Navigating Global Challenges: Carol Bellamy on the Role of International Institutions

January 23, 2024

Scroll down to watch the full discussion on Youtube.

South Africa’s case, brought forth in the International Court of Justice, charging Israel with genocide. The World Health Organization’s efforts to craft a global pandemic accord. A 39-member global advisory panel charged by the U.N. Secretary General with providing recommendations for the international governance of artificial intelligence. Finland and Sweden’s bids to join NATO. International organizations continue to be at the center of the day’s most challenging and contentious global issues.

Few people understand the importance of international organizations as well as Carol Bellamy (French-American Foundation Young Leader 1981, and former Executive Director of UNICEF), who spoke on the role of the United Nations, among other international peace-building institutions, at the 2023 Young Leaders Alumni Conference in New York. In a discussion moderated by Megan Carroll (Young Leader ’18 and Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), Bellamy imparted a sobering statistic from the most recent United Nations General Assembly in 2023: of the U.N.’s 36 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015, only two are close to being met by the 2030 deadline.

Bellamy highlighted a lack of global consensus and an international erosion of trust as some of the main issues faced by international institutions. Recent polls show that her words ring true – according to a 2022 global census poll conducted by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation, respondents from seven of the 15 countries surveyed, which included the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, are skeptical that organizations like the U.N. are sufficiently effective in addressing the most urgent global challenges.

Despite their shortcomings, Bellamy emphasized that international institutions are vital. “Our international institutions are precious because they still bring people together around common causes,” she stated, citing the positive impacts that U.N. organizations have had around the world. The U.N. Refugee Agency, for example, has helped over one million refugees rebuild their lives in new countries in the last 10 years. International organizations also provide the global community with a place to meet and discuss critical issues. Bellamy pointed out that vaccines against COVID-19 were developed and quickly distributed thanks to international cooperation and have saved an estimated 20 million lives. International institutions show us that coming together over common goals can only serve to make the world a stronger, more resilient place.

While international organizations are doing essential work, it is crucial for them to transform themselves and rebuild trust with the global community. The absence of 4 out of 5 Permanent United Nations Members at the most recent General Assembly shows that certain aspects of the U.N. are in need of reform, as Carroll pointed out in guiding the conversation. But “transformation is possible,” said Bellamy, adding that the U.N. is developing a new framework for accelerated action by 2024 to address its lack of progress towards meeting its SDGs.

“Today’s crises are not independent,” said Bellamy. “They are not standalone events. They are all intertwined, and they fuel and intensify each other.” Effective solutions to issues like climate change, the war in Ukraine, and the Israel-Palestine conflict require cooperation on a global scale – an undertaking that will require that international institutions not merely exist, but thrive.