Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen our support for the UN’s mission and work, and I am thrilled to be leading this initiative. Until March, I was based in Brussels leading Microsoft’s European Union government affairs team. That role instilled a passion for working with multilateral institutions and participating in multi-stakeholder projects such as the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace. It has been a few years since I was a law student in New York City studying international legal and policy issues, but it’s great to be returning to NYC to learn and participate in today’s issues.
The new UN Affairs team has been operating in startup mode for the past several months as we build relationships with the UN community and begin expanding Microsoft’s engagements. Our commitment to building a team focused on the UN is rather unique, and we have received several questions, and a few puzzled expressions on why we are doing this now. And so today I want to provide an update on our mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and our team.
Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it’s public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, we at Microsoft have found that progress requires two elements. We need both international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions.
One of the most significant transformations since the UN was established 75 years ago has been the advent of the internet. In this interconnected world, the internet can both hasten progress and exploit vulnerabilities. We are committed to continuing to support Secretary-General Guterres’ call to harness technology to respond to and recover from the devastating health, economic and social consequences of COVID-19.
We have been considering where we can make the greatest contributions. Microsoft is focused on supporting and promoting cooperation to advance progress towards a more accessible and equitable digital environment and a healthier planet, and enabling the UN and its agencies to achieve more using computer and data science. In this 75th UN General Assembly, we are committed to collaborating to advance seven priorities:
- Human rights, ensuring technology protects and empowers everyone, all peoples and all nations, and exploits no one
- Environmental sustainability, curbing emissions to foster a more sustainable future, reducing waste, promoting new approaches to ensure access to clean drinking water, and preserving and protecting the biodiversity and health of the world’s ecosystems
- Defending democracy and cyberpeace, promoting strong democratic institutions and electoral systems and advocating for clear rules of the road for state actors in cyberspace
- Decent work and economic growth, helping 25 million people worldwide acquire the digital skills needed in a recovering economy
- Quality education, launching global platforms to support remote learning and help address the education crisis
- Broadband availability and accessibility, building out internet access to 40 million people across Africa, Latin America and Asia by 2022
- Digitally empower UN organizations, with solutions to deliver against their mission to build inclusive and prosperous societies
These imperatives cannot be achieved without close cooperation among Member States, multilateral institutions, civil society and the private sector. As we work to make substantive progress, we should also devote our collective time and effort to building consensus on how our global institutions should be reformed and strengthened. We are at an inflection point.
A series of crises have exposed the fragility of our global governance systems and institutions. Given the scale of challenges we face today, the need for reform is clear, but the international community has yet to elaborate and agree upon the necessary solutions. Now is the time to think more broadly and reimagine what effective, inclusive global governance can do for society, and to strengthen the systems and institutions that are tasked with this work.
Our activities for UNGA75
In the midst of a pandemic and economic shock, the UN opened its 75th General Assembly this week. Meetings and conferences will be conducted online, with a socially distanced hybrid General Assembly. “High-level week” won’t be the same without the heads of state and governments convening in person, but the UN’s agenda, and the global challenges facing all of us, are no less pressing and urgent.
This year, we have adjusted our plans, but retained our ambitions. We are excited to announce a series of events around each of these seven priority topics during high-level week. Several of us at Microsoft will be participating in UN-sponsored events as well as joining others’ virtual programming, including Concordia’s 10th Annual Summit. Microsoft is partnering with GZERO Media and Eurasia Group to provide briefings, analysis and debate on the most pressing issues facing the 75th UN General Assembly. We encourage all stakeholders – from individuals and activists to government and UN officials – to attend, participate and make your voices heard.
UN Affairs team
This is a great opportunity to introduce our UN Affairs team. Lani Cossette, Senior Director and Chief of Staff, comes to New York from her previous role in Brussels with our European Government Affairs team, and Jamal Edwards, Senior Program Manager, is joining us from our Digital Diplomacy team. Jean-Yves Art, Senior Director, and Daniel Akinmade Emejulu, Program Manager, remain in Geneva where they will continue their engagements with the UN offices in Geneva and the OECD. Our human rights specialists, Steve Crown, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, and Bernard Shen, Assistant General Counsel, remain in Seattle, while Michael Karimian, Senior Manager, is based in New York.
UNGA high-level week comes around only once each year. The UN’s work around the world continues 365 days each year. Let’s work together not only this month but all year to make a difference.