Someone has gone and stolen my idea. Some folks have created a website called “Voices of the UN” for workers at the United Nations to express themselves anonymously on how the organization is doing. While I am intrigued by the idea, I have to wonder if there are real dangers in creating a central repository of complaints about the UN.
The anonymous site owners of “Voices of the UN” profess that the site:
allows former and current United Nations colleagues to confidentiality share their opinions and experiences that will be read by elected officials, the donor community, the media, senior UN officials, and others. As the UN attempts to reform itself, we feel that being transparent regarding what is right and wrong with the UN is important.
I had a similar thought a few months ago, as I posted in my blog. Even then I knew there were dangers:
There are of course lots of ways this thing could go. It could be come a place for disgruntled staff to bitch about the horrible bureaucracy, nepotism and corruption in the system. It could be a place where conjecture and kant take the place of solid information and news.
The “Voices of the UN” shows a real possibility of realizing this scenario. The large majority of the posts were people complaining about their offices, jobs and co-workers, with such postings as :
- “Changes for the worse”
- “The Dance of the Power Greedy with the Programmatically Incompetent”
- “Job Insecurity + Weak Senior Management = Chaos and Undercommitment”
- “Wasting the world’s time, money, and, even, reservoir of hope… “
I wanted to give the site owners some feedback on their site. But their bulletin board only allows 250 word posts, so I have posted here a much longer essay on their site. I hope that they read this:
Dear “Voice of the UN” Sponsors:
Thank you, whoever you are, for this interesting experiment in UN “whistleblowing.” I have some technical and structural feedback on this site, but I thought I would post first about the potential dangers and possibilities of this kind of website.
It is important for all people in any institution to have a safe space where their honest views on the organization can be voiced and heard by others, whether it be a workplace, a church or a university. The internet has seen the flourishing in recent years of “whistleblower” websites, where employees of large corporations gather to complain, share stories, and seek advice.
From one perspective, these sites are not much different from a bunch of workers gathering in a bar after work to blow steam, complain and share stories of how terrible a day they had. The big difference being that the internet is a very, very large bar, and anything said there can spread far and wide, with unanticipated consequences.
The United Nations is a case in point. While one employee who was passed up for a promotion might like having an anonymous space to complain about their supervisor, this same post can be used by hyper-conservative forces to undermine the United Nations and make it even less effective, less funded, and less well-managed than it is today.
Some might see this as a risk worth taking in order to give people voice. Others might see this as irresponsible.
Interestingly, the “Voices of the UN” site only allows people to post new topics, not replies. And the site discourages people from posting their real names. So no real discussions can take place among participants. I think this is a real lost opportunity for dialogue, increased understanding, and even new forms of community among UN workers.
While I am interested in hearing real people’s real stories of corruption, mismanagement and incompetence, I am more interested in talking to people about how to make the system run better. Short of shutting down the UN and starting over, what can be done today that would make it a more efficient, just and effective institution? How do we deal effectively with racism, sexism, nepotism and sheer incompetence in our ranks? And how do we restore a sense of real “esprit de corps”?
While I know there are certainly UN employees and diplomats and NGOs who are just in it for the cushy jobs and nice salaries, I also know many others who honestly believe in the principles of the UN, who proudly support its values and ideals. How do we celebrate our colleagues who in face of budget cuts, heavy workloads and incredible demands still manage to do good work? How do we keep alive the fires of idealism and diminish the lure of cynicism that is so easy to give into?
I don’t have those answers. But I know that a site like “Voices of the UN” is unlikely to get us any closer to those answers. If anything, it might lead people to completely give up hope in the institution.
And that would be the worst outcome of all.