Event Review- A conversation with Sir Richard Jolly at the Lafayette Club

Invited by The LaFayette Club, Sir Richard Jolly spoke to students at Hotel de Vin last night. Having travelled up from London, the former-UN employee outlined the role of the UN, ended misrepresentations of the organisation, and enthusiastically answered questions from the audience.

Named top 50 in his field of economics, Sir Jolly has had an extensive past. Since 1982 he served as Assistant Secretary-General; under which Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and Kofi Annan ran their terms. As the assistant, Sir Jolly had initially taken on the role as Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, before becoming Coordinator of the UNDP’s Human Development Report.

His career did not stop there. Sir Jolly later co-directed the UN Intellectual History Project, which oversaw the production of the 17-volume history of the organisation’s development since its emergence in 1945. As senior-author of UN Ideas that Changed the World – recognized by Choice Magazine – Sir Jolly has equally been involved in co-writing many Human Development Reports and numerous scholarly articles.

Although admitting that “the UN in complicated because the world is complicated”, he destroys the myths of the UN being a “talk-shop without results”, because of the negativity portrayed by the media. He also dispelled the concerns of the UN being “extremely costly” by explaining that they have a budget “3-quarters of Birmingham;” despite it being concerned with worldwide security. He continued to argue that while there should be some reform, the General Assembly is not necessarily dominated by developed states. Sir Jolly defended this view by outlining that the true power of these states such as economic superiority does not necessarily transfer as power within the UN conferences.

In addition to outlining the history of the organisation, its agencies and structure, and development of higher-commissioners, he also humorously added his own anecdotes which include delegations of the General Assembly laughing at Trump; a convention generally frowned upon.

Other remarks within his hour-long speech included his positive disposition on the gender-equality of the workforce within the organisation, and pleasure in how far the UN has come since its racial divide and only 51 member states.

Sir Jolly also explained his own view of the UN, stating that there are “3 UNs”. While some amongst the audience were counting on their fingers, thinking he meant there were 3 locations of the organisation around the world, the economist meant something entirely different. He concluded that the UN can be split into three defining elements of what makes the UN what it is: the formal UN (General Assembly), the staff members (who display initiative and leadership), and finally, “you”. The third symbolises those interested in the UN and other non-governmental groups such as “Médecins Sans Frontières”.

Wearing a colourful tie with all of the UN flags on, his wholesome and funny personality shinned through during the question and answer session. As well as sharing his opinion on Iran and the current GA on Tuberculosis, he gave students advice on getting a job at the UN. Despite a similar talk by the Modern Languages department earlier the same week, Sir Jolly was able to offer distinct advice which included the difficulty of gaining internships at the headquarters in New York for “white, British males”.

Although the talk exceeded the time allocated, queues formed down the conference room as students wished to ask questions (and for photos) after the event.

The LaFayette club will welcome Mr. Lateef, CEO of the Foreign Policy Association, on the 11th of October. 

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