June 23, 2021
By Mackenzie Norton, UNA-NCA Program Assistant

On Tuesday, June 15th, UNA-NCA held its Annual Membership Meeting. This event featured a discussion with UNFPA Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem, as well as a presentation of the Annual Reports, announcement of the newly elected members to the Board of Directors, granting of the annual awards, and a live piano performance by Graduate Fellow Alumna Keren Yang.

The program opened with remarks from outgoing Board Chair, Stephen F. Moseley. Mr. Moseley spoke on the turbulent past year we experienced through the pandemic, and how UNA-NCA has been a source of community and support for members, volunteers, and staff. He shared the fact that UNA-NCA’s membership now consists of 64% people under 40 -- a statistic that shows both the passion of young people for global issues and the promising future of the organization. Before introducing UNA-NCA’s President, Paula Boland, he left on a hopeful note, touching on the incoming changes brought with the Biden Administration and the reignition of collaborative spirit between the United Nations and the U.S.A.

Paula Boland then introduced Dr. Natalie Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). She noted that although so much progress has been made, currently more than 760 million people are living in extreme poverty. Sexual and reproductive health issues are a leading cause of death for women, which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the moderator, Paula then moved on to asking Dr. Kanem a few questions about her work at UNFPA.

Paula began by asking Dr. Kanem to share the efforts of UNFPA in response to the pandemic. Dr. Kanem explained how UNFPA has over 5,000 members working in 150+ countries and was one of the first to “sound the alarm” when they understood a pandemic was coming that was going to involve movement restrictions. She described how because of the pandemic women were unable to go about the course of daily business and girls were kept home from school, leaving them vulnerable. The UNFPA accurately predicted that during the pandemic, gender based violence, loss of agency, child marriage, and genital mutilation, could increase. In order to address this, UNFPA worked with local, women-led organizations that they had existing relationships with to build shelters for people in need overnight, create hotlines, and figure out early logistics through working with governments.

The second question asked what it means to the organization that the Biden-Harris Administration had resumed funding to UNFPA after a four year lapse. Dr. Kanem described how financial support is so important and they are grateful to the Biden Administration for reaffirming that women’s rights are human rights. However, while the U.S. is returning to its stance of support for the UN, in many ways it never left. The past four years were a difficult period with challenges to sexual and reproductive health, but the U.S. has always led when it comes to women’s rights. Although they had to be creative and find new ways of working, UNFPA’s team in Washington worked hard to preserve their goals. Going forward, the tremendous influence that the U.S. yields will be on the side of the most vulnerable girls, which is essential for the future.

Next, Dr. Kanem was asked what the relationship with the U.S. means to UNFPA beyond funding. Dr. Kanem explained how the strong relationship with the U.S. is important through evidence and data from the census, as they often assist developing countries with updating and creating censuses. Beyond a monetary relationship, their collaboration with the U.S. is a partnership to strengthen the developing world. In practically every instance where the U.S. is working in the developing world, UNFPA is a partner, making sure women’s choices are respected. Dr. Kanem noted that the symbolism of the Biden administration making efforts to be more inclusive carries a lot of power. While the money is very important, especially in places like Yemen and Syria, having the issues of justice spotlighted by the leadership of the U.S. is essential in defending the rights of the most vulnerable people.

The following question asked what UNA members can do to help UNFPA. Dr. Kanem answered by noting that “the world needs the UN and the UN needs you...Whether you are persuading someone in your family, mentoring someone else, standing up in front of the school board -- the idea of solidarity among people is part of the hope I carry.” She advocated for people to stand up and speak out whenever given the chance, and to continue to engage in important dialogue and participate in organizations like UNA-NCA, calling the support of UNA-NCA’s members a “beacon of light.”

Next, Paula asked Dr. Kanem: “The UNFPA was created in 1969, what makes UNFPA relevant today?” Dr. Kanem described reviewing their trajectory for the Nairobi summit a few years ago and how UNFPA has changed over time. When UNFPA was created, population control discourse was prevalent, however, it became the vision of the organization that population was about people, not the numbers, and a consensus developed around women and couples having the right to decide how many children they want. Midway through the Cairo International Conference, they also had something new -- one of the first women high-level leaders of the UN who invited NGOs to fully attend the conference, a transformative decision. Dr. Kanem then talked about the beliefs and goals of UNFPA, such as promoting women’s local leadership and making contraceptives available to women around the world. According to her, “it comes down to an issue of choice.” The UNFPA is also working to address sex based violence through prevention and helping survivors to heal.

Dr. Kanem was then asked to share the highlights from her recent humanitarian trip to Yemen. She explained how Yemen is in its seventh year of conflict, leaving the population exhausted, with specific fatigue placed on women. Every two hours a pregnant or delivering woman dies. With the security situation, women cannot safely get to health centers. Dr. Kanem described the conversations she had with many Yemeni women and the terrible experiences they have suffered through. With the additional financial support from the Biden Administration UNFPA hopes to be able to reopen clinics and provide reproductive care and contraception to the millions of women in Yemen asking for it.

Finally, Paula Boland concluded the discussion by asking Dr. Kanem to share insights on UNFPA’s recent multi-year strategic plan. Dr. Kanem explained how the plan consists of three overarching goals. First, to ensure that there is a serious effort towards contraception and family planning, meaning zero unmet needs for family planning. Second, ending preventable maternal deaths and the tragedy of womb damage (fistula) during prolonged labor. This also includes working against child marriage as many of the deaths that occur during childbirth are due to girls giving birth at a very young age. And third, focusing on gender based violence, including putting an end to the expectation that women will suffer in silence, including trafficking and femicide, and giving women the chance to speak up.

After thanking Dr. Kanem, Stephen F. Moseley then returned to present the Annual Reports, now available on UNA-NCA’s website. Highlights included membership growth to over 1,000 members this year, increased engagement from young people, a growing number of partners, and a variety of successful programs both in person and online. Mr. Moseley then went on to thank all of the members, corporations, and organizations that made generous donations this year, as well as the families that work to provide millions of dollars a year for UNA-NCA’s endowment. Because of these contributions, UNA-NCA is more financially stable than it has ever been. Finally, he concluded with a hopeful look into the future as the return to normalcy continues and staff can finally begin going back to the office.

Next, Vice Chair of Strategy and Operations, Lauren Terrell, announced the results of the Board of Directors election. She began by thanking the nomination committee, led by Nominating Committee Chair Kristin Hecht, for their extensive work finding the best candidates and focusing especially on the diversity and equity of the board. She shared that the new demographics of the board consist of a balanced gender composition, 50% aged 18 to 44, 11% Asian, 28% Black, 11% Hispanic, 6% Middle Eastern, and 44% white. A variety of sectors are also represented within the newly elected board, including education, corporate, government, foreign policies, NGOs, philanthropy, international development, and international relations. Lauren Terrell then announced the newly elected slate, consisting of Jill Christianson as Board Chair, Sultana F. Ali as Vice-Chair of Communications, Timothy Barner as Vice-Chair of Finance, Thomas Bradley as Vice-Chair of Programs, Kristen Hecht as Vice-Chair of Membership & Volunteer Engagement, Ambassador C. Steven McGann as Vice-Chair of Development, Lauren B. Terrell as Vice-Chair of Strategy & Operations, and Lanice C. Williams as Vice-Chair of Young Professionals. Elected Directors-at-Large include Brian Griffey, Christina Hansen, Louis Henderson Sr., David M. Luna, Katherine Marshall, Abbey Ogunwale Ph.D, D. Yvonne Rivers, and Richard Seifman. Elected student representatives include Thomas Liu as the undergraduate representative and Maekara Keopanapay as the graduate representative.

After thanking the outgoing board members and congratulating those newly elected, the program then transitioned to the first of two beautiful piano performances by Graduate Fellow Alumna Keren Yang, who performed live from Seoul, South Korea. Her first piece was her own arrangement of “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

Next, the annual awards were presented. The Evelyn Falkowski Volunteer Service Award was given to Kristin Hecht, the Vice Chair of Membership and Volunteer Engagement, who also worked with the Membership Committee and Nominating Committee. The Richard and Anne Griffis Program Leadership Award was presented to the Graduate Fellows Program, and accepted by Co-Directors A. Edward Elmendorf and Nancy Donaldson. Finally, the Arthur W. Johnson Leadership award was granted to Stephen F. Moseley for all of his hard work as Board Chair over the past four years.

The event concluded with closing remarks from the newly elected Board Chair Jill Christianson. She praised the success of the variety of programs run by UNA-NCA this year, including Coffee Chats, Global Classrooms, and the Model UN program. She referenced the current issues that we are facing, stating that “our collective strength within UNA-NCA can only be stronger and we can continue to be nimble and efficient by keeping our eyes on the equity factors that play out in our neighborhoods and around the globe.” Jill thanked all of the staff, volunteers, and members who have contributed to all of the successes of the organization this year. She ended the program by looking to the future, noting how “as we embrace our diversity and reckon with our identity as an intergenerational, multi-racial, gender inclusive organization, we are stronger.”

The program closed with a second piano performance by Keren Yang of a special arrangement of Franz Liszt’s “Rhapsodie Espagnole” (Spanish Rhapsody).

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