Last year the United Nations held a contest inviting anyone over the age of 18 to submit a 30-second pitch via YouTube to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for an idea “that could change the world.” On the theory that it might be salutary for the secretary-general to get a few submissions pitching ideas as radical as actually reforming the UN itself, or even shutting down the UN and replacing it with an institution less likely to install North Korea as chair of the Disarmament Committee, I posted a link to the contest on the The PJ Tatler, under the caption, “Don’t Tempt Us.”
If Ban received any pitches that deviated from the usual UN program, it appears they didn’t win. He made do with a pitch to end poverty (great idea; wrong venue — the UN has a track record of legitimizing and even subsidizing despotic regimes that produce sustainable poverty), plus a pitch to recycle more plastic bottles. There was a third winner, but for reasons not explained by the UN, that video is marked “private.”
But here’s another chance, at least for the youth contingent, to pitch to Ban Ki-moon. The UN is holding an “Essay Writing Contest for University Students: Write a Speech for the Secretary-General.” The caption is slightly misleading, because there is no guarantee that Ban will actually deliver the speech. But he might at least have to read it. Students are invited to “imagine,” by way of drafting in up to 1,500 words, “a speech that would be made by the Secretary-General at the opening of the next session of the General Assembly.” Three winners will be chosen, and invited to New York to meet with Ban (as well as to Washington, to meet with the Brookings Institution, which is co-hosting this contest).
University students have a serious stake in this sort of thing. They are going to be living for a long time with the world the UN is now trying to shape. There’s no reason they have to stick to the usual UN cant. It is quite possible to “imagine” a speech to the 2012 General Assembly opening this September in which the secretary-general begins by listing the actual failings of the UN — for instance, the secrecy, the abuse of immunities, the thug-heavy executive boards, the oversight failures, the perversion of a Human Rights Council, the annual platform for Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York — and apologize for accepting these as the norm. It’s even possible to imagine the secretary-general declaring that he plans to go ahead, at long last, with an independent, external system-wide audit of all UN activities — something he promised during his first month in office, in 2007, but has never delivered.
In sum, it is possible to “imagine,” and to draft, a truly great speech for the secretary-general, a speech including two elements surpassingly rare in the UN General Assembly hall: integrity and truth. The deadline is June 15. So, all you students, leaders of the next generation, here’s that link again. It’s your future they’re planning — Write a Speech for the Secretary-General. Over to you.