Blogging the UN: Powers of Persuasion
As a finance expert on the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), I work with other independent experts to examine all organizational and financial proposals from the UN Secretary-General and to provide clear recommendations to the member states in the General Assembly as to how to proceed.
One of the advantages of being an independent expert at the UN here in New York is that you see so many sides of the same story. I don’t represent the UN, nor do I represent my country (the UK, in this case). I don’t need to take instructions and I have latitude to use my experience (considerable) and to exercise my judgement (I will leave you to decide on that).
It all sounds so civilised. Along with the other Members we all grapple with the resource issues underlying, for example, the newest peacekeeping mission in Africa or calculating how many security staff it takes to guard UN premises around the world.
The reality tends to be a little different. There are as many answers to a question as there are members of the Committee (16). The pursuit of truth through reasoned argument has a role, but frankly there is not much power of persuasion in the UN budgetary world; the scales do not magically drop from someone’s eyes as a finer version of reality is brilliantly expounded by an ‘opponent’. You either win or you are forced to concede. You have views or interests; others have theirs.
The key component for success here is retaining a personal identity. You need to know what you stand for. Otherwise you bob about like a cork on the ocean, going with whatever is the strongest current. We all want to be the go-to person without whom no negotiation can be concluded and no deal can stick.
So you need to know your UN expert. And values are important here. I know some people who change their values all the time. You need to hang on to your values. Be fair but firm. Be nice and smiley and mean it. Make friends - it’s necessary - but don’t get too close: this is a job not a social club.
With those simply rules of identity and comportment in mind, you are ready to work at the UN as an independent expert. And ready therefore to work on some big picture resource issues, quite a lot of UN peacekeeping, and to delve into the UN’s rather tortuous change management agenda. Of which much more in future blogs….
Richard Moon is a Finance Expert on the UN’s Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).