HR Reform at the United Nations

Article excerpt

Wednesday, April 7 New York City

AT A GLANCE

Organization: United Nations

Type of Organization

An organization comprised of 185 sovereign States that maintains international peace and security, develops friendly relations among nations and promotes social progress, better living standards and human rights.

Headquarters:

New York City

Employees

8,500 at the UN Secretariat; 64,700 by the entire UN system

Assistant Secretary-General for HR Management:

Rafiah Salim

HR Employees: 120

Web Site Address: www.un.org

You Should Know:

The Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) has begun to implement new measures designed to transform how the UN makes use of its staff and management.

There's probably no organization whose mission is more nobleand complex-than the United Nations. I first learned of the UN in grammar school in the 1950s. After a class segment on World War II, our teacher ended the world history unit with the UN's longterm vision of world peace. Today, the United Nations is a global entity of 185 sovereign States that voluntarily works for global peace, promotes friendship among all nations and supports economic and social progress.

The UN came into being on October 24, 1945. A forum for all nations of the world, it is a diverse meeting place that helps find solutions to disputes or problems, and acts on virtually any matter or concern to humanity: refugee protection in Kosovo, starvation in North Korea, illiteracy, eradicating landmines or fighting the AIDS epidemic, among other critical issues.

I had wanted to shadow the top human resources executive of the UN for a long time. But Rafiah Salim, assistant secretary-general for human resources management, was unavailable last year because she was flying back to her native land, Malaysia. Her e-mail then was quick and cordial, "I regret I cannot do the interview at this time. But please call me again next year." Perhaps she didn't expect me to remember her offer, but I did.

As fate would have it, I set up my interview this year on the same day Rafiah was submitting a human resources statement to the General Assembly. In preparation for our meeting, her communications specialist, Samsiah Abdul-Majid, had sent me information regarding the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's (Ghana) efforts to modernize the United Nations.

In a recent report to the General Assembly on Human Resources Management Reform, Annan outlined a vision for a new management culture of empowerment, responsibility and accountability. The overarching goal, he says, "is to align our human resources with our global mission of peace, development and human rights around the world."

The Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) is the personnel arm of the UN Secretariat. As such, it has begun to implement new measures to transform how the United Nations makes use of its staff and management of 8,500 core employees. This "quiet HR revolution" initially began in 1994, when the General Assembly adopted Annan's reform strategy. In short, the strategy focuses on measures that will alter the delegation of authority, streamline procedures, improve HR planning, promote staff development and ensure long-term transformation.

8:30 a.m.

I arrive by taxi on the corner of 46th Street and First Avenue. In just one 360degree turn, I can view a microcosm of the world: the UN General Assembly and Secretariat building, Raoul Wallenberg Walk, the National Bank of Pakistan, Allard Lowenstein Square and the formidable United States Mission -and employees of every hue passing the security gate with their ID badges. However, there are no colorful flags of the 185 member States flapping against the morning breeze. Only a UN flag flying at halfmast.

9.00 a.m.

My photographer and I arrive at the visitor's desk to sign in and obtain our press passes for the day. …