1 September 2023, New York, USA – UNITAR office in New York together with the Permanent Missions of Ecuador, Finland, and Malaysia held the “Transition Workshop” to support the incoming team of the Office of the President of the General Assembly (OPGA). This marks the third iteration of this feature that aims to support this crucial transition.
UNITAR facilitated an afternoon that brought together former, current, and incoming members of the OPGA to share past experiences, advice, and best practices in order to ensure a smooth transition and success for the upcoming year. A major theme emphasized by the outgoing office members was the insistence on maintaining a strong connection with the UN “family”. Informing, connecting, and collaborating with wider UN organizations comprised a key part of their work and was echoed throughout the evening speeches. Gender equality, youth involvement, ownership, and long-term planning were topics that dominated the evening discussions. Consequently, the theme of “continuity” in the work the OPGA has done, and will continue to do, was ever-present.
To open the afternoon talks, Mr. Marco A. Suazo, Head of the UNITAR office in New York remarked on the importance of the OPGA, highlighted a few of the many achievements of the outgoing office, and a gave brief summary of the day’s workshop itinerary. He then invited the outgoing President of the General Assembly, H.E. Csaba Kőrösi, to take the floor.
As the first guest speaker and the outgoing President, H.E. Csaba Kőrösi began his session reflecting on his past year at the helm of the OPGA. He covered a vast range of topics including a few of his office’s accomplishments, shared anecdotes of challenges they faced, and emphasized the role of The Office as he saw it. He made specific mention of issues of gender equality, the contributions of young members, and the necessity for systems-thinking, acknowledging that while their progress in these areas was commendable, there was still much work to be done. He called for the incoming office to create more spaces for informal discussion, such as their Friday morning talks, which allowed for greater productivity and positive feedback. He ended with a reminder to attendees of the responsibilities of member states to find alternative solutions for global issues. Finally, he introduced and congratulated the President-elect of the 78th General Assembly, H.E. Mr. Dennis Frances and invited him to speak.
President-elect, H.E. Mr. Dennis Frances, began his remarks with a sincere thanks for the efforts and accomplishments of the outgoing office. He got straight to the point, stating that the great challenge of his office will be to achieve credible outcomes during a particularly challenging time in the global landscape. His words were matter-of-fact, yet evoked confidence and optimism in the abilities of people to come together and overcome such challenges. Recapturing this theme of collaboration, President Frances emphasized that this is the power of the UN System and of multilateralism; to facilitate collective problem-solving on a global scale where previously impossible singularly. He ended his contribution with a moving statement, saying “that is the magic of multilateralism”.
To finish up the round of key-note speakers, the Permanent Representative of Finland, H.E. Ms. Elina Kalkku, and the Permanent Representative of Malaysia, H.E. Mr. Ahmad Faisal Muhamad, spoke about the retreat and the transition workshop, respectively. Ms. Kalkku gave her comments on the Finnish-sponsored retreat, noting that it was an excellent opportunity for building initial trust and gaining common ground, which is what the United Nations is about. Multilateralism and collective ideating were once again center stage, as Mr. Muhamad thanked the OPGA for their efforts on promoting this notion. He also highlighted the importance of the Office in providing institutional knowledge for the UN systems.
After a succinct acknowledgment of the keynote speakers by Mr. Suazo, the session heard from the remaining speakers of the day, each covering a specific area of concern for the OPGA.
Outgoing Chef de Cabinet, H.E. Mr. Laszlo Széke, opened this round speaking about general experiences, pieces of advice, and best practices. He provided several detailed points of guidance for the incoming team, most notably that the expectation of the OPGA is to provide leadership, understanding, accountability, and impartiality. He emphasized the necessity for the office, as a central cog in the United Nations, to remain flexible, patient, and tolerant with all missions. Finally, he ended on a note about the importance of visibility, as much of the opinions about The Office will come from outward-facing mediums such as social media.
We then heard from Ms. Inga Kanchaveli who served the 71st, 72th, 73th, 75th Office of the President of the General Assembly as Senior Adviser. She gave a presentation about the General Assembly High-Level Events, insights on work materials, and how to support the PGA. Ms. Kanchaveli’s in-depth presentation provided the incoming team with a number of suggestion points, most notably to create detailed timelines of each portion and activity of every event. She also reiterated the importance of collective problem-solving with her advice to communicate inside and outside The Office, take ownership, and to seek guidance wherever needed. Lastly, she emphasized the importance of utilizing samples, reference materials, and to double and triple check any work produced.
For the second presentation of the evening, Ms. Toni Shae Freckleton, who served as Team Lead for Sustainable Development for the 75th Office of the President of the General Assembly, spoke to the incoming office about Environmental Issues, Development, and Economics. Her points centered around being clear with the goal and purpose of each session and undertaking. Namely, she called attention to priority goals around these topics, with an overarching focus on building resilience, such as building on the momentum of the Sustainable Development Goals Summit, the Summit of the Future, COP 28, and Financing for Development. Finally, she reaffirmed the ever-present theme of keeping strong relationships with other UN Bodies like ECOSOC and DESA.
Mr. Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group, Ms. Janina Hasse-Mohsine, and Ms. Eva Shaffer then took the floor to speak about creative diplomacy, political affairs, and human rights, respectively. Their advice centered around The Office’s role as a central member in global diplomacy, often necessarily involved with sensitive political debates and topics of discussion. As such, it is crucial for the OPGA to pay attention to developments in the Security Council, as vetoes can happen at any time and for any reason, which significantly complicate the completion of work. Ms. Shaffer’s presentation, in particular, reiterated points made by earlier speakers on gender equality, re-emphasizing the OPGA’s role as a “gender champions” amongst UN Bodies. She also touched on the significance of engaging with civil society and youth, demonstrating the magnitude of these matters at the center of the work of the OPGA.
As the final speaker, H.E. Ms. Egriselda López, Permanent Representative of El Salvador, began with a recognition of the passing of a resolution to Revitalize of the Work of the General Assembly. This momentous occasion provided a perfect template of how work in the OPGA is both collective and continuous, as this resolution followed two years of preparation and the hard work of two offices before being passed. She spoke about the criticality of making these sorts of mandates a reality to enable concrete and lasting change. Ms. Lopez ended with a strong point attune to another major theme of the afternoon in the necessity of the OPGA to center women and officially reflect them in the foundation and successes of the work.
Concluding remarks came from Chef De Cabinet-elect Mr. Collen Kelapile, who thanked all of the day’s speakers and ensured that none of the hard work and accomplishments that the previous OPGA have achieved will be drowned out with his administration. Andrés Montalvo, Chargé d’Affairs of Ecuador, on behalf of the Permanent Representative of Ecuador, concluded the workshop with sincere thanks and acknowledgement to each of the teams that contributed to the accomplishments of the outgoing office, the training, and wished the incoming team strength and success.