Recent columns by Barbara Crossette:
U.N. and U.S. in Iraq: Nobody Won This Round
(October 27, 2003)
"There is, in plain words, no great desire to help the United States out of a more difficult postwar period than the U.S. Defense Department apparently planned for."
AIDS, Asian Values and States of Denial
(October 20, 2003)
"Asian leaders often acknowledge only that infections happen in what they call 'deviant populations.' Yet it is well known that sex industries across the region attract men from every level of society."
U.S. Rebuffs to Neighbors Should Raise Concerns
(October 14, 2003)
"Ever since the epochal terrorist attacks on the United States two years ago, no two countries have been more important to American security than Canada and Mexico. So why has the United States been so indifferent to its neighbors?"
Testing the U.N. in Afghanistan, With Iraq in Mind
(October 6, 2003)
"The United States has now given the Iraqis six months to conjure up a constitution.... In Afghanistan, time to write a constitution has run out. Nearly two years after the United States toppled the Taliban, the publication of the promised new charter is behind schedule."
Fighting AIDS by Changing Attitudes in Africa
(September 29, 2003)
"Workers in government health agencies, private organizations and churches need every possible kind of logistical support to take the warning message out to people who do not know or do not believe that their own sexual behavior can save or condemn them."
For Countries Big And Small, A Diplomatic Marathon
(September 23, 2003)
"Over the years, autumn at the United Nations has evolved into a huge hive of diplomatic activity, making New York the capital of the world, as Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor, used to say."
More from U.N. Notebook.
U.N. Notebook | November 3, 2003
Leveraging Private Money for the United Nations
by Barbara Crossette
UNITED NATIONS—Since the late 1990s, the U.N. Fund for International Partnerships has been playing matchmaker between small, innovative U.N. programs in need of cash and an increasingly wider world of private corporations and foundations willing to give them a boost. It didn't start with such a big objective.
The fund was invented to handle only one windfall: the unexpected gift in 1997 of $1 billion in stock from Ted Turner, the founder of CNN. Because disbursement of the money was to be spread over a decade, and private individuals cannot normally contribute directly to U.N. programs, there had to be go-betweens. On his side, Turner set up the United Nations Foundation and at the United Nations, Secretary General Kofi Annan created the fund.
In the six years that have passed, a falling stock market put strains on the Turner pledge, but that has been offset by an unanticipated development. The fund has taken on so many new partners in a few short years that the original Turner gift—from which more than $565 million has already gone to U.N. and other international projects—is now no longer the fund's sole reason for being.
"That, in my mind, is the major untold story," said Amir Dossal, a British chartered accountant who is executive director of the fund, which has its headquarters here at the United Nations. From the beginning, Timothy Wirth, a former U.S. senator and former undersecretary of state for global affairs who directs the United Nations Foundation, saw the value of using its example as leverage for finding other private money.
(UN Photo) |
"When we first started the partnership, we had 100 percent Turner money," Dossal said. "At the end of five years, it was two parts Turner, one part outside. It's become now two parts outside, one part Turner. He added that the fund, known as UNFIP, "is enabling others to look at the partnership and say, 'How can we support U.N. causes?' So the Turner factor is not just money, but it's greater awareness of helping on international issues."
The involvement of corporations and private foundations in the work of the United Nations has always provoked opposition, first from governments wary of the private sector and lately from the armies of antiglobalization who target big business and see international institutions as sullied by forming partnerships with transnational companies. In response, Annan has said on many occasions that the global private sector has more money to play with today than most governments, and needs to be persuaded to part with some of its wealth through grants or investments in the developing world. The problem isn't that there is too much private money flowing through the United Nations, but not enough—certainly not enough from American corporations.
"What do we do at UNFIP? Aside from being the focal point for the U.N. Foundation, we are inundated with inquiries from the private sector, from foundations—people wanting to work with the U.N., people wanting to support U.N. causes," Dossal said. "It's an exponential increase. And the U.N. system is beginning to recognize that. The U.N. family sees that there's a benefit—although we are sensitive to the risks of the U.N. name being liberally used, so we have a set of guidelines for engaging with the private sector and foundations."
Dossal, 53, is the second director of the partnership fund but the first with a solid background in management and finance. Born in Pakistan, he was educated there and in the United Kingdom, where he settled. He began his career in the private sector, working with international accounting firms and then as a chief account in London and Kuwait for the Freeman Fox Group of consulting engineers, before joining the U.N. Development Program in 1985. At UNDP he was operations manager and budget chief before taking charge of technical assistance programs in the Caribbean, where he was the program's deputy resident representative. When the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations was created in 1993, Dossal was brought to headquarters to be its chief of finance. In 1997, he was appointed director of the first U.N. management policy office under Joseph Connor, the former undersecretary general for management and budget. Dossal took over running UNFIP in 1999.
Some government aid agencies have also begun to work through the fund, Dossal said in an interview in his office. The British government, for example, has contributed to a training program for poor rural women developed by UNIFEM, the women's development fund, one of many projects aimed at women and girls. Networks put together by the fund consolidate help from a variety of sources for objectives as diverse as saving coral reefs to providing alternative energy supplies in Africa or corralling technical expertise to help bridge technological divides between rich and poor nations or communities.
In public health, the fund used money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rotary International to buy down World Bank debt and put the funds into polio vaccines. It devised a program for Vodafone, a mobile telephone company based in the United Kingdom, to leverage employee contributions to fight HIV/AIDS.
The Health InterNetwork was set up with money from the United Nations Foundation and the Gates Foundation to provide computer technology and access to the latest biomedical research to public health institutions in developing countries. Dossal describes it as "trying to put the Internet on the desk of some of these struggling public hospitals so that they can have access to current research." The network is now up and running, managed by the World Health Organization.
The partnership fund does not assist what the U.N. calls mandated programs—those within the regular operational budget that member states pay for. It goes for the projects without that kind of support, some of them conceptually new and not always easy to find money for. Dossal has a 30-page file of nearly 200 companies, foundations or international institutions that have been plugged into potential projects.
"We find innovation and creativity," he said. "UNFIP is thinking outside the box, and encouraging others to come to us."
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Better World Fund, a sister organization of the United Nations Foundation, is the sole sponsor of U.N. Wire, which is published independently by National Journal Group, Inc.
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More on foreign affairs in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic
Barbara Crossette, a writer on foreign affairs and columnist for U.N. Wire, was The New York Times bureau chief at the United Nations from 1994 to 2001. U.N. Wire is a free daily online news service covering news about and
related to the United Nations. It is sponsored by the U.N. Foundation and
appears on the foundation site, but is produced independently by The National
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