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08 June 2017
Closing Remarks From Outgoing UNA-NCA President, Ambassador Donald T. Bliss
As I complete four years as President of the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA), let me express my deep gratitude to our members, volunteer leaders, supporters, and dedicated staff for making this such a rewarding and enlightening experience. Thank you for the honor and privilege.

image 1I wish I could say that I am leaving you in a better place. We all know, however, that we are facing something of an existential crisis. There are voices in the US Administration and Congress that are questioning the value of the post-World War II global order. We face proposals to slash funding for the UN, foreign assistance, and diplomacy and to withdraw from international organizations and international treaties. Perhaps even more disturbing, we face a lack of understanding by the American public and many opinion and policy leaders about the multifaceted work of the United Nations and the values embraced in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The mission of UNA-NCA, serving the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Northern Virginia, has never been more important. We must redouble our efforts to: 
    • Increase public understanding and support of the United Nations. 
    • Advocate for constructive US leadership in strengthening the effectiveness and efficiency of the United Nations. 
    • Prepare present and future leaders to work for a better world, both globally and locally.

Yet amidst the chaos of conflicting messages, there is an opportunity that comes with the challenge. Our response must start with the proposition that any institution—certainly one 72 years old—must be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances and increased challenges that require a global response. The world is a far different place from the one in San Francisco in 1945. The United Nations has expanded its reach beyond preventing wars between states to provide humanitarian assistance to record numbers of refugees and persons displaced by human and natural causes, to set goals that will mobilize governments, civil society and the private sector to eliminate extreme poverty and gender inequality and uplift global standards of living, to advocate for basic human rights, to resolve ethnic and religious conflict within states, to protect our planet’s fragile environment, to combat the 21st century threats of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, pandemics, cyber security, drug addiction, famines and growing economic inequality. These challenges do not stop at sovereign borders. No wall will keep them out. The United States cannot solve these problems by itself. They can only be addressed successfully through global cooperation. And the United Nations is the global institution that convenes and engages all sovereign nations in meeting these challenges. The UN works 24/7 to feed the hungry, eradicate disease, and facilitate safe travel, efficient communications, and free and fair trade, among many other missions.UNA-NCA has responded vigorously to these 21st century challenges, first, by strengthening our flagship programs that inform policy makers and prepare the next generation of leaders and, second, by undertaking new initiatives that encourage US leadership in strengthening a more efficient and effective United Nations.

On the first front, we:

  • Educated thousands of GCDC program participants, primarily from DC, Maryland and Virginia in the skills of diplomacy, negotiation and advocacy, addressing issues such as the Situation in Somalia, Rising Sea Levels, Human Rights of Refugees, access to Primary Education, and Technology for Sustainable City Development in our year-long Global Classrooms program, culminating in the Model UN Spring Conference at the U.S. Department of State, the largest outside event hosted by State each year, and the Pan American Health Organization.                                                      
  • Secretary_of_StateHosted a keynote address by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, in one of his first public appearances at the 2017 Spring Conference.
  • Under the leadership of David Scotton and Melissa Kaplan, we mobilized and trained an advocacy  team to meet with Senators and Members of Congress to support full funding of the United Nations and its Peacekeeping missions.
  • Celebrated the legacy of former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and welcomed the arrival of Secretary-General António Guterres with a lecture by former UN Undersecretary and Dean of the Maryland School of Public Policy, Robert C. Orr, with commentary by National Security Council and State Department leaders.
  • Discussed the priorities of the new Secretary-General with UN Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, at an event hosted by Ambassador Esther Coopersmith.
  • Under the Leadership of Laura Blyler and Lanice Williams, we provided Career Networking and Professional Development Opportunities for hundreds of young professionals seeking career paths in international work through our bi-annual Career Night Dinners hosted by our Young Professionals and UNA-NCA leaders.
  • Under the leadership of Ed Elmendorf and Steve Moseley, we offered educational and interactive programs on implementing the Global Goals for Sustainable Development globally and locally through public forums and community consultations.
  • Under the leadership of Past President Karen Mulhauser, we provided a series of programs on gender equality which included advocacy for passing The Convention on the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) legislation in DC. 
  • Offered many substantive programs with expert speakers on UN issues organized by UNA-NCA Program Committees on Sustainable Development, Human Rights, African Affairs, and International Law.
  • Under the leadership of Christina Hansen and Heather Hill, we recognized international and local leaders in human rights in our annual Human Rights awards reception on Capitol Hill.
  • Under the leadership of Kim Weichel, we engaged our experienced and expert Advisory Council in programming, conferences, and young professional development.
  • Under the leadership of Laurence Peters, 20 graduate students participated in our Graduate Fellows program this spring which prepared them to pursue careers in international affairs and offered mentoring opportunities.group at members day
  • Collaborated with our partners, including the Bureau of International Organization Affairs at the State Department, the Pan American Health Organization, the United Nations Information Center, the American Foreign Service Association, the American Society of International Law, the US Institute of Peace, the Alliance for Peacebuilding, Freedom House, and many others.
  • Strengthened and published our weekly UN Express, informing our membership of upcoming NCA events and those of our partners, and providing commentary on key UN-related issues. 

UNA-NCA has also undertaken several new initiatives designed to address the challenges of today:

  • We have issued position statements and advocated for stronger US leadership and a more effective United Nations on issues such as the Syrian Refugee Crisis, supporting reforms in the selection of the UN Secretary-General, support of the Paris Climate Agreement, ratification of Treaties including the Convention on the Law of the Sea to protect US national security and economic interests, responding to terrorist attacks, and recognizing the UN’s unsung heroes.
  • UNA-NCA leaders have addressed issues of UN reform in speeches to regional organizations, letters to the editor,  and articles in scholarly journals (see “Strengthening the United Nations Peace and Security Mandate, Ambassadors Review, Fall 2016) and by teaching adult classes on the UN.
  • Under the leadership of Past President Ed Elmendorf, we launched a new book on the History of UNA-USA, illustrating the effectiveness of citizen advocacy.

luis7Our UNA Cox Chapman Fellow, Foreign Service Officer Luis F. Mendez, has spoken at 17 area schools on US-UN relations and mentored several students.

We have engaged our members, Graduate Fellows, Interns and the public in an interactive Blog of key issues and challenges facing the United Nations.

  • UNA-NCA has sponsored the Elnino School in the Kenya Dadaab (Dagahaley) Refugee Camp, as part of UNA-USA’s Adopt-a-Future Campaign—raising around 8K to provide education for refugee children.
  • UNA-NCA and the US Institute of Peace have formed a partnership to prepare concrete recommendations to strengthen and make more efficient UN Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding operations as part of the UN Secretary-General’s and the US Administration’s reform initiatives.
  • We have engaged in collaborative activities to express support for UN initiatives from the Paris Climate Agreement to Gender Equality in joint letters to Congress and citizen rallies.

Under the leadership of VP for Operations and Strategy, Melissa Wolfe, we continue to make progress implementing NCA’s Strategic Plan, which we have extended through 2018. With a small budget and staff, UNA-NCA is able to deliver extraordinary programs because of the passionate commitment of hundreds of volunteers. In FY 2016-17, we have been fortunate to have had an exceptionally hard working and professional staff, led by our experienced Executive Director, Paula Boland; our Director of Membership and Programs, Hanna Hayden; our Director of Global Education, Megan Penn; our Global Classrooms DC Program Manager, Nicole Bohannon; and an outstanding group of program interns. The Board of Directors is most grateful to our staff, committee chairs, co-chairs and members, a cadre of volunteers, and dedicated donors, and, as President, I want to thank our Board of Directors and officers for their active engagement and continued support.

With great confidence in our future, I pass the torch to Steve Moseley, our President-Elect, who has contributed his passion and expertise in countless hours and in countless ways to NCA’s many initiatives.

With much appreciation,

Ambassador Donald T. Bliss (Retired)


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