Two recent events in Geneva point to disappointing cost cutting. First, the United States national holiday is July 4. For over two hundred years, Independence Day has been commemorated to celebrate the Congress’ Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Geneva used to have the largest July 4 celebration outside the country. It has not taken place for several years (lack of sponsors? security?). This year, as in the recent past, the official celebration at the U.S. Mission was not on July 4; this year it was on June 27.
The other event of cost cutting note was the recent meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Affairs Council (ECOSOC) in Geneva at the end of June. This is an important event; the ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment (HAS) is a platform for strengthening the coordination of the humanitarian assistance of the United Nations. The meeting brought 2,000 delegates representing major global actors including governments, donors and NGOs to Geneva. According to several sources and a damning editorial by Edward Girardet in Global Geneva magazine, the meeting was poorly organized from the start when official delegates “found themselves waiting outside the main gates of the UN’s Palais des Nations for two hours or more in the hot sun…Many criticised the ‘incompetence’ and ‘lack of preparation’ of the organizers,” Girardet wrote. “It’s pretty outrageous,” he quoted a British NGO representative who had flown in from Nairobi. “It’s not as if we’ve come in for our enjoyment, particularly at Geneva prices. We’ve got work to do.”
What was the cause of all of this? Why didn’t the accreditation facilities open earlier? “For their part, UN representatives argued that insufficient staff and funding were partially responsible for what many delegates described as a ‘fiasco,” Girardet explained. 2,000 high-level delegates from all over the world came to Geneva for an important meeting and sufficient funding was not available to open and run the conference?
The question of responsibility for the “fiasco” is complicated. As with all events involving International Geneva, was it: The United Nations? Canton of Geneva? City of Geneva? ECOSOC? All of the above?
Beyond all this cost cutting, there is at least one recent example of someone not afraid to spend to promote what he believes in, and a banker who does work. Ivan Pictet signed an agreement with the United Nations to fund the construction of a gateway to the United Nations Office in Geneva. The Foundation Pictet donated 13.5 million francs towards a 27.5-million-franc project hopefully to be completed by 2023. Already heavily involved in International Geneva – see the auditorium of the Graduate Institute - Ivan Pictet continues to be the Godfather of International Geneva and a shining example of what philanthropy can do.
With multilateralism being challenged and countries cutting back on their contributions to international organizations, it is encouraging to see an individual donor take up the mantle. But there are limits to M. Pictet’s generosity. It would certainly be unreasonable to ask him to pay for celebrating the United States national day on July 4 and to fund a major U.N. conference. Or would it? Given the current state of affairs, there may be no alternative.