceptions that the sciences are an exclusively male domain.

These are truly valuable programmes, but more needs to be done to ensure that the African continent has the environment and skilled human capital needed to tackle its development challenges. Given the UN's influence, I would encourage you to partner with institutions such as the African Union and the African Development Bank to lobby African governments to fulfil their commitment of spending 1% of GDP on scientific research and development. As Mauritian President Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim points out, countries that have invested in education, science and technology have managed to break the cycle of poverty. Such investments would also help us to counter the brain drain that is stripping our countries of their brightest talent.

The United Nations can also consolidate its work to forge stronger linkages between scientific communities and industry on the continent. As the top source of job creation, for-profit companies can help equip our dynamic young people with the hard and soft competences needed to succeed. Considering that 11 million young people are expected to join the job market in Africa each year for the next decade, skills development is more important than ever.

Considering private sector businesses have enjoyed the fruits of the continent for years, they should be urged to contribute to its scientific and technological development. This can be through individual partnerships or initiatives, or through multi-stakeholder programmes such as the UN Global Compact.

The United Nations has played a vital role in the reduction of extreme poverty and the achievement of other development indicators on the continent, but under your leadership it can do even more. A multi-stakeholder response is needed to ensure that all Africans can share in the continent's prosperity, and the UN will play a vital role in facilitating this.

I wish you all the best in your work.

Yours sincerely,
Dr Álvaro Sobrinho

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