Where do candidates for Secretary-General stand on civil society participation at the UN?

From discussions at International Civil Society Week 2016 and through the feedback from our supporter organisations, it's clear there is a desire to better understand how candidates for the UN Secretary-General post approach their engagement with civil society. 

The Secretary-General's most important constituency is the world's seven billion citizens.  Being able to represent and engage this constituency as Secretary-General will depend on adopting a participatory and inclusive approach towards civil society.  1 for 7 Billion is campaigning for a more open, transparent and inclusive selection process that encompasses civil society and for candidates to openly engage with civil society, the media and the wider public during the selection process and beyond. 

By publicising candidates' background, statements and stated intentions with regard to civil society in an impartial manner we aim to contribute to civil society discussions about finding the best UN Secretary-General.

The 1 for 7 Billion campaign does not take a position on individual candidates for the UN Secretary-General post.


Sources for this analysis comprise relevant UN documents and other public material, namely:

  • CVs / biographies circulated by the President of the General Assembly (PGA)
  • Candidates' Vision Statements
  • Informal dialogues with members states and civil society at the General Assembly
  • UN media stakeouts following informal dialogues
  • Candidates' replies to 1 for 7 Billion's letter to all candidates.

All the sources used are available on the website of the President of the General Assembly with the exception of candidates' letters to 1 for 7 Billion, which, where received, are included at the bottom of the corresponding summary on this page. 

This analysis will be updated to include additional candidates following the second round of informal dialogues scheduled for 7 June.

1 for 7 Billion focuses on the selection process and on civil society engagement within that process.  We encourage our supporting organisations to do their own analysis on where candidates stand on the issues important to them. 

UN Secretary-General candidates on civil society

Irina Bokova

In her Vision Statement, Ms Bokova emphasises the importance of dialogue with multiple stakeholders, stating that we need “a new multilateralism for the 21st century" that is "vibrant, inclusive, effective and efficient, based on shared values and norms, leaving no effort unspent for dialogue, drawing on the strengths of governments along with the civil society, the private sector and academia, to forge new partnerships for innovative action”.

She goes on to recognise the need to work with civil society to prevent violence against women: "I believe that empowering women cannot be reached without ending violence against them, including sexual violence and rape, which is a grave violation of human rights. I am determined to work with governments and the civil society to combat any kind of violence against women and girls”.

Ms Bokova's biography states that "she is a founding member and Chairman of the European Policy Forum, an NGO created to promote European identity and encourage dialogue to overcome divisions in Europe".

Opening her informal dialogue, Ms Bokova commented on the year 2015 as a turning point, referring to the various agendas and agreements reached. She commented: "With the cooperation of the private sector, scientific communities, civil society and obviously, governments, all of this also provides us with the possibility to make out of all these agendas, a unified agenda. I am convinced that if we have a common vision on the 2030 agenda and the climate change agenda, then we will be able to attain the sustainable development goals and the climate change goals. Without that it is impossible.”

Irina Bokova's references: 

Helen Clark

In the introduction of her Vision Statement, Ms Clark writes the following: "My life and experience have been about bringing people together" before going on to state her commitment to "act honestly, listen, and work with everyone".

In the context of responding to and anticipating crises, Ms Clark's Vision Statement states that the UN must "convene for solutions", adding that "strong partnerships are crucial in this effort" and further remarking that "strategic relationships with non-governmental constituencies, civil society, and the private sector can offer unique contributions".

Helen Clark's biography states that she "joined the movements for social justice sweeping New Zealand and the world" whilst a student at the University of Auckland, including the anti-apartheid movement.

Ms Clark recognised the merit in the more inclusive Secretary-General selection process during her media stakeout when she acknowledged the value in the “opening up of the process”, which has enabled candidates to engage with member states and civil society.

In Ms Clark's letter to the 1 for 7 Billion campaign she stated her commitment to "improve the selection process and to make it more transparent and inclusive” adding that “I was nominated… in time to allow my participation in the first round of General Assembly informal dialogues on 14 April”.

Helen Clark's references:

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Christiana Figueres (candidacy withdrawn)

In the introduction to her Vision Statement, Ms Figueres presses the need for a “new model of collaborative diplomacy”, recognising citizen participation as one of the necessary “conditions for a sustained peace”.

In the context of forging an inclusive UN, Ms Figueres’ Vision Statement highlights the current “sense of powerlessness in many individuals” in the face of problems that “seem too big to fix”. She concludes that “dynamic multilateralism” is required to address these issues which “blends the best of governmental and non-government action, … recognizing that more can be achieved through the collaboration of all”.

With regards to implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Ms Figueres uses her Vision Statement to explain that “The next Secretary-General must bring the full authority of her or his office to encourage and accelerate the efforts of a broad network of national and subnational governments, private sector, finance sector, insurance sector and civil society at large”.

Christiana Figueres’ biography states that her leadership of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat was characterised by “active outreach to key stakeholders beyond national governments” and cites support from non-government representatives as one of the “fundamental factors of success” in securing the 2015 Paris Agreement. Ms Figueres’ biography goes on to note that she “has served on many boards of non-governmental organizations” and specifically mentions the Center for Sustainable Development of the Americas – a non-profit organisation providing capacity building to all countries in Latin America – which she founded and directed for eight years.

During her informal dialogue with the UN General Assembly, Ms Figueres focused on “building global shared frameworks to answer issues”, highlighting the importance that “everyone be able to contribute to the solution”. In response to a question on civil society, Ms Figueres remarked, "once we align interests, miracles can happen”, citing her track record with civil society during the climate negotiations.

In her media stakeout following the informal dialogue, Ms Figueres acknowledged that the “much wider participation and transparency” of the selection process was an “exciting moment” for the UN.

Christiana Figueres' references:

Natalia Gherman

Communicating the work of the UN to world's seven billion citizens - not just member states - formed the conclusion of Ms Gherman's Vision Statement. She says that "reaching out to the people, making the UN better known and understood, especially by the youth, and developing the broadest possible sense of ownership of the Organization among citizens of all countries around the world should be a permanent endeavor of the Secretary-General and all those who serve the UN system".

During her informal hearing at the General Assembly, when discussing raising awareness of and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, Ms Gherman spoke about engagement with a wide variety of stakeholders including private sector and civil society: "We should never forget global partnership means the private sector and the civil society".

In answer to civil society questions on youth involvement, Ms Gherman added that "we must ensure the representation of youth in all processes, at all levels" if she is elected next Secretary-General, and during the media stakeout following her hearing, Ms Gherman confirmed her commitment to engaging with civil society. 

Natalia Gherman's references:

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António Guterres

In his Vision Statement, Mr Guterres declares that, along with other partnerships, a specific “engagement with civil society and the private sector” will ensure effective multilaterism. He goes on to add that “relevant UN organisations should develop strategic cooperation with their civil society partners”.

In his biography, a preceding letter from the Portuguese government says that “as UN High Commissioner for Refugees [Guterres] maintained excellent cooperation with Member States and developed strong partnerships with civil society and the private sector”.

Mr Guterres's biography also mentions his association with several non-governmental organisations, namely that: he is a member of Club de Madrid for former, democratically-elected heads of state and government; he founded two non-governmental organisations: the Portuguese Refugee Council and the Portuguese Consumers Association DECO, and; he is a former president of the Centro de Acão Social Universitário - an association carrying out social development projects in poor neighbourhoods of Lisbon.

During his informal dialogue at the General Assembly, in a response to a question by the Nordic countries on safeguarding civil society involvement, Mr Guterres reiterated that he has supported civil society access in his role as UN High Commissioner for Refugees and remains "deeply committed" to a role for civil society. 

António Guterres's references:

Vuk Jeremić

During his informal dialogue, Mr Jeremić presented his 'Platform for Action and Impact' and promised to "work hard to achieve a consistent standard of civil society inclusion across UN bodies".  He elaborates in the Platform stating: "The gradual development of NGO participation in ECOSOC should serve as an example of the utility of engaging with civil society. As Chair of the Chief Executives Board for Coordination,  the Secretary-General will initiate coordination through consultation to achieve consistent inclusion of civil society across the agencies and bodies related to economic and social issues".

Mr Jeremić's Platform further describes civil society as a "crucial partner" in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and notes a role for civil society in raising awareness of climate change, implementing the women, peace and security agenda, and, the establishment of a new Global Fund for Access to Justice.  He concludes his Platform by committing to make the UN "more understandable and accessible, and to bring it closer to Member States and the global public".

During his informal dialogue Mr Jeremić mentioned his role as the President of the Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development, an international think-tank registered in Belgrade, Serbia.

Vuk Jeremić's references:

Srgjan Kerim

In relation to defending human rights, Dr Kerim used his Vision Statement to explain that “citizen participation [is] one of the key components in the intricate and intertwined network of building synergies for strengthening cooperation and enhancing the functionality of multiple organs within the UN system”.

He went on to say: “It is of utmost importance that the promotion of the human security agenda is a collaborative effort. We need to bring together Member States, international organizations, UN agencies, civil society organizations and NGOs, as well as, maintain a close relationship with established partners such as the Advisory Board on Human Security and the Human Security Network”.

During his informal dialogue with the General Assembly, in response to a question from the Nordic states on safeguarding the involvement civil society, Dr Kerim said that they "are knocking on an open door. Civil society is part of my understanding of the United Nations".  Dr Kerim reiterated that, as President of the General Assembly, he insisted that civil society be "part and parcel" of the UN's work, and that he intends this to continue.  

Srgjan Kerim's references:

Miroslav Lajčák

In his Vision Statement, Mr Lajčák writes that it is “vital that the ideas and the work of the United Nations are well communicated to the general public”, and emphasises that “all opinions and all sides must be considered to determine international priorities more fairly and equitably and garner inclusive engagement and commitment”. In relation to improving UN peacekeeping, he observes an important prerequisite of successful peacebuilding to be the “absolute inclusivity of all parts of the population”.

His Vision Statement goes on to recognise the important role of young people in shaping world events and states his dedication to “support and encourage further UN engagement with the youth on all levels”. The Vision Statement further notes that the UN cannot face today’s challenges alone and “needs to further enhance its partnerships with other regional, subregional and other international organisations, civil society, academia and the business sector”.

Miroslav Lajčák’s biography notes his Chairmanship of the Slovak Government’s Council for Human Rights, National Minorities and Gender Equality and asserts that in this role he led an “unprecedented and inclusive process” through which he was successful in “managing a consensus of minority and disadvantaged groups among various interests from human rights and minority representatives, political parties and churches”.

As High Representative of the International Community and EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr Lajčák’s biography states his implementation of “activities to reach out to the population including speaking tours and a website for dialogue with citizens”.

In response to Canada’s question on civil society during his informal dialogue, Mr Lajčák commended civil society’s active and important role in the field. He stated that the UN had to “work in the same direction and use their strength and their knowledge and their know-how whenever it helps us to meet the goals of this organization”.

During a media stakeout following his informal dialogue at the General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák praised the push for a “spirit of transparency” during this year’s Secretary-General selection process and for “adding credibility” both to the election and to the United Nations as a whole.

Miroslav Lajčák's references:

Igor Lukšić

In his Vision Statement, Dr Lukšić recognises that in order for the UN "to improve efficiency and effectiveness on the ground, we need to reinforce partnerships with Governments, civil society, NHRIs and regional organizations. That will enable us to deliver more effectively in areas that are more strategic-oriented, to discuss in more details our common challenges and improve our results”.

Dr Lukšić added that the promotion of the principles of gender equality, women's empowerment and the protection of human rights in close cooperation with civil society should be at the heart of the UN's human rights agenda.

He concluded his Vision Statement by saying: "We NEED to reinvent multilateralism through the principles of responsibility, inclusiveness and engagement" [capitalisation appeared in original].

His biography states that, as Prime Minister of Montenegro (2010 - 2012), the leading principles of the reforms Dr Lukšić initiated with regard to the EU and the WTO "were related to the dialogue in the society and inclusive approach towards the civil sector". 

During his opening remarks at his informal dialogue, Dr Lukšić discussed the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, Addis Ababa Action Agenda, Sendai Framework and the Paris Climate agreement and the importance of human rights to ensure "no-one is left behind". He stressed the importance of collaboration in this process: "in order to make more impact on the ground, cooperation with governments, civil society and regional organisations is essential." 

In Lukšić’s letter to the 1 for 7 Billion campaign, he referred to his involvement in candidate debates outside the UN process and added that he intends “to continue interaction in coming weeks and months through to the end of the process”.

Igor Lukšić's references:

Susana Malcorra

Susana Malcorra’s Vision Statement calls for the UN to be “more inclusive and effective” in its partnerships. In relation to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she notes the importance of not just calling for the inclusion of people in marginalised situations, but “enabling their participation as key stakeholders”. Ms Malcorra also states the importance of engaging with women and youth if the UN is to be successful in the promotion of sustainable development and the upholding of human rights.

Ms Malcorra's Vision Statement further recognises “the important role that civil society can play” alongside academia and the private sector in furthering the UN’s agenda.

During her informal dialogue, Ms Malcorra thanked representatives of civil society for attending the session and stated that “in today’s world the only way to deliver impact is to listen carefully to people and the work in unison with local, national and international partners”. She asserted that “the United Nations can magnify its impact through greater collaboration and inclusivity” and pressed for “collaboration with national and local communities and actors to strengthen their capacities as the first resort in all its responses”.

Ms Malcorra went on to speak of the need for power to find a balance with society, stressing the importance of individuals realising the potential it has to “be an enabler” for individuals to harness in order to “make an impact”.

Susana Malorra's references:

Vesna Pusić (candidacy withdrawn)

In her Vision Statement, Ms Pusić describes herself as "a human rights activist during the Croatia and Bosnia Wars" and notes her involvement as "part of the civil society that tried to meet the needs of more than 2 million refugees who came to Croatia—a country of just 4.5 million—in the years 1991 to 1995".

The biographical section describes Ms Pusić as "a social activist" and  states that she co-founded "the first feminist group in the former Yugoslavia" - an endeavour her biography notes as "a very controversial concept, both politically and socially" in 1979.  In 1992 Ms Pusić co-founded and became director of the Erasmus Guild, "a nongovernment, non-partisan think-tank for the culture of democracy".

During her informal dialogue at the General Assembly, Ms Pusić stated that "Civil Society needs to be involved in defining the agenda of the United Nations."

Opening the media stakeout following her informal dialogue, Ms Pusić commented she felt honoured to be part of a process which "gives a chance for all candidates to present themselves and to answer questions not only from the member states but also from civil society". She went on to praise the process for generating "interest within the civil society, within academia [and] within broader society".

In a letter to 1 for 7 Billion, she states: “Coming from a civil society background myself, and having devoted a big part of my political career to its strengthening, I am well aware of the importance of the NGOs’ participation in the process of the selection of the UN Secretary-General”.

Vesna Pusić's references:

Danilo Türk

In his Vision Statement, Dr Türk states “the vision of the Secretary-General must encompass the legitimate expectations of civil society, the private sector and academia” and goes on to add that “traditional multilateral diplomacy is more horizontally structured, with increasing cooperation with non-governmental actors”. With regards to the 2030 Agenda and the implementation process, Dr Türk comments that the involvement of civil society is a necessity: “the Secretary-General should play a catalytic role in the process of implementation of these agreements with the involvement of civil society, the private sector and academia”.

Dr Türk's biography emphasises his participation with civil society, giving the examples of his membership of Club de Madrid, a non-governmental organisation for former democratically elected presidents and prime ministers; and also his chairmanship of the Board of Directors for the Global Fairness Initiative, "a Washington-based NGO dedicated to economic and social development projects in developing countries".  It further notes that in 2010 Dr Türk founded the "Let Them Dream – Danilo Türk Foundation, which is devoted to providing assistance to children who have been victims of violence".

At his informal dialogue, Dr Türk acknowledged the importance of civil society participation in the UN, commenting that we need new forms of civil society cooperation with the UN and adding "I would run a consultation early on to identify how to progress with this".

Danilo Türk references:

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Top image: International Civil Society Week 2016 in Bogota, Colombia.