Michael Møller, the Danish diplomat and former aid worker appointed in November 2013 as acting director-general of the UN in Switzerland, would like to see a vibrant new International Geneva that includes not only the UN agencies and NGOS, but also multi-national corporations, Swiss businesses, donors and the local population. “We need to act together to put a spotlight on the extraordinary things that this region represents and their impact on the planet,” he said at a breakfast briefing this week.
“For the moment, many regard International Geneva as an expensive place with lots of meetings. We need to change this. There is an enormous amount of stuff happening. It’s important to put the substance on the table. It’s about doing things differently,” Møller argued. This means a complete re-branding of International Geneva. One problem, he noted, is that the UN has proven “genetically incapable” of selling itself to the public. “We need to consider the impact on the lives of ordinary people.”
The bespectacled Dane, who was brought out of Greek retirement to head the UN in Geneva (a position normally reserved for ex-Soviets), is widely regarded as a much-needed breath of fresh air who has nothing to lose. His “out of the box” thinking is already being dubbed the “Møller effect”. With the UN in urgent need of overhaul and greater transparency, previous heads have sought not to rock the boat of an institution often caught up in member-state agendas and in-house politics. “We need to show what International Geneva can do with global input,” Møller said.
Møller is developing a strategy with an array of committed and potential partners, including the “Geneva Group”, the world’s 16 biggest international donors, plus five or six other concerned nations. He is also seeking to involve sectors such as local business, benefitting from the CHF 5.4 billion that International Geneva brings in every year.
For this to happen, Møller said, the UN will need to communicate far more efficiently to the public-at-large, country decision-makers and its own employees. The new branding needs to focus on themes that the UN and Geneva know best, notably “peace, rights and well-being”. Appealing for innovative ideas, the UN head wants to involve traditional and social media, plus initiate projects such as planned TV drama and docu-drama series. “This will have to be a very broad collaborative effort,” he stressed. With both Bern and the Geneva governments already firmly committed, there has been an enthusiastic response from private corporations, foundations and other players.
Part of this broad, multi-national initiative over the next 15 years is a CHF 15–16 million project to renovate the Palais in an exemplary “green” manner, plus make it more accessible to the “people”. “Unfortunately, the UN is completely out of touch and is more like Fort Knox or Baghdad,” he said. Møller would also like to see the historic Palais building, which was constructed for the League of Nations in 1929–36, declared a World Heritage site.
By Edward Girardet