Julia Kennerley: My top tips for surviving a UN Conference

The UN.  It’s dynamic, it’s diverse and, at times, it can get a little crazy.  I’ve been observing the 41st session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for a little over a week now, so here are my top tips on how to survive at an UN conference: 

1. Talk
This might seem like an obvious tip but trust me, it’s important.  There’s an incredible array of ambassadors, diplomats, ministers and absolute strangers at the conference centre here in Krakow and, somewhat surprisingly, they tend to be more than happy to stop for chat.  Yesterday I had a 30 minute conversation with the Director of Culture and Heritage from Malaysia, whilst one fellow delegate had a catch up with the Serbian ambassador.  So, it’s definitely worthwhile to chat to the stranger in front of you whilst waiting in the coffee queue.  

2. Be super prepared
Again, obvious I know, but an essential.  There’s a huge array of documents to read prior to a conference, but it’s worth taking the time to familiarise yourself with them.  Absolutely no time is wasted going over what the documents contain or what they mean, so it’s a good idea to have at least some understanding of them beforehand.  

3.  Look out for the conference superstars
If you asked me who the stand out ambassadors were at this year’s UNESCO conference, I could easily tell you my top three - for example, Portugal’s Ambassador to UNESCO, José Cabral is one of the most entertaining speakers I’ve ever come across.  As an observer, if you pick out some favourites at the beginning of the session and watch them throughout, you’re never going to get bored.  It’s fun to monitor their remarks, their stance on various issues and how they (sometimes not very delicately) get their point across.  

4.  Be prepared for some drams
Honestly, I never thought that an UN conference could get so overly dramatic.  As I wrote about last week, some serious drama went down in the session on Thursday and security made an appearance.  (I”m not going to explain the ins and outs of it here, but if you want more info just google the keywords ‘UNESCO, resolution and toilet).  So, maybe come prepared for some major showdowns.  

5.  Bring a flashlight?  
As I write, I’m currently sitting in the dark, waiting for the UNESCO electrician to fix the conference centre lights.  It seems that even the UN is not immune to technical difficulties.  But maybe this minor inconvenience just serves as a metaphor as to what to expect at the UN - that is, the unexpected.  

All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.

Posted on July 11, 2017 and filed under World Heritage 2017.