By Mourad Wahba, UNDP Associate Administrator (a.i.); Regional Bureau for Arab States | The world is marking 75 years of the United Nations at a time of great disruption for humanity, compounded by a global health crisis with severe social and economic impacts, against the backdrop of an accelerating climate crisis and growing ruptures to our shared global fabric.
It is a time when we must ask ourselves; can we emerge stronger, can we work more effectively together, can we rise to the occasion and, as the new saying goes, build forward better?
It is not the first time that humanity asks these questions, and the good news is that at moments large and small we have shown that the affirmative can be true. Be it at the local level, every day around the world, or at the global level at select and momentous moments of our common history.
Of the latter case, the birth of the United Nations stands out, with countries and peoples coming together in an effort more intense than any before to move beyond the scourge of war, put an end to want, and chart a course forward for humanity. While it may seem at times that these dictums are more honored in the breach than the observance, writ large it is an effort which has left a major, albeit incomplete, positive mark on humanity.
In my own tenure at the United Nations, it has become increasingly clear that the world we seek comes more clearly into view not only when we inside the institution do our jobs, but ultimately and most importantly when we join forces with the many around the world who seek common cause.
An example which stands out in this regard is the partnership between the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation (MBRF) and UNDP. Heading now into its second decade, this is a partnership which responds to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision that the future is not awaited, it is created. Anyone who has been to Dubai, or the United Arab Emirates more broadly, has seen evidence of that thinking.
The evidence we have in UNDP is indeed one of the most exciting joint projects we have known. The Knowledge Project started 12 years ago with the objective of supporting the countries of the Arab States region to become knowledge societies, and it has since grown to be a global platform for analysis and dialogue around advances in knowledge, technology, and innovation.
The Global Knowledge Index and the Future of Knowledge Foresight Report that have been created by virtue of this partnership between MBRF and UNDP, as well as international experts and private sector partners including Price Waterhouse Coopers, have driven important advances about what we know as a global society. They have also helped make the case that societies which invest in empirical knowledge are ultimately stronger, more cohesive, and in a better spot to thrive in a world of constant change, emerging opportunities, and mounting and oft-surprising threats.
Since 2017, the Index and the Report have together been a key resource informing policymakers about opportunities and risks in multiple areas of knowledge creation and consumption, including education; research and development; innovation, information and communications technology, and the knowledge economy, turning insights into actionable recommendations for moving towards knowledge societies. Indeed, both the Index and Report, had warned of technological weaknesses and unpreparedness of many countries and the world at large in the event of major emergencies. The outbreak of COVID-19 and the world’s uneven response to its spread have confirmed the significance, indeed the danger, of such gaps.
By partnering with UNDP to create these reports, MBRF has also underscored an inclusive and equitable vision. While there will always be a discussion about the competitive advantages of knowledge, it is ultimately in the interest of all humanity that knowledge, technology, and innovation be brought to bear for the advance of all. It is with this fact in mind that the project has followed a path and sought to achieve impact from the local, to the regional and the global levels. This is a unique role for a foundation to play in support of knowledge worldwide, and His Highness Shiekh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is to be commended and thanked for leading this effort and others in support of knowledge and scientific advance across the Arab States region and the world.
If nothing else, the current crisis shines a light on the importance of knowledge as a global public good. Just as, right now, the world is faced by a common threat, the world is coming together to find a common solution. We are exchanging perspectives and guidelines and learning from one another about how to cope with a new and common challenge. There are breakthroughs on the horizon and hope for humanity lies only in the prospect that these breakthroughs will be shared. When they are, we will know that the 75 years of effort at the United Nations has been all the more worthwhile. And we will be increasingly motivated to support the global advance of knowledge, in UNDP’s partnership with the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation.