2021: A Year of Challenges: Conflict, Climate, Viral and Institutional

As we flip the calendar to 2022, Global Action is in a different place than we were at the beginning of 2021. At that time, and with the support of funders and program affiliates near and far, we were mostly focused on recovering the work for which we have been known for some time — including the restoration of our access to UN Headquarters and the internships and face-to-face policy scrutiny which such access made possible.

As the year has come to an end, we (and many others) have still not found our way back into UN spaces. The reason given for this denial of access is COVID-19 which has certainly complicated every aspect of our collective work. Such complications have turned us into a largely virtual project and, at least for now, taken away much of the richness of our modest contributions, including to the many young interns who have for years experienced both wonder and frustration in those UN spaces.

But it is not all about the virus. Indeed, COVID-19 has served as an excuse for some states to keep groups like ours more on the fringes of policy, to attempt to reposition NGOs as part-time support for state initiatives rather than full-time appraisers of the UN’s potency and effectiveness. The desire of some to maintain “state-driven” policy processes is understandable at one level, but the Glasgow Climate Conference and other multi-lateral engagements over this past year raise serious questions as to whether the UN’s working methods and the intentions of its states parties are sufficient to bring the human community back from the brink of climate disaster, authoritarian governance and a world awash in deadly weapons.

We have our doubts. As our nearly 2 year exile from UN spaces shows only faint signs of coming to an end, we have decided to take a step back, to examine some of the ruts into which we have also fallen and refocus our modest energies in ways that genuinely add value in the pursuit of a more peaceful, greener, more equitable world, a world fit to sustain the lives of our children and those who will follow them.

We will spend the winter months consulting with friends and affiliates about how and where to contribute what we are able. We will resume internships if and when it is possible to give them the experiences we believe it is essential for them to have. For now, we will do less on social media, will write fewer blog posts, will spend less time sharing what we like and don’t like about how the UN is conducting its policy business. For this short period, it is more important to assess than contribute.

Hopefully both will be possible. But we have strayed from assessment for too long. Indeed, over these past years, we have helped many to find their policy direction but have not asked for directions from others often enough. One of the hardest things for a small organization to do in the context of large city and large institutional engagements is to keep track of your own value — where it is exists, how it can berst be maximized, when and how it matters. The world surely isn’t holding its breath while we answer these questions, nor are the massive problems associated with declining biodiversity, melting ice caps and a world literally awash in weapons going to take a pause while we take ours. We are small, but that is no excuse for squandering any part of our potential value. It is this value that we now need to discern.

If you have ideas for us or suggestions regarding how and what we should engage next, we’re all ears. Feel free to write anytime to zuber@globalactionpw.org or chime in on twitter @globalactionpw.  In the meantime, thanks to all of you who continue in this struggle, who refuse to give in to the viral, climate and other threats which continue to take their toll on families and communities worldwide.  If this heartbreak is ever to end, we know that you will be out there leading the charge.  We look forward to fully joining you in due course.

2020: A Year Like None Other, for Us and for Many

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As we head into the homestretch of this year of pandemic and political instability, it is high time to reflect a bit on work that we have been doing longer than we imagined, but also that has taken longer to achieve its various peace and security objectives than we might have hoped.

Due in part to the arrival of COVID-19, our plans and priorities have scattered to the wind like so many others: interns have returned home or huddled in their own safe spaces, meetings have taken a dramatic and often unsatisfying virtual turn, recalling for us that old Aretha Franklin song, “Whose Zoomin’ Who?” Social contacts have been sharply limited, needless deaths from infection have been swept under a rug of relative indifference, and disinformation about the pandemic has been folded into a widening worldview devoted principally to conspiracy and mistrust.  In response, we at Global Action have chosen a more provocative response, at least in the short term, as authoritarian movements in the US and elsewhere threaten both domestic democratic processes and the efficacy of the multilateral institutions with which we continue to engage. 

This has not been a good time for us individually and collectively, but COVID did not cause all of the chaos and deprivation for which it is now, conveniently we would maintain, being held responsible. The pandemic has of course served to roll back progress on some of our sustainable development obligations, including on gender equality, children’s access to education, and on food security which has been almost completely fractured in some parts of the world with almost unimaginable consequences.

But as we have seen for many years with our own eyes, the world had been suffering for some time as gross economic inequalities have expanded, ocean storms and other climate impacts have worsened, atrocity crimes have continued to be committed with impunity by both state and non-state actors, nuclear weapons continue to be modernized, and biodiversity loss continues headlong towards extinction levels with grave implications for both our already challenged agricultural sector and the integrity of the indigenous cultures who know how to protect eco-systems if we would only let them do so.

As some folks at the UN are fond of saying, COVID didn’t create our problems so much as it pulled the curtain on them, revealing us for what we have become, a people who are more gullible and self-preoccupied, less kind and attentive than we might have imagined ourselves to be. Certainly we are not all that our contemporary preoccupations with self-branding suggest we are.

Thus, it remains a core tenet of our work, one often dismissed by the policy community, that better institutions and policy commitments require us to be better people. Even within bureaucracies that shape our aspirations and emotions more than they are shaped by us, there are still corners where fertile minds and warm hearts can avoid the traps of ambition and isolation and help restore the trust of constituents who, if we would only absorb this truth and rise to the occasion, need our reassuring competence and compassion perhaps as much as ever.

In my previous “home page” communication, I called attention to some of the uncertainties around Global Action’s future. We’ve been tilting at these multilateral windmills for over a generation and, with your loyal support, we have been able to clarify issues for diplomats and offer advice and counsel to civil society leaders in other global regions. We have also mentored many young people who have taken what they’ve learned here and done things with that learning we could never have accomplished ourselves. Despite the current pandemic challenges, we continue to search for alternatives to a complete shutdown, including possible fiscal sponsorship for Global Action and the draw-down of my own, often scattered leadership and its replacement by younger, fresher faces.

I’m not one to believe that non-profits, especially small ones, should continue to exist beyond their shelf life. But the place in this world that we have cultivated has become a kind of sacred trust, a trust that has been nourished over a generation by your gifts of wisdom and treasure, a trust that has helped launch many dozens of remarkable young people into an uncertain world that needs their skills and hopefulness more than it currently recognizes.   Whatever happens over the rest of this year, we will not stop our involvement in resolving a bevy of current threats regardless of how the forms and modalities of that service might change.

But change they will. I know that one or more of the many young people who have crossed our path over the years could do something special with the many assets of Global Action that are now a bit too dependent on me, but which could surely flourish in younger hands. Even more than responding to the many emergencies on our radar, more than helping new, hopeful initiatives find their footing, putting more responsibility in younger hands will be our primary task going forward.  We have assets to protect and expand, assets which you readers and supporters have done much to help develop and share, but there is also younger leadership to invest those assets in.   It is their turn now, and we want that turn to be as kind and effective as it can possibly be.   I have little doubt that you share this aspiration.

2019 in Review: GAPW’s Generational Sojourn

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As we complete our 20th year as an organization, we look forward to participating in the UN’s 75th anniversary year as well as the early segments of what the UN is calling the Decade of Action and Delivery for sustainable development. We and those we work with have much to do to ensure that the best aspects of our messages on security and development, both to the UN community and the world beyond, survive the present cacophony of voices, images, opinions, half-truth-telling and outright deception.

From the origins of Global Action as a disarmament-focused organization given to grand narratives and connections that were breathtaking at one level and ungenerous at another, we have evolved multiple times through staff changes and funding losses, through opportunities gained and lost, through the sharing of ideas, some of which endured while others were (properly) discarded. With our resolute “human security” focus, we have shared diverse perspectives, paid close attention to multi-lateral processes that others have long abandoned, and done our level best to link the concerns of diverse populations and its local leadership with “nerve centers” such as the United Nations. That such centers have their own “nerve damage” has been self-evident to us and we have long sought to hold together our care for this place and our insistence that it rise to a higher level of inspiration and effectiveness.

Through all this, and with the extraordinary assistance of diverse funders and partners over the years, we have managed to do what has perhaps been our best work: laying out a path for the participation of many dozens of interns, fellows and occasionally even paid staff. These young people, mostly in the midst of some sort of formal education, many of whom are from what we used to call the “global south,” and most of whom have been women, have graced us with their energy, their skepticism, their often lively brains and sometimes under-developed hearts. We have kept them as much in the forefront as they had time and inclination to accept. It is their world now, their turn at the wheel, their values to incarnate, their cultures to examine and alter.

The bits of heartbreak for us in all of this is two-fold: First, that all of them eventually leave, including those who have had such a positive impact on our lives, mostly to begin positions which test them and for which their experience with us has had some benefit. And secondly, that we have not been able to take more of the burdens of the future off their plates. Indeed, some of the ills that we thought we might have collectively solved once and for all – from polio to torture – have announced their comebacks. And the larger threats facing the planet – from weapons of mass destruction to climate change – have only grown more insidious. We fail to change our ways, including the “ways” in which our flawed institutions of governance and grossly unequal economic system continue to drive a wedge between the world and our better selves.

I frankly cannot predict what will happen to Global Action after 2020. We still have connections to make and reform suggestions to share. We still pay close attention to what is happening inside the UN, hopefully still able to identify ideas that we can share and that can help break the political impasses that themselves threaten to break the spirit of global constituents. And we still sit in awe of what people who have passed through our lives are doing and making in the larger world. But it is not clear that we will have the energy or the resources to carry on beyond 2020. The metaphorical duct tape that we have used (and that many of you have helped us access) to hold this project together over many years is showing more and more of its wear.

We have much to assess in this New Year as well as much to do with others to help the planet embrace a more sustainable path.  We remain grateful for all of you – for your support of us but even more for your own, hopeful global actions — and promise to keep you apprised of our plans and any potential breakthroughs.

The Year in Review: Global Action’s Virtual Life

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Many of you who consulted our largely out-of-date website in 2018 did so to access our increasingly influential policy blog (the tree to the right) and so know more or less what we’ve accomplished over this past year, with whom we have accomplished it, and the “so much” that still remains to be done.

Our philosophy has remained constant over these past few years – put ideas and commitments into the policy community, but define ourselves less by what we do ourselves and more by what we leverage together with others. Giving interesting projects a “push” is what we do best, not owning or controlling, nor branding or gate-keeping.

Moreover, the focus remains on the development of the diverse young people who grace our office on a regular basis, and certainly have done so this year as well. Ready or not, it is “their turn” to see what can be made of the challenges and opportunities that lie before us. That young people still want to be part of our office and this policy community, and that they collectively “look like” the UN community as a whole, remains a great blessing to us.

We need to better nurture these younger voices. That we can take as good care of them as we do is largely a function of some generous donors of funding and in-kind support who have stood by us as we cleaned out our longtime office space, shifted some core partnerships, and addressed a few access challenges inside the UN. This space is not sufficient to thank all who have rooted us on in tangible ways during 2018, but mention must be made here of Dylan Hixon and the A & A Fund, Hope Hanafin, Lois Whitman, Karin Perro, Robert Thomas, Wendy Brawer and Green Map, and Danielle Katz. We also honor Dr. John Burroughs and the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, without whom Global Action might well have not thrived (let alone survived) into the present.

If the closing of our office was the most physically and emotionally demanding part of this year (see reflection and new contact information below), there were many other energy and soul-lifting moments that we were honored to share. Marching with Marta Benavides in San Salvador to honor the legacy of Monsignor Romero; sitting in a Marrakesh churchyard speaking with refugees from a region of Cameroon to which we have long accorded special importance; holding sessions with Roman Hunger to help NATO implement its new and expanded commitment to curb the proliferation of small arms; meeting with our dear colleague Dr. Catherine Jones and Indonesian officials to map out security priorities as they join the UN Security Council on January 1, 2019; speaking to business school students at Georgia Tech University, international affairs students at Instituto Mora in Mexico City and participants celebrating the launch of Lin Evola’s extraordinary “Peace Angel” sculpture inside the World Trade Center museum in New York.

There was quite a bit more; indeed more than I can recall let alone communicate gratitude for. Much attention and feed-back by us to UN policies and processes will continue of course, but also beyond the UN in diverse communities who have learned to look past our (mostly my) sometimes excessive intensity to the offers we continue to extend, sharing what we have (and what others have given us) with people doing innovative and hopeful things, ideas and activities that promise to give us all a “fighting chance” in the years to come.

We honor all of these promises, all of the hard work, caregiving and honest thinking that go into initiatives that give us the best opportunity to endure these current difficult moments and emerge in a more sustainable place. We will do our best to persevere on multiple fronts through 2019, offering you our most attentive, thoughtful and generous efforts as many of you have already done for us.

Managing Transition: Global Action’s Next Phase

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Temporary New Address: 521 West 122nd Street, #45, New York, NY 10027

Temporary Phone: 646-660-3044

Email: zuber@globalactionpw.org

Due to the expiration of our lease, Global Action has taken up temporary residence in the home of Dr. Robert Zuber where we will remain until UN-convenient and cost-effective space can be secured.

While we have enjoyed and benefited greatly from our decade long stay at UN Plaza, we are doing everything possible to maintain the most important, relevant and serviceable program and human connections through this new phase.

With support from our generous donors and the skills of our interns and fellows, we will continue to canvas UN headquarters looking for the most fruitful discussions and then linking a host of human security concerns – from sustainable agriculture and development finance to water access and conflict minerals – to the UNs core peace and security mandate. At the same time, through publications, convenings and social media, we will continue to press diplomats and NGOs to see a larger and more inter-connected picture, including more direct caregiving for the UN as an institution during this time of uncertainty both for itself and for the broader global community.

In addition, we have an exciting trip planned to Indonesia this summer to reflect with government officials and other stakeholders – persons who anticipate taking an elected seat in the UN Security Council in 2019 — on ways to make UN peacekeeping better positioned to support political negotiations and agreements when conflict threatens. We will also stay connected to events in El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Central Africa and other sites of violence and injustice, helping to make relevant policy connections that can help restore the peace. 

And we will welcome a wonderful new cohort of interns to help make all our commitments through this transition possible.

As the world continues to spin in unpredictable ways, please stay connected to us through twitter (@globalactionpw) and our policy blog (click on the tree to the right of this post). We welcome your questions, your suggestions, your financial support and even specific leads on possible consulting projects to help us keep our small operation afloat. We’ll let you know when we’ve found a suitable new home.

Better Policy Requires Better People

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In recent months, Global Action has been engaged with a number of organizations and movements seeking to blend policy and personal growth, including “Reaction to Response,” a project of the International’s Women and Girls Sector of Charter for Compassion.  Among its other merits, we have been inspired by the insistence of a growing number of people and projects that achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is more likely “when every man, woman and child treats others as they wish to be treated–with dignity, equity and respect.”

This is the sort of linkage that we seek to explore in a variety of contexts:  between visionary policy on the one hand and people of character and purpose on the other.  Policy, we have learned over many years, can inspire commitment and compassion, but is not a substitute for them.  If we are to fulfill the lofty promises of the SDGs and end the violence and warfare that have undermined so much human development in our collective past, we will need many more hands on deck connected to hearts and minds committed to a disciplined caregiving that says  “yes” to others and, when necessary, “no” to ourselves.

This past September, we were featured in a “Reaction to Response” podcast and “after party” hosted by Lisa Berkley who is well-known in Global Action circles.   Among other things, the podcast covered issues related to the role of dignity in peace and security discourse, renewing efforts to promote equity and respect among women and girls, and how to shift at least part of the security conversation away from weapons and armies towards inclusive, disciplined, compassion-based community development.

For access to the main Podcast, click here.   For access to the “After Party” Podcast, click here.

Reflections on UN CSW 61: An Evening with WIIS-NY

c9tgryyuqaewmgwAs many followers of Global Action know, we have been honored to cultivate a long and productive relationship with Women in International Security (WIIS), and especially its New York and West Coast (US) Chapters.

On April 11, we joined with WIIS-NY for an event to assess the impact of the recently concluded 61st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) devoted to Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.

The speakers for our assessment included Yoshita Singh, Shazia Rafi, Ourania Yancopoulos and Ivy Gabbert, all well-known around the UN system.   The session was ably moderated by WIIS-NY’s Christina Madden.

The discussion veered between issues of women’s leadership at the UN and more general, employment-related discrimination faced by women in a variety of security-related, professional contexts.   In addition, attention was focused on the needs and aspirations of younger women representing part of the largest generation of young people ever to grace our planet.  Two of the young adults who had participated in this CSW joined the group and shared their own commitments to gender equality within and far beyond the UN system.

There were several “take away” insights for Global Action as well:

  • The important focus on rural women whose options and contexts for “empowerment” are often very different from women in urban, educated and even “elite” environments.  We must remain sensitive to context and avoid “one size fits all” discourse.
  • The importance of ensuring that the most qualified women candidates are able and willing to become candidates for institutional leadership, including and especially leadership at the UN.  States simply must take a larger role in nominating qualified women.
  • The importance of improving synergies between “political” events like the CSW and the binding treaty obligations embodied in the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
  • The importance of making space for young voices and energies, including our own willingness to identify and mentor youth as they find their own voices and embark on their own paths of leadership and service.

In all security-related fields, there is still much work to be done to ensure fair and equal access to employment opportunities, political participation and institutional leadership for women, ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities and more.   The proverbial “faces in front of the camera” have changed significantly in recent years, but there is still a hill to climb.  We must climb it without delay.

For more information on WIIS-NY, click here.

For more information on CSW61, click here.

Connecting UN Issues and Thought Leaders Through Global Connections Television

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Global Action has been pleased to be interviwed by Global Connections Television’s host Bill Miller on more than one occasion.  While our conversations have largely focused on security and disarmament concerns — as our organizational name would suggest — Bill has encouraged us to weigh in on related issues such as gender-based violence and the protection of civilians by UN peacekeeping forces.

Bill’s audience, now numbering in the millions, is attracted by the range of progressive issues which he investigates and promotes, but even more by the quality and prominence of his guests. A review of the GCTV website reveals an extraordinary array of senior UN officials, heads of member state governments, NGO leaders, business executives, and community leaders — all of whom help to make the UN what it is and also help it to become what it is yet not.

We are honored to be able to make our own contribution to GCTV and its splendid roster of diplomats and issue experts making a difference in the world, and more specifically making a difference through the United Nations. We hope to do more with Bill and his network in the coming years.

For access to Dr. Zuber’s November interview with Bill Miller, click here.


Spotlight on Sustainable Development

agenda-2030_engl_titel_smallAs many of our friends and affiliates know, Global Action’s lens on peace and security has broadened over the years, moving beyond weapons to what many diplomats at the UN refer to as the “root causes” of conflict — from persistent poverty and habitat loss to climate impacts and discrimination based on ethnicity, gender and religion.   Security question permeate (or should) much of what the UN does, including the provision of humanitarian assistance, the health of our oceans, the political enfranchisement of youth and the protection of children in conflict zones.

Together with NGO partners organized by Global Policy Forum, we contributed our lens to a recently-released volume, “Spotlight on Sustainable Development,” which looks at all the Sustainable Development Goals, their means of implementation (including funding) and obstacles to their full and equitable achievement.  As described by the “Spotlight” editors:

Independent monitoring and review of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its structural obstacles and challenges are key factors for the success of the SDGs. It is for this reason that the Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development together with other civil society organizations and networks has produced the first annual Spotlight Report assessing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the structural obstacles in its realization. The report puts a spotlight on the fulfillment of the 17 goals, with a particular focus on inequalities, responsibility of the rich and powerful, means of implementation and systemic issues.

Global Action was responsible for commentary on Goal 16, “Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies.”  While this goal and its targets are anything but weapons-obsessed, there is recognition that the volume of weapons in circulation, licit and illicit, poses a grave challenge to sustainable development priorities.  Moreover, Goal 16 targets devoted to ensuring respect for the rule of law, ending government corruption and promoting full public participation and access are all in keeping with our security objectives.

This is not our first project seeking to link peace and security concerns to the many other aspects and activities now on the UN agenda.  It will not be the last.  “Connecting dots” remains an important component of our mission here in New York and with diverse global partners, and that mission is only likely to grow in importance.

For more information on Sustainable Development Goal 16 and its targets, click here.

For access to the full Spotlight report as well as individual chapters, click here.

Refugee Integration for Sustainable Peace

cadets1As many readers of this space are aware, Global Action has long taken an interest in mentoring women (and men) interested in careers in international security.

That interest has resulted in some satisfying partnerships, including with the New York and West Coast (US) Chapters of Women and International Security.   In addition, we have been privileged to welcome cadets from West Point as interns and in conjunction with graduation projects that help them extend their military training to some of the more difficult challenges we face as a society.

Earlier this spring, Cadets Binkowski, Murphy (not pictured) and Sampson came to our office to talk about the problem of integrating refugees into US communities. What are the common pitfalls?  Where are the successful integration models?   What can the military do (if anything) to help ease transitions, reassure the wary and prepare communities to receive their newest members?

All three cadets, under the guidance of Colonel Diane Ryan, have had extensive training in psychology and social relations.   Their display (pictured above) offered several important recommendations for how to integrate newcomers who have faced violence and other challenges in a way that promotes, rather than undermines, stable and peaceful communities.   Perhaps their best recommendation was the simplest — ensure adequate time for dialogue to enhance preparation and “ownership” by host communities.   The better prepared communities are to receive refugees, the smoother the transition is likely to be.

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