The United Nations is about to pick a new leader in an election that’s just as important as picking the next President of the United States.

Here’s why.

The UN Secretary-General should be the world’s most important global citizen.

The head of the UN has a direct line to every President, Prime Minister and CEO in the world. They can be a moral leader for our collective humanity against a chorus of narrow self-interest. They can draw media attention to crises, bring leaders together to tackle complex problems, and push everyone to live up to the values of being a global citizen.

For the past 70 years, the UN Secretary-General has been hand picked by UN member states and specifically the five permanent members of the Security Council (America, Britain, France, Russia and China). The selection has occured behind closed doors in secret negotiations. It has given countries, not citizens, the guiding voice in selecting the Secretary-General.

Until now.

Global Citizen is part of the 1 for 7 billion coalition which has pushed the UN to bring the process out into the open.

For the first time, candidates have to be formally and publicly nominated. They have to publicly answer questions from member states at hearings that the UN is running in April, an important innovation championed by the the President of the General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft.

Citizens can even put forward questions that could get asked of the candidates

Not all candidates have declared yet. There are still plenty that are just rumours at the moment  (see here for the full list). But, for the ones who are already in the race, the world will get to learn more about them than ever before.

And now, thanks to our friends at the Guardian, the declared candidates are participating in public debates in New York on April 13 and London in June.

Global Citizen has teamed up with Avaaz and the UN Association of the UK to give you the chance to vote on what questions get asked at these debates. We’ve taken some of the most pressing issues facing the UN and worked with journalists to turn them into 12 questions that you can rank, as well as adding your own. The process is truly global with the questions translated into nine different languages.

Vote now - and the top ranked questions by you will be put to the candidates.

As citizens, we still don’t get to vote on who gets the job.

It’s still going to come down to the Security Council - 15 countries, including the 5 mentioned above - picking someone, and asking the General Assembly of all countries to agree.

But, we can put enough pressure on the UN, candidates and the member states to make sure that the eventual winner is someone that who shares our values as global citizens.

They’re not going to do this until July at the earliest (although no one knows for sure when it’ll be).

That gives global citizens four months to make make our voices heard, both to candidates directly and to the member states who control the process.

Global Citizen will be sharing stories, asking you to take action, and working with partners in the media to make sure that all the candidates who are standing have made their positions clear on the issues that you care about most.

At Global Citizen, we’re not going to take a position on who the next Secretary-General should be, as we don’t think that’s our role. But, we will be asking the hard questions equally of all candidates, inviting you to make up your own mind, and pushing the most powerful countries to take notice.

We’re doing this because there’s never been a more important time for the United Nations. Its very credibility and legitimacy is on the line, and this leadership election is the system’s last great hope.

At Global Citizen, we’re proud to be staunch supporters for much of what the UN stands for.

In 2015, we were thrilled to support and push the UN to get governments to agree two of the vital plans for the future of humanity. In September, they agreed the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, 17 goals that map out a 15 year plan to address the world’s greatest challenges - ending extreme poverty, tackling climate change and reducing inequality. And, in December, the UN shepherded the Paris Climate Negotiations, which have paved the way for urgent and comprehensive global action on climate change.

Neither of these agreements were perfect. Nothing agreed to by more than 190 countries is. But they’re big steps forward, and came after some of the most extensive involvement of citizens, companies and civil society that’s ever been seen.

But these big wins aren’t enough to protect the UN from 70 years of baggage. Just weeks ago, a former senior official, Anthony Banbury published a cutting article in the New York Times, saying:

Six years ago, I became an assistant secretary general, posted to the headquarters in New York. I was no stranger to red tape, but I was unprepared for the blur of Orwellian admonitions and Carrollian logic that govern the place. If you locked a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result. The system is a black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again.

The day this story was published, I happened to talk to a number of Ambassadors to the UN from all over the world. Many of them had already seen it, and to the extent these diplomats ever give anything away, they thought Banbury had a point.

The next leader of the UN is going to have to address this, and they’ll have to do it fast. If they don’t, or they fail, we won’t ever be able to realize the ambition of the Global Goals or the Paris Climate Agreement.

That’s why we can’t leave the decision up to just a few people. That’s why we need you. To vote in what questions to put to candidates. To learn about the candidates. To click, read and share the media stories that you see.

And above all, to push the UN to deliver on the dream that we all believe, as stated in the preamble to the UN Charter:


·  to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and

·  to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and

·  to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and

·  to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

It's your turn to guide the UN to the right leaders. Go vote on the questions the candidates for the next UN Secretary-General and shape a better future.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of each of the partners of Global Citizen. 


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