Remarks by Kul C. Gautam
At UNICEF farewell party
New York, 12 December 2007
I feel so flattered and overwhelmed with all the generous accolade bestowed on me this evening…
I know they are all meant well and sincerely, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that I actually deserve only a small fraction of the nice things that have been said, and shown in the video, about me.
Yes, all of the nice things that have been said did actually happen. But in many of those cases, I just happened to be lucky enough to be present at those momentous events, and benefited from what you might call “credit by association”.
– Association with once-in-a-lifetime, historic occasions like the World Summit for Children or the coming into force of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
– Association with a daring and charismatic leader like Jim Grant, who never took no for an answer, and whose vision continues to inspire so many of us in UNICEF and beyond. – The opportunity to work with some amazing mentors; creative thinkers, skillful strategists, committed activists, and loyal colleagues – some of whom are here with us today (….), and many who are not here (…..).
The after-glow of being in the presence of such great personalities, and dedicated colleagues, at momentous occasions – rubbed off on me, and whatever small contribution I could make got magnified in its importance.
You know, sometimes in life, we end up being or feeling guilty by association – association with the wrong cast of characters, or the wrong turn of events, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I have benefited from the opposite – getting credit by association with good people at key turning points for children and UNICEF in the past 3 decades.
In many ways, I feel like a big lottery winner.
As has been said, I came from a small village, in the mountains of Nepal ….
Most of the boys and girls I grew up with in my childhood, never went to school, were never immunized, have never seen a doctor or a dentist, never flown on an airplane, never used a telephone, not to speak of a computer or the internet.
Yet, I can tell you that most of them are innately just as smart and intelligent as you and I, and perhaps more hard-working than most of us in this room. But their average earning today would be less than a dollar a day compared to whatever you and I earn. And their life expectancy would probably be 10 to 15 years shorter than ours.
As diplomats, international civil servants, public officials and private entrepreneurs, we might think that we are smarter than most other people in the world; that somehow we are the crème de la crème of human species.
But you know, most of us are innately just about the average of much of human society. But we are all mega lottery winners – either by our birth or by our upbringing, or like me through a series of lucky coincidences.
The late Jim Grant, who for many of us continues to be a point of reference on so many things, used to say that in the larger scheme of things, those of us who work for UNICEF are just a handful of people with pocketful of coins with ordinary intelligence.
What is extraordinary about us is that we have won this fabulous lottery to work for an organization with a very noble mission. That leads many of us to dedicate ourselves, working as a team, to achieve extraordinary results.
I love UNICEF. My wife and children will tell you that although officially I oppose polygamy, I have actually been secretly married to UNICEF all these years.
I love UNICEF, because I see it as an organization that strives to create opportunities for, not just some, but all children so they can aspire to live up to their full human potential, and not be condemned to wait to see where the lottery of life takes them.
Having had the good fortune to be involved with the original WSC and SSC, I feel three times lucky to be concluding my formal career with UNICEF as we conclude the High-level Commemorative meeting of the UN GA Special Session on Children+5 review.
Tomorrow, this high level meeting of the GA will adopt a short but powerful outcome document that proclaims that “it is by giving high priority to the rights of children, to their survival, protection and development that we can serve the best interest of all humanity”.
It is a ringing declaration, and a call to action that invokes a collective sense of urgency to accelerate progress towards the MDGs.
Our ExDir Ann Veneman likes to say that children are not just part of MDGs, they are at the very heart of MDGs.
No wonder – because the origins of the MDGs go back to the World Summit for Children in 1990. That is when world leaders first agreed to a set of ambitious goals for children and development, which eventually became the MDGs at the Millennium Summit.
I wish Ann Veneman and the 10,000 staff members she commands, and the thousands of volunteers who work for UNICEF National Committees and field offices, tremendous success in ensuring that indeed, not just UNICEF, but the whole world sees children as being at the heart of MDGs.
I admire the United Nations for its vision of maintaining peace, safeguarding human rights, and promoting social and economic development.
I respect the agencies of the UN system for the good work they do.
But I love UNICEF for its mission of saving lives, protecting health, empowering the younger generation, with priority for the poorest and most vulnerable.
The Charter of the United Nations speaks of “We the peoples of the United Nations”. But in reality, the UN has essentially become an organization of “We the sovereign Member States, fiercely safeguarding our national interests”.
With its mission of helping children in need wherever they maybe, regardless of sovereign boundaries and other political considerations; with one-third of its income coming directly from the people and non-governmental sources; with hundreds of thousands of unpaid volunteers supporting the work of UNICEF in thousands of communities; UNICEF comes closest to being the part of the UN that can truly be considered an organization of “We the Peoples of the United Nations”.
At a time when multilateralism is under attack, and the UN itself is not spared, the reputation of goodness that UNICEF brings must be preserved as a treasure for the whole United Nations.
Of course, in this rapidly changing and globalizing world, all of us, including UNICEF, must be prepared to change and adapt, to remain relevant and at the cutting edge.
The United Nations is currently going through important reforms to usher greater coherence so the whole UN system can “deliver as one” with greater harmony and efficiency.
UNICEF does and must play a constructive role in this change process.
But as we change, let us make sure to preserve what works well.
I would ask you all – Member States, UN officials, and friends of children, to ensure that in the process of UN reform and greater coherence, some of the unique features of UNICEF that allow it to be a fearless advocate and activist for children, and that enable it to be the “people-to-people” face of the United Nations, are not inadvertently compromised.
For my part, I will soon retire from UNICEF, but the ideals of the United Nations and the magic of UNICEF will never retire from my heart or mind – or soul.
Besides being a jackpot winner in the lottery of life, as some of you know, recently I also got a true gift of life – a kidney from my own loving sister.
I intend to take full advantage of this gift of life and continue to find new ways to serve humanity.
I look forward to seeing many of you in other incarnations – always championing the cause of children and human development, with abiding faith in multilateralism, and the ideals of the United Nations as a beacon of human solidarity.