Original and innovative approach

The World Today Published 6 June 2019 4 minute READ

Andrea Flores Gutiérrez, British School of Barcelona

The staff at The World Today really liked Andrea’s idea of a micro-tax on screentime. and Lord Jim O’Neill, Chairman of Chatham House, said: ‘I admire the action-oriented nature of this entry’.

I would ask all nations the question you have asked me to answer: what should the UN Secretary-General do on day one?

As of today, conflict, famine and poverty, amongst other issues, plague each and every country of the world, hindering growth and dividing communities to unimaginable extents. Even though efforts are made to resolve them, ‘half-solutions’ are often the norm— strong plasters which do cover the wound, but not indefinitely. Addressing these problems with restricted resources and attention rarely accomplishes effective resolutions. So, after asking representatives to choose the worst conflict, under their point of view, a selection of three would be made. Only three — one should not bite off more than one can chew. Then, with renewed focus, each committee would start to debate and discuss all aspects relating to each issue, submitting clauses which would only be applicable to particular situations. This specificity is essential: if a solution can be used for more than one problem, it does not concentrate enough on unique details.

Nonetheless, this idea would only allow the United Nations to give their actions a greater sense of direction and focus. Without additional resources, and more specifically, monetary funds inefficiency would inevitably recur. When considering the international nature of the issues and the global presence of the UN and its associated organisations, one realises how the fundraising method to be implemented should be equally universal. This is where technology comes into play. In recent years, mobile phone use has increased exponentially, reaching a point where in 2018, the average person was touching, swiping or clicking their screen 2617 times a day. The top 10% were doing so 5427 times. Clearly, this level of activity provides a great opportunity for governments to collaborate on a more significant scale with the UN, helping it obtain financial resources. However, how can technology use and capital raising be linked for this purpose? The answer is simple: by imposing a tax on screen time. Although it may seem unfair, as everyone should independent and rational enough to operate without restrictions, this tax would not only increase the resources available to address the chosen conflicts. It would also help reduce addiction to technology, diminishing all health and social problems related to it.

Therefore, by adding a tax, pressure on healthcare systems would also be indirectly reduced, improving, in the longer-run, the living standards of the population.

These measures would hopefully bring a stronger sense of purpose to the organisation, something which is often absent due to private interests and political influences. Besides this, humans are naturally motivated when they see ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’, as the final objective seems more attainable. Therefore, narrowing down the horizon of problems which have to be solved, explicitly focusing on those fairly chosen to be the most “unacceptable”, would allow the world to develop, faster, into a more positive position, so that one day, perhaps, it would not have to rely so much on proposals like this.

Sung Jun Choi, ABC International School, Ho Chi Minh City

This was a personal highlight of staff at The World Today, who really liked the idea of focusing spending on slums. Here is a comment from the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, a member of the judging panel: ‘This entry tackles many Sustainable Development Goals, and offers valuable insight with useful recommendations from different perspectives. It presents a good analysis on the current situation and proposed solutions accordingly.’

With over 25% of the world’s urban population living in informal settlements and 213 million informal settlement residents added since 1990, the first policy I would be introducing as the UN Secretary-General is to promote and support sustainable development in squatter settlements. A range of factors including population growth, lack of affordable housing and uncontrolled urban planning strategies have driven millions of people into poverty-stricken conditions with chronic illnesses, pollution and lack of sanitation being the main issues.

Taking the slums of Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya as evidence, I’ve recognised the importance of supplying affordable and accessible supplies of water, electricity and basic needs to the poorer communities. Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor, a charity group, has managed to provide over 400,000 slum dwellers with water and with this programme in place, the mortality rate has decreased by 6.9%, improving the living conditions of a slum environment.

Another major issue to address is the provision of safe housings. Given that slum housings often fails to comply with the safety standards, numerous people face the constant risk of houses collapsing. For instance,a rockslide at Mnshiyet Nasser slum in Cairo, Egypt left 24 dwellers killed and according to the state government’s report, there are 404 slums in Egypt that are considered ‘unsafe.’ By coordinating efforts with local charities, like Practical Action (which is active in solving this problem) and inter-governmental agencies, self-help schemes that offer low-cost roofing tiles and the rebuilding of housing structures can be introduced to the market.

Last but not least, it’s important to provide basic education and job training to those who live in squatter settlements. A majority of these people often come from poor backgrounds and in some cases, come from rural settlements to look for a better life in cities. Educating these people will not only benefit these people given that they’re given chances to assimilate to the urban environment but also, it will benefit the nation’s economy as a whole seeing as an educated workforce tends to increase productivity and in turn, greater economic growth.

A combination of the proposed strategies clearly works towards helping to revive the squatter settlements and also, provide opportunities for basic human rights to be fulfilled. Certainly, the provision of basic needs like clean water supply and safe housing would work towards strengthening Article 25 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – ‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care…’ There are flaws to these solutions, for example, the financial burden, but, these problems should not hold down efforts to address key issues that our society is destined to face in the future.

Dominika Lasota, Stonyhurst College

The UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, a member of the judging panel picked out Dominika’s entry for these reasons: ‘The author strives to achieve gender equality at the highest level in the UN. The author also proposes a reform of the education system of every country to strengthen the importance of gender balance. Great link to SDG5 as a core value, and also brings in the discussions of using other SDGs to achieve gender equality.’

My day of leadership of the United Nations is better when shared with another Secretary-General. For my first action, I decided to call the Security Council and General Assembly to appoint another chief administrative officer of the UN, who would represent the opposite gender. Through this nomination, the universal body for peace will witness the formation of a grand coalition between humans – a paving the way for gender equality on all levels of the UN and a shift in the idea of power-sharing on the global stage.

An organization with such standing in the modern world can catalyze a normative change, advancing gender equality. The inequalities between women and men stop our society from building a just foundation for a sustainable world. The gender gap is responsible for preventing the global economy from increasing the GDP by 11 percent. Therefore, a woman in the highest diplomatic position in the world could promote the essential female role in the decision-making processes within communities and institutions, ensuring that women’s needs are met with sufficient support. Simultaneously, if people see both a man and a woman advocating together for these causes on the most important rung of the UN’s ladder, they will be inspired to reconsider the socially constructed perception of gender conflict, which could prevent any female or male from being deprived of the opportunities to achieve economic or social goals due to gender.

Establishing a union at the top of the United Nations would also convey a strong message about power. In the 21st century, humanity, struggling with issues of climate change and poverty, requires the authorities to give up on the prestige of power. Sharing the unique spot of Secretary-General with another person may appear unclear, however, it demonstrates that dividing the responsibilities, making joint decisions and improving the collaborative work can lead our society into a more successful future in which people utilize network approach rather than autonomous action. The daily tasks for me and the other Secretary-General, even though under the same set of values, would be different, therefore allowing for a wider presence of UN’s representatives in events on the international stage. The radical change of the arrangement of the Secretariat could diversify the voices reaching the UN and initiate a fruitful dialogue about mutual empowerment of people in tackling the problems threatening current and future generations.

Transforming the institutional context of a power-wielding head of the United Nations by forming two positions of Secretary General would definitely spur a public dialogue regarding gender equality and ways to achieve it. It requires not a single man or a single woman, but the cooperation of both for humanity to effectively address and solve pressing issues. Men and women need to focus on working together, recognizing the voices of both parties in the decision-making processes. Joining hands with my co-secretary on that day could hopefully prompt the world to create global solidarity of people, in order to fight for a harmonious and sustainable future, lasting more than a day.

Thirdly, with the comparatively few who understand what it is like to be disabled, I would institute a reform to the education systems in each of the participating countries. This should be done by lessons to each year/grade at school. The aim of this is that it will improve general integration.

Lastly, in addition to the coalition of funds that I have already mentioned, I would also give proportional tax breaks to business who cooperate and meet standards. This should lower the burden to any single financier of the project.

With this, I hope that, as General Secretary, I would be able to improve the lives of a deserving minority.