The Interview | Jean-Yves Art
How would you present your organization in a few words? What entails your position? What is your goal?
Microsoft created the United Nations and International Organisations (UNIO) team in response to three observations. First, the social challenges we face today are increasingly global and include not only those that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are designed to address, but also challenges created by the expansion of digital technologies, such as digital inclusion, cybersecurity, and data protection. The second observation is that these challenges call for comprehensive solutions. That's where international organizations have a role to play, namely via the UN Secretary General's Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. Third, as a technology company, we have a social responsibility to develop and implement solutions to these challenges.
If the technologies we develop either create problems like the ones I mentioned or can help address them, even partially, then we believe we have a duty to contribute to the solution. The mission of the UNIO team is to facilitate cooperation between Microsoft and the Geneva-based international organizations. We help research and implement solutions, identify opportunities for collaboration, build bridges between teams, and support ongoing cooperation with international organizations and other members of the international Geneva community.
Among the concentration of actors in Geneva (IOs, NGOs, permanent missions, academia, and the private sector), who do you work with and how?
We collaborate with all these players. As far as UNIO’s core mission is concerned, we work closely with several international organizations. For instance, we are partnering with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the use of digital technologies to promote respect for human rights, among others. Microsoft is a member of the multi-stakeholder alliance Partner2Connect, launched by ITU in cooperation with the Office of the UN Secretary-General's Envoy for Technology to foster meaningful connectivity and digital transformation globally. We also work with the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, and the World Trade Organization, to name just a few.
We contribute to the activities of the CyberPeace Institute, an independent, neutral non-governmental organization of which Microsoft is a founding member, whose mission is to ensure the rights of people and organizations to security, dignity, and equity in cyberspace. In partnership with other NGOs, we developed a program to strengthen the digital capabilities of several permanent missions in Geneva. On the academic side, we hope to expand our existing collaboration with the Graduate Institute.
While the nature, purpose, and scope of these collaborations differ widely, they are all born out of a desire to work together to solve shared challenges and, beyond that, contribute to the impact of international Geneva.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of Geneva with regards to the development of your activity?
Geneva could build on its unique strengths to consolidate its role as a hub for multi-stakeholder cooperation and multilateral governance of global challenges. It is home to 39 international organizations, more than 400 NGOs, and 180 permanent missions, not to mention several world-class universities. The presence of all these actors fosters intense discussions, exchanges, and multi-stakeholder responses to global challenges. Geneva's small size facilitates bilateral and multilateral meetings. The informal relationships that arise here are essential to facilitate ongoing, productive conversations between these various stakeholders. In this regard, I am persuaded that increasing the number of companies participating in this process would be a positive development. In other capital cities, private-sector representatives are present because the measures being discussed and adopted there have an impact on their business strategies and activities, and they are included in one way or another in the process of discussing and adopting these measures.
I think there is a need to further develop multi-stakeholder governance. Not every issue call for a multi-stakeholder response, and several models of multi-stakeholder governance can exist in parallel. In this regard, initiatives like the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace or the Christchurch Call to Action to Eliminate Terrorist and Violent Content Online are interesting examples. Through them, governments and companies have committed to taking concrete measures that complement each other and can invite other stakeholders to join. The environment is another priority area for joint action and governance involving governments, the private sector and civil society. For me, these initiatives are models of multi-stakeholder governance. This raises an interesting question regarding the role of international organizations in this form of governance: they can act as a trigger, an engine, a facilitator, a framework, etc. A major concern today is the rising risk of fragmentation at every level of society. However, in terms of relations between states, this presents an opportunity for Geneva-based international organizations. They could score a great victory by embracing and expanding support for smaller multi-stakeholder initiatives like the Paris or Christchurch Calls for example.
The question that follows naturally from this conversation, namely, how can multi-stakeholder governance expand further in Geneva? That is a complex question, which will require joint reflection on issues like the social fragmentation I mentioned earlier, the pros and cons of multi-stakeholderism – including the social responsibility of the various types of stakeholders – and the process through which it could evolve. It seems to me that the answer to this question will also call for patience, inclusiveness, humility, and empathy.