You are here: Natalie Samarasinghe on why UNA-UK needs your support

This special issue of New World, produced to mark the UN’s 70th anniversary, seeks to tell the story of the Organization in different ways: through facts and figures, commentary on its evolving role and vignettes that highlight its achievements and challenges over the past seven decades.

There is forward-looking analysis too. UNA-UK’s Chairman, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, and I reflect on the UN’s changing operating environment, in particular the decline in political support for our global system. And UNA-UK makes the case for the one reform that arguably has the greatest potential to transform the UN: a better process to select its Secretary-General.

We also issue a challenge to the public at large: support your United Nations in 2015. This year, governments have the opportunity to adopt a new development agenda and a global climate deal. Their agreement and implementation depend on an effective UN.

We must show our governments that we want them to invest in an effective UN and that we want them to use this platform to forge the global solutions we need. Throughout 2015, UNA-UK will continue to organise campaigns and events to help people take action. To find out more, visit www.una.org.uk/UN70.

While researching UNA-UK’s history (we turn 70 this year too) I came across a “Call to Alertness” in the November 1945 issue of New World’s predecessor. It states:

“For the sake of future generations, we must never again be so absorbed in our own little private affairs as to become oblivious to the larger issues at stake in the world ... We must expect action from the House of Commons when it is needed, and must not grouse if that action interferes with our comforts ... We must keep ourselves conversant with international affairs, and see to it that our votes are cast at parliamentary elections in favour of candidates who are well-informed … Once and for all, we must grasp the obvious fact that we are not only members of a nation; we are also world citizens and what goes on in the world concerns us vitally.”

These words encapsulate UNA-UK’s mission past and present: enshrining the values of the UN Charter in the hearts of people in this country, and ensuring strong UK support for the Organization.

Despite the many global issues affecting the UK, from climate change to terrorism, pandemics to refugee flows, foreign policy was largely absent from the election campaign. The next five years of British politics may well be dominated by “a tale of two unions”: Britain’s relationship with the European Union, and the future of the United Kingdom itself.

The need for informed debate on the UK’s global role has never been more clear or urgent. As the UK’s leading, and often only, UN voice, this Association must make the case for the UN in this country, loudly and compellingly. To do so, we need your support.

I have now been at UNA-UK for nearly 10 years and one thing we are not very good at is asking for money. We do so very reluctantly if at all, preferring to ask for support for the UN’s frontline agencies. But what these agencies really need is funding from governments and concerted efforts to address, and prevent, the crises they are trying to ameliorate. And governments will not act without pressure from civil society and a mandate from the public. This is where UNA-UK comes in.

Flicking through our 1945 magazine, I found the notice featured above: a bold call for one million supporters and £100,000 for the fledgling Association, accompanied by a note from our first Director: “A forbidding figure in these days of so many appeals? Not on your life! We shall get it if the consciences of the people act.”

Today, we need to be just as bold if we are to fulfill our crucial mission. This Director would like to see one million supporters and £1 million. I hope you will give UNA-UK a gift for its 70th birthday. It’s quick and easy to do at www.una.org.uk/donate and it will make a great difference to our work.

This is a year of enormous challenges, challenges that need a strong, credible and effective UN. UNA-UK will continue to bring this message to policymakers, schools and communities in the UK and beyond. I hope we can count on your support.

Natalie Samarasinghe is Executive Director of UNA-UK and edited the special issue of New World celebrating the UN's 70th anniversary