Many people are skeptical about the United Nations. There are those who say that it is an organization which means well but lacks the resources to enforce its own policies. There are even those who go so far as to claim the UN has never achieved anything since it started. Being controversial comes with the territory of forming the largest alliance organization on earth. Instead of trying to justify the UN as a beautiful and necessary organization to the world, let’s for the purpose of this exploration just look through the lens of event management, and follow one particular UN initiative for the 21st Century.
The Millennium Summit was a special event of the United Nations General Assembly. It was held in the year 2000 at the start of the usual annual convention in Manhattan, and produced a Millennium Declaration that outlined 8 global initiatives for mankind to achieve in the 21st Century. Before delving into details, it’s probably a good idea to first give some overview and context of the overall UN. Most people know the organization as a concept of course, but it does get hard at times to fathom the scope of the UN in its global purpose.
The United Nations is an intergovernmental organization with representation of every country in the world except The Vatican, Kosovo, and Taiwan. It was formed in 1945 because its predecessor, The League of Nations, proved to be the imbecile that couldn’t prevent a Second World War. There are five principal organs of the United Nations today — the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Secretariat, the Economic and Social Council, and the International Court of Justice — as well as 17 specialized global organizations, best known perhaps being ones such as the International Monetary Fund, World Health Organization, and the World Food Programme. Altogether, The UN operates out of hundreds of offices in 23 different countries around the world, scattered around every continent except Antarctica and Australia. Most of these offices run like a typical corporation — elected official leadership, daily operations towards its own missions statement, partnerships in the public private and nonprofit sectors, workforce made up of paid employees as well as volunteers, etc. — but the General Assembly is an exception.
The General Assembly is one of the most notable functions of the UN, especially looking from an events perspective. Since the founding of the UN, the General Assembly has convened through an annual meeting each year to discuss contemporary pertinent issues in global policymaking. These meetings take place at the UN Headquarters in Manhattan, generally starting sometime in September and going through December or January depending on the year’s agenda. Every country in the world is represented at these meetings. The General Assembly is in fact, the only function of the UN where every country in the world has equal representation. On five occasions since its founding, the General Assembly has in addition to this annual conference also agreed to convene for a special session. The Millennium Summit was one such session.
At the time of its gathering in 2000, the United Nations Millennium Summit marked the single largest gathering of world leaders in the history of mankind. 8,000 total representatives from all 189 member states of the UN came together for this special 6 day convention. It was a symbolic occasion marking the stride of civilization into a new millennium, a millennium which all member states agreed should become a new era of world peace and human progress. Together, the assembly drew up a document called The Millennium Declaration, consisting of a set of 8 development goals that all member states and UN organizations unanimously determined to achieve by 2015. These 8 goals are to eradicate hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and develop a global partnership toward these goals.
These were not just grand visions of an ideal world. Like any goal worth making, these 8 initiatives are expanded upon into 21 very specific targets. For a full list of these targets, go read Wikipedia.
As most human progress goes, we set an ambitious goal for 200% so that even if we fall short we achieve 100%. There are scholarly pundits of course who criticize every aspect of the Millennium Declaration, but the progress the world has made since its penning speaks for itself. The global poverty rate — population defined as those living on less than $1.25 a day — has halved. $55 billion worth of debt owed by African countries have been forgiven, enabling them to rechannel these resources to building sustainable infrastructures. One such infrastructure that grew from this is the African Rice Center, an agricultural research center which has since its founding developed and introduced a new strain of rice that has enabled Africa to now have sustainable yields to feed its own populations. Africa’s education infrastructure has also improved, with primary school enrollment having increased some 700% as public schools are beginning to waive their many fees that previously caused barriers to education for the poorest populations. Around the world, healthcare advances have cut deaths caused by diseases like malaria and HIV’s by over a third. The UN made a followup gathering on the Millennium Summit in 2005 and again in 2010, each year to review progress and set additional objectives based on what’s happening in the world.
Phenomena that happen over years and decades can oftentimes be traced back to one catalyzing moment. The United Nations’ Millennium Summit was one such moment. The outcome of this convention has shaped the world as we’ve known it in the 17 years so far of the 20th century. A planned event, strategically designed to communicate a message of purpose, has inspired quite literally the world to come together and create a better future for mankind. If that is the potential of events, it is enough to keep me motivated.
See you at the next exploration!