UN Resident Coordinator for Georgia on the UN’s 75th Anniversary


This year, the United Nations (UN) is celebrating its 75th anniversary. In this regard, GEORGIA TODAY had the pleasure to speak to the Georgia Resident Coordinator of the UN, Dr. Sabine Machl.

Dr Machl joined the United Nations back in February 2012 as the UN Women Representative in Kyrgyzstan. After three years heading the office in Bishkek, she moved to Jerusalem to lead the UN Women Team in Palestine and after this to Indonesia to build up the UN Women office there. In 2017, she participated at the assessment center for future Resident Coordinators and applied in the autumn of 2018 for the RC post in Georgia. “I feel really privileged that I have been selected for this position, which I took up on 1 June last year,” she tells us.

What does the 75th anniversary mean to you personally, and to the organization?

The purpose of the UN's coming into existence after the tragic experience of the Second World War was to prevent another global conflict, to protect human rights, and to ensure sustainable development. The aspirations of a just world, an equal society, and a dignified life are the central ideas. Even though the UN's efficiency is often questioned, one must admit that the Organization has lived up to its founders’ expectations in many ways.

There is no real alternative to this global organization. The UN has proven over the past 75 years that we can combat poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation – especially if we work together and focus on those that often fall between the cracks. The promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms are also key areas, essential for every state in the world.

For me personally, the motivation to make a real difference in the lives of women and men has been the driving force for my decision to work in an international organization. I find it highly rewarding as I learn a lot every day.

We the peoples... These are the opening words of the founding document of our United Nations Charter. “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the calamity of war… Reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights and equal rights for men and women… And promote social progress and better standards of life.” This is a powerful message which was as significant 75 years ago as it is today.

Tell us what to expect from the Georgia-UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework signed on October 2.

Today, the United Nations in Georgia is represented by 14 resident and 5 non-resident agencies that work in areas where our expertise and resources are most required. Through its initiatives, projects and advocacy measures, the UN is active in many communities of Georgia. Our mission is to assist our national partners in making Georgia a more prosperous and resilient country, with strong democratic institutions and equal opportunities for all. This is in line with the overarching aim of the Sustainable Development Goals: “Leave No One Behind.”

A new strategic document, we call it the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework, was signed on October 2 with the Government of Georgia. It will be guiding the work of the United Nations over the next five years, work that will focus on enhancing human wellbeing, capabilities and social equality. “Human well-being” encompasses health, education, social protection, voice, access to a clean and safe environment, and resilience. “Human Capabilities” represents investment in human capital, notably young women and men, through quality education, acquiring skills, sexual and reproductive health, healthy lifestyles, life skills, and social protection. “Social equality” implies a particular focus on people who are, or are at risk of being left behind, from development processes.

The cooperation framework’s main five streams are to help the country develop an inclusive economy and human capital. We support the creation of effective, transparent and accountable governance institutions at national and local levels. Also, providing all citizens equal and inclusive access to quality services is a big priority in all our engagements. The enhancement of human security, especially for, but not limited to, the conflict-affected communities, is at the center of our attention, as well as the protection of the population from floods and other natural disasters. And the last but no less important stream of our work focuses on the protection of the environment and addressing the consequences of climate change.

Tackling various forms of inequalities is a unifying idea for programmatic interventions within the Cooperation Framework. Therefore, in order to mention just a few examples, empowering women and girls, protecting refugees, reducing extreme poverty, securing high quality and relevant education, taking climate action, and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic are among our activities. The Sustainable Development Goals, of course, remain our roadmap and we work towards all people benefitting from Georgia’s progress and development gains.

One red thread running through the entire document is the need to enhance human wellbeing, capabilities and social equality and to make a real difference in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people. What do you know of the current situation and needs in Georgia in particular?

The ongoing pandemic and its related socio-economic impact on all of us remain a primary focus area of our work. We are all concerned about our health, our jobs and livelihoods, the education of our children, and access to social services. Collective efforts must focus on making a palpable difference to the lives of people, on improving living conditions, and on how we emerge from this global pandemic. Reducing inequality and creating opportunity are at the center of the agencies, funds and programs working here in Georgia. Vulnerable people who do not have a sufficient social safety net need to be able to access assistance; here I’m thinking of minority groups, the elderly, and all who need extra support.

All of us here in Georgia should further focus on innovation and think about how development will look as we emerge from the current pandemic. How do we secure a well-educated and qualified work force and how can we pay more attention to regional and local development to make sure that everyone everywhere benefits from Georgia’s positive development trajectory? Central to these efforts is the need to further promote human rights and the rule of law, advance gender equality, address gender-based violence, and target specifically young women and men in all aspects of economic recovery and stimulus plans. Business-as-usual will not lead Georgia to a sustainable development path and will not allow us to respond to the new and emerging challenges.

Tell us about the UN75 campaign and its expected impacts.

After 75 years, we continue to strongly believe in protecting the world’s most vulnerable populations and advancing efforts towards a healthier and more sustainable planet. We aim high in our expectations, and that is why the UN SG launched the world’s largest ever conversation in January 2020, on the future we want and the UN we need by 2045.

Over one million people have already shared their hopes and fears for the future, as well as their expectations of international cooperation and of the UN in particular. When asked where we should be in 25 years, most responses focused on more respect for human rights, more effective environmental protection, tackling inequalities more decisively, and giving better access to education to all. The survey also revealed that people have high expectations of us working in the UN: 6 in 10 respondents believe the UN has made the world a better place. Looking to the future, 74% see the UN as “essential” in tackling the challenges. Over 87% of respondents believe global cooperation is vital in dealing with today’s challenges, and that the pandemic has made international cooperation more urgent.

Tell us about the UN75 survey implemented in Georgia. How will it "help to build back better" in the wake of the global Covid-19 crisis?

To commemorate the UN75 milestone, the UN in Georgia, in partnership with several non-governmental organizations, launched a national campaign to promote dialogue on the country’s future, and how the UN and our partners can support these aspirations. These events are part of the global UN75 campaign that invites everyone to join the conversation. In Georgia, over 3000 people have already participated in the UN75 dialogues, focus groups and survey. The immediate priority for the majority of respondents in Georgia is improved access to education, settling conflict, promoting and protecting human rights, and tackling poverty and unemployment. The answers show great anxiety about the pandemic and climate change, as well. The UN75 campaign will continue until January 2021, trying to reach wider audiences and gather as many Georgian voices as possible. This biggest-ever conversation is a great chance for the UN and all our partners in Georgia to design new targets based on people’s needs and priorities. We invite all readers to contribute their views by completing a one-minute survey at: https://un75.online/, which is also available in Georgian.

What is your view of the Georgian government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what could it/should it perhaps have done differently?

Georgia managed the first wave of the pandemic extremely well. I would like in particular to express my deepest respect and admiration to the Georgian doctors and medical personnel for their professionalism and dedication over the last ten months. However, we all know the crisis is far from over, and looking ahead, for recovery, it will be critical to further improve disease prevention and control systems; tackle inequality in income, health care and social protection, and to create the jobs of the future. As our UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “We simply cannot return to where we were before COVID-19 struck, with societies unnecessarily vulnerable to crisis. We need to build a better world.”

From the onset of the pandemic, the UN has been supporting the response and recovery efforts of the government. We are providing medical supplies to vulnerable and high-risk groups, supporting social protection programs, assisting IDPs, and returning migrants, sustaining jobs and livelihoods and addressing the surge in violence against women and children. This work is amplified by $1 million allocated by the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, an inter-agency mechanism established by the UN Secretary-General to support countries in weathering the COVID-19 crisis. Georgia was among the first counties to receive support from this fund.

What is your take on the Georgian elections and the opposition's reaction to the results?

Elections are very important in every democratic society. The fairly large voter turnout despite the COVID-19 pandemic showed how much importance people attach to the democratic process, which is very positive. As we have seen from the international observers’ preliminary conclusions, the elections were assessed as competitive, and freedoms were respected. However, there are also allegations of intimidation of voters and some irregularities which need to be addressed and looked into. I very much hope, and in the last few days there have been signs that all entities involved will manage to resort to dialogue to address outstanding concerns, use legal channels and exercise their political and civil rights. All differences or disputes should be resolved through constitutional means and in line with international norms and standards at this important moment.

Where do you see Georgia going forwards, particularly with regards to COVID-19 and post-Georgian elections?

I am very positive about Georgia’s development trajectory and the successful outlook of the country. In many spheres, Georgia has been a leader in adapting reforms to strengthen its economy and its governing institutions. Nevertheless, a lot of things remain to be done. Georgia can capitalize on its progress and move towards its long-term priorities, which are captured in the Sustainable Development Goals. The next 10 years to achieve the SDGs are crucial. I think the key word here is partnerships, not only among the UN agencies and the national authorities, but also with all the players and stakeholders in Georgia’s development. The impact of our actions will be measured by critical interventions that can accelerate the country’s progress and help the achievement of national development priorities.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, we need to cooperate and find ways of doing things better. My hope is that for Georgia, as well as for every other country around the world, 2021 will be the year when we begin to turn the tide.

By Katie Ruth Davies

19 November 2020 17:14