To: His Excellency, António Guterres, Secretary-General United Nations,
United Nations Headquarters, New York NY 10017, United States of America
Tuesday 19th May 2020
Infrastructuralize the Global Conversation – Create a Digital United Nations
At one of several Intergenerational Dialogues we’ve held to mark the UN’s 75th Anniversary, UN Elder Statesman, Sir Richard Jolly, (former Deputy Director, UNICEF, Editor, HDR and Director of the UN Intellectual History Project), explained to a panel of students that – “There are three different UNs:
1) the UN of the Governments – the main one;
2) the Secretariat – thought-leaders and policy-proposers;
3) NGOs and Civil Society – all of you.”
Immediately, a young person interjected: “But there is now a 4th UN – the Digital UN. The UN that we’re all a part of just by living on planet earth….”
This idea has been discussed and elaborated at UN 75 Conversations promoted by Peace Child Intl.(PCI) in the UK and around the world. The result is this proposal for a Digital UN which I submit to you as a way of continuing, indefinitely, the Global Conversation you have started about shaping our future together.
Chiefly, it is a way for We the Peoples… to feel a connection with the UN which seems to many people, young and old, a remote, establishment organisation with no place in their lives. Because it is managed and paid for by governments, it is a creature of government: the We the Peoples… mantra peddled by governments is a fiction.
You have introduced an element of truth to that fiction by starting the Global Conversation this year: technology now gives you the chance to infrastructuralize that conversation online (where it has already been these last 8 weeks) and temper the hard power of obstructive governments with the soft power of the desires of We the Peoples…
On this day, 75 years ago, the diplomats drafting the UN Charter crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to attend a service in Cathedral Grove, Muir Woods to honour the memory of one of the chief architects of the UN, Franklin D Roosevelt. I do hope that, on this day, you will honour his memory by seriously considering this proposal for re-inventing the UN he helped craft for We the Peoples… of the 21st Century. Only in this way can we all play a part in shaping our future together – something that the young people of our network dearly want to help you do.
The young people and elders of our network will continue to develop their thinking about this – in particular how to protect individual Human Rights in the digital space. We will keep you updated on our progress.
David R Woollcombe, Founder and President, Peace Child International
(a youth-led organisation in Consultative Status with ECOSOC)
A Digital United Nations
Based on Global Conversations hosted, physically and online, by PCI in 14 x countries – Jan. to April 2020
The UN has always aimed at universality: from the opening line of its Charter, “We the peoples…” through its ‘Education for All, Health for All, Food for All’ initiatives, R2P and the over-arching “Leave No One Behind” aim of its Sustainable Development Goals, it has sought to work for every member of the Human Family. But, sadly, it cannot: as an organisation, it is staffed and paid for by “We, the governments…” of UN Member States. So it is always in thrall to its paymasters’ diktats and has to balance their conflicting demands.
In this, its 75th Anniversary year, the UN has sought to “re-invent multilateralism” by initiating ‘Global Conversation’ events around the world. Unsurprisingly, enhancing ‘Global Cooperation’ enjoys the support of 95% of the Conversation’s participants. The ways they propose to enhance that cooperation are:
- adopt more of a bottom up approach to developing solutions;
- create more effective global partnerships & platforms for cooperation/knowledge sharing;
- engage more women, youth, indigenous and vulnerable groups in policy- and decision-making;
At this moment in history, as we deal with perhaps the greatest public health emergency our human family has ever faced, it is instructive to remember how science and philosophy has taught us that our generational challenge is to learn HOW to achieve this enhanced global cooperation: in 1982, Peter Russell wrote a landmark book, The Global Brain – reminding us that our planet is a living organism and, to be its steward, humanity must evolve into a conscious planetary brain linked by a nervous system. In 1982, the internet was in its infancy. Today it has grown and could become the nervous system required to connect the human family’s billions brains just as nerves connect the different synapses of our brains. In this way, humanity can operate with the harmony that shapes flocks of birds or shoals of fishes, moving forward, swooping and soaring, in perfect, harmonious formations.
The UN can now build that Global Brain: indeed – it is almost built. So, if it wants to “re-invent multilateralism,” and itself, for the 21st Century, the UN must make its 2020 Global Conversation a permanent feature of its infra-structure by creating a digital UN – reaching out over the heads of governments to “We the Peoples…” It must engage them in a bottom-up, highly effective global platform that can inform and shape its priorities. As one young person pointed out at a UN Meeting recently: “We don’t need to demonstrate in city squares any more: we are three billion-strong on Facebook every day! That’s the power we have to harness….”
But how do we harness it? How do we use that power – finally! – to achieve the UN’s SDGs? (some of which date back to 1948 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights!) That is what this paper – drawn from hearings, workshops, and conferences organised by Peace Child International in the context of the UN75 Global Conversation – sets out to describe. And we do so using the excellent B-O-A-C template devised for the UN’s 1992 Agenda 21: (B= Basis for Action; O = Objectives; A = Actions needed to achieve those Objectives; C = Cost of those Actions;)
This is an Agenda 21 for the UN itself.
Basis for Action:
The Basis for Action is set by the UN and its Member States, as follows:
- The need to “re-invent multilateralism” and carve out a stronger role for the UN;
- The need to correct near invisibility of the UN to large sectors of the general public and almost total lack of visible public support for its goals and values;
- The need to flesh out the mechanics of the “best ways to take forward the findings” of the UN75 Global Conversation, to identify the obstacles to achieving them and to figure out the best ways to achieve the “enhanced global cooperation” necessary to overcome these obstacles.
- The need for a “global reality check” as requested by the UN as it works to build a better future for all.
As part of that reality check, we offer these basic opinions stated by young people in the PCI network:
- In his address to one of our UN75 Hearing on January 27th, Sir Richard Jolly, author of the Intellectual History of the UN and lifelong UN servant, said: “There are 3 UNs: 1) the Government one – the main one; 2) the Secretariat – the thought-leaders who research and propose new policies; 3) the citizen’s UN – the NGOs, civil society etc.” In the Intergenerational dialogue that followed, one of the young people exclaimed: “There is already a 4th UN – an online UN that reaches everybody….” That remark is the inspiration for this paper.
- “The UN seems very distant from us – we cannot see why it has anything to do with our lives.”
- “How we can we trust an organization staffed and funded by governments when we have so little trust in so many of those governments?”
- “As we face the COVID-19 crisis, we find the UN Agency responsible, the WHO, barred access by the Chinese government from the places where the virus started, having its funding withdrawn by its biggest funder (the US Government) – and being routinely ignored by other governments. Why? If the governments that fund the UN agencies don’t trust them, why should “We the peoples….”?
- “The UN and the people in it come across as very smug and self-satisfied. They speak in bland phrases and blasé concepts that bear no relation to our own. It may be important, but it is desperately un-cool.”
- “The UN was set up to save humanity from the ‘scourge of war’ – but, in recent years, it has failed to save the peoples of Syria, Libya, Yemen, Eastern Ukraine, the Rohinga of Burma, or the Uighurs of Western China from the scourge of appalling wars waged on them – sometimes by their own governments. The UN Security Council could not even agree the text of a Global Cease-fire in this time when we all face a common enemy. Why?”
- “The young people of this generation think of ourselves as ‘the Tolerance generation’: the vast majority of us rejoice and celebrate our differences. Racism is so last century! Let us help you build an organization that operationalises the values on which the UN was founded: let us help you build a Digital United Nations!”
- To build a ‘Global Brain’ – to engender a global conscience and consciousness by creating a Digital UN;
- To achieve the ideas listed in the UN75 March Update for a “bottom-up approach,” for “more effective global partnerships and platforms” and “greater involvement of women, youth etc. in policy- and decision-making.”
- To re-invent the business of uniting nations and uniting peoples for a new Generation and a new Century to pursue prosperity, health, security and well-being for all within a clean, robust and sustainable environment;
- To support the United Nations in its efforts to get its Member Governments to prioritise the global targets agreed to in the Sustainable Development Goals – to leave no one behind & create the Future we want;
- To draw on science and practical, lived experience to educate the global family about “what works” in the building of a green, sustainable economy; to highlight what does NOT work and ensure that wishful thinking and green-washing does not obfuscate the consensus path to planetary sustainability.
- To advance the process of demilitarization by engendering digital collaboration between the peoples of the major powers leading more governments to follow the example of Costa Rica and disband their armies;
- To make the UN matter to everyone again by leading on issues of public concern, and naming and shaming all UN member governments who fail to support causes championed by a majority of “We the Peoples….”
The following actions are proposed to achieve these objectives:
ONE – UDHR 2.0: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, CEDAW, CRC and most of the UN’s landmark Human Rights agreements were agreed before the Internet either existed or was as all-pervasive as it is now. Before any kind of Digital UN is constructed, members of the Human Family, and their governments, must define its spirit and purpose, and agree legislation that protects the human rights of individuals in the digital context and prevents their digital footprints and/or identities being exploited for commercial or political advantage. Building on GDPR and other existing legislation, this action will bring together representatives of governments, youth leaders, academics, social media companies and companies engaged in internet commerce or advertising to draft an Addendum to the UDHR, called UNDHR 2.0. This will be adjusted to add explicit provisions to other Human Rights instruments, and to the constitutions of other UN bodies like WIPO, ILO, UNHCR and others.
TWO – Build the Digital UN: There are three stages to this which may proceed simultaneously:
- Design: informed by the definition of the spirit and the purposes of the Digital UN and working to the UNDHR 2.0 legislation, IT professionals around the world will design the software which will provide protected accounts for every current and future member of the human family working, where possible, from census data. It will be devised along the lines of the Pyramid structure displayed in the illustration at the top of this document. Particular attention will be paid to those communities not yet served by the Internet – providing ways that they can, individually and collectively, subscribe to the Digital UN through smart phones. In Estonia, where a UN75 Conference which discussed this initiative was hosted, the government has enabled internet voting since 2005, and the Estonian IT industry advises many governments on the firewalls and protections necessary to provide the integrity needed for secure digital democracy: their advice and experience will be critical to this design stage of this Action.
- Construction: the technology and physical capacity within data farms needed for a digital UN that can engage 7.8 billion people around the world exists today. Therefore, as the design process advances, it can be tested in real time using existing facilities.
- Promotion: This is, perhaps, the most important action for, as those of us who have supported the UN these last decades are painfully aware, the values and incentives that supported its growth in its first 25 years have been in headlong retreat these last 25. The UN75 Global Conversation speaks to the need for the UN to engage with “We the Peoples…” over the heads of its member state governments: that is the process which a Digital UN will infrastructuralize.
Promotional efforts to date have failed to make that engagement: by March, the Global Conversation had reached 13 million people – a big number, but only 0.171% of the current world population. In his 2020 book, Our Final Warning, Mark Lynas makes the point on the critical issue of climate change that:
“All our solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars, lithium-ion batteries, LED light-bulbs, nuclear plants, biogas digesters, press conferences, declarations, pieces of paper; all our shouting and arguing, weeping and marching, reporting and ignoring, decrying and denying; all our speeches, movies, websites, lectures, books, celebrity interventions; all our announcements, carbon-neutral targets, moments of joy and despair… None of these have so much as made the slightest dent in the steepening upward slope of the Keeling Curve. *” [*the graph that measures the increase in carbon parts per million(PPM) in the atmosphere.]
Organisations like PCI have been saying since the UN Earth Summit in Rio that education is key: yet very few schools give detailed courses on the nature of the generational challenges that young people will face in their lifetimes on this planet. These key topics are practically invisible in the examined curriculum. And even if they were there, when governments are encouraging climate change through subsidizing fossil fuel companies instead of imposing life-changing green taxes, such education would be meaningless.
Promotion and public awareness must be raised through daily Updates, like weather forecasts, detailing progress on the transition to a green, sustainable economy. Every month, the UN GA must require its member states to prepare and publicise to their people, their nation’s progress on building their green economy infrastructure as they do with GDP and financial performance. Every government, organization, individual, community and artist must devise their own way to prioritize this promotion – and PCI has its own, special way of doing this which has proved very effective in promoting plausible ways to end conflicts between nations or communities. That way has now been adapted to tell the story of how we will end the conflict between humanity and the natural environment by constructing a Global Brain: a Digital UN.
The Peace Child “way” is to tell a story set in 50-years in the future when the ‘future we want’ has been created by the work of the children of today: in a flashback, it tells a plausible story of what the young people of today do with their lives to create that future. The latest version of the story is set in 2050 and looks back to 2020 to tell how young people create a Digital UN to engage people in rock concerts and TV events to promote global concerns. When these don’t work, they persuade millions of people, young and old, to go on strike until governments take the action needed to secure the future they want – the future they need for humanity’s survival. Created in the current crisis, this Lockdown Peace Child is set in young people’s bedrooms: they meet and devise their strategies, over the internet. And, as young people used to Greta Thunberg’s School Strike 4 Climate and the global lockdown, they are easily persuaded to implement a strike to secure their own, and the planet’s survival. Young people are encouraged to re-write / re-create the story with themselves in starring roles using the Internet.
A story can address all the risks and concerns that the idea of a Digital UN raises – the fear that people will ignore it or pursue a suicidal “March of Folly” and act against their own best interests ( – as some young people did about HIV-AIDS, calling it ‘Mr Slim’). Anger, greed, ignorance, carelessness and short-term interests have created many of the problems we face today: in constructing a Digital UN, we must ensure that it dilutes, and does not exacerbate, those tendencies.
THREE – Use it to mobilise support for the SDGs: Going hand-in-hand with the Promotion of the Digital UN must be a massive promotion for the Sustainable Development Goals. They are now the defining purpose of the UN. The year 2015, when it agreed and launched the SDGs and the Paris Climate Change agreement in four short months, witnessed two of the UN’s most significant successes of its history. Achieving the SDGs should be the defining purpose of the Digital UN. Its power must be harnessed, even as it is being built, to show everyone, especially young people, that the UN is leading the charge to create the world needed for the well-being of 100% of their generation, with no one left behind.
In 2030, as we conduct assessments and create targets for future UN Goals, the Digital UN must be at the heart of those assessments and, like the current Global Conversation, draw in ideas / concerns / passions from every member of the human family. The UN – and our Human Family – requires this new element of global governance to create – gain acceptance for and commitment to – the strategies that will create the Future we Want. More than that, it could make the difference between humanity’s survival and its extinction.
The Cold War cost the world’s governments in excess of $43 trillion dollars: PCI famously helped end it with $1.8 million dollars spent on Peace Child performances, tours and TV shows with Russians. We propose that the Digital UN initiative be another such low-cost / high impact, youth-driven initiative:
ONE – UNDHR 2.0: No Cost. We propose that the 1st Draft of this be prepared by students at universities around the world, working online, with advice, guidance and peer review provided pro bono by lawyers, government officials, academics, human rights and social media professionals + lawyers and executives working with Social Media companies and Internet Service Providers. Any administrative costs for coordination can be drawn from budgets for the other Actions and the costs of government discussions leading to approval of the legislation will be borne by those governments.
TWO – Building the Digital UN: $500,000. As a UK Registered charity and a US 501[c], staffed by youth volunteers, PCI can design, construct and promote the Digital UN at a fraction of the price it would cost a professional company. It will pay for the very best IT advice, facilities and technology and for any additional infra-structure that the Digital UN requires. It will also pay for the Lockdown Peace Child promotion which – as a film created almost entirely online – will cost very little. Direct, “Paid-for” Advertising forms no part of this budget: we insist that, like weather forecasts and Coronavirus updates, reports of the kind a Digital UN will provide should be delivered as a public service by all broadcasters. We feel that this remains the best way to engage the public in the issues that threaten the future we all want. In order to get the policy changes we need from government – to “radically re-orient the content and delivery of education” as President Obama’s Head of Innovation demanded – we shall require the services of professional advocacy consultants and lobbyists so these costs may mount as we progress through the decade to the 2030 assessment / review. The $500,000 figure will take care of the costs for the first 18-months of the initiative up to the point where the UDHR 2.0 is drafted, the Digital UN is designed, constructed for pilot testing, and used for test promotions like the Lockdown Peace Child.
THREE – SDG Promotion: No additional Costs. As noted above, the SDG promotion goes hand-in-hand with the promotion of the Digital UN – so the costs of that promotion are contained within the Budget for Action TWO (above). Many organisations like the World Federalists, Project Everyone, the World’s Largest Lesson, UNICEF, Save the Children, the Gates Foundation’s Goal-keepers initiative etc. are doing very effective work on SDG promotion – in addition to the excellent work being done by the UN itself. The Digital UN is being set up to provide an additional tool in the toolbox of all these agencies – to enhance their effectiveness and to engender greater and more fruitful collaboration between them. We shall offer all of them the services of the Digital UN for free to help them improve their current SDG promotions, the costs of which are already included in their own budgets.
Work has already started on the development of UDHR 2.0 and the Digital UN Pyramid structure. The following Steps are encouraged by PCI and its Global Youth network who support this initiative:
ONE: Present this paper as PCI’s substantive contribution the UN75 Global Conversation.
TWO: Develop a draft of the UDHR 2.0 for discussion
THREE: Discuss it at the (online) Conference of the Academic Council for the UN (ACUNS) and other conferences
FOUR: Seek peer review from government, private sector, youth, 3rd Sector, social media companies and ISPs;
FIVE: Engage a media company to start production of the Lockdown Peace Child movie;
SIX: Announce the initiative, and show the movie, in September 2021 at the UNGA and Goalkeepers’ Meeting;