United Nations University: Conversation Series


Dan and I recently attended an event at the United Nations University in Tokyo. Every couple of weeks the university hosts a speaker in their conversation series. The week we attended it was the turn of Izumi Nakamitsu, the United Nations Under Secretary General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs. She was talking about “Threats and Opportunities in the Sphere of International Security and Disarmament”.

The talk fell into two parts. Firstly, it was 30 minutes of structured conversation with Ms. Izumi and after this the conversation was opened up to the audience for questions. I found the initial conversation interesting, although I was struck by how much of a ‘party line’ Ms. Izumi had to tread. It became even clearer the challenges that the UN face when negotiating with so many different member states, who all have very different political agendas. The real take away was that in order to move towards a disarmed world, the first step is to get interested in the issue and talk about. For me, I wanted the activism to come through – that is to say more than talking but doing. However, I also appreciated that it wasn’t as straightforward as that for the UN.

When the floor opened up to questions I though that those asking were very brave. I had several questions I wanted ask, specifically around how Ms. Izumi thinks the currently limited female voice could be more active, but I simply didn’t have the courage on this occasion to raise my hand. However, I honestly found myself a little disappointment in the quality of some questions, and wondered if perhaps the conversation series should vet questions in advance. Still, I guess that would take away those brilliant questions that come to us on the spot, and also perhaps would undermine the very nature of a ‘conversation series’. I felt like some of the questions asked this time were deliberately to showcase the individual asking, rather than thinking about the wider audience in the room. For example, one question was about the coursework someone is doing, which seemed a little irrelevant to most of us!

After the even was the chance to network. I am taking this is baby steps, as networking is something I usually actively avoid. However, as I make progress towards becoming a full-fledged Rotary Peace Fellow, networking will become more central to my life. So, I decided on this occasion, to give it 20 minutes. I managed this and then we made a hasty exit! Perhaps next time I’ll have the courage to pick up a drink and circulate…still, baby steps…

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