Three simple fixes for the next 70 years.

Author:Richards, Ian
Position:The United Nations at 70

In 2014 I celebrated the 69th birthday of the United Nations in a temple in Bhutan. Speaking to an audience of monks, ministers and staff, the United Nations Country Representative to this mountain kingdom in the Himalayas described how the global Organization had helped set up the country's first airline and had at one time fed a large part of its population.

Bhutan isn't the only country to have benefited from the United Nations presence.

During South Africa's first multiracial elections in 1994, many of my colleagues were deployed as monitors, helping to ensure a free and fair result. It was a highlight of their career.

More recently in Guatemala, a team of two United Nations staff members installed a website (, to allow entrepreneurs to officially register their businesses online, avoiding long journeys and queues in government offices. In the space of two years, over 3,000 businesses had been established through the service and the country jumped from 172 to 98 in the relevant Doing Business rankings.

These are some examples, and there are many more, of achievements for which United Nations staff members can be proud, and which to citizens, voters and entrepreneurs across the world show the United Nations at its best.

The United Nations first 70 years have certainly been productive, though not perfect.

The next big test for our Organization is a newly agreed set of targets called the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Over the next 15 years, they aim to eradicate extreme poverty, fight climate change, prevent conflicts and protect those caught in the crossfire.

Tasked with reaching those goals are my colleagues, the Organization's 75,000 staff members. Many are hard-working, smart and well-intentioned. But the Organization we work for belongs to an era when politics mattered more than results.

In 2015, at the 70th anniversary of the birth of the United Nations, it is time to change that and to create a workplace in which talent, skill and determination can translate more easily into meaningful results. Here are some thoughts how.

Firstly, recruit some younger staff. The average age of staff members recruited to the United Nations is 41. Three per cent of United Nations staff positions are at the graduate entry grade called P-2 and only 0.3 per cent of all staff are aged under 25. Mid-career experience from outside can be useful, and there is no reason for good staff to have to retire at 62. But by reducing junior posts...

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