A portrait of the author, Tatiana Valovaya.

At the beginning of 2020, we could not have imagined that our world would be upended to the extent that it was. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us in a multitude of ways: from the immediate health and economic impacts to changes to our ways of living and working. It has magnified inequalities and slowed progress towards achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The reverberations will be felt well beyond 2020.

In these uncertain times, the resilience of humankind shines through, offering hope through collective action. Multilateralism is at the core of the United Nations; strengthening and supporting this collaborative foundation has proven more crucial now than ever.

COVID-19 directly challenged how Member States work together in multilateral processes, requiring UN Geneva to adapt the ways in which it provides services and support while also managing the impact of the Organization’s severe liquidity crisis. We persevered and transformed, quickly embracing new ways of working. Transitioning from on-site to virtual work was no small feat, and it is a testament to the flexibility, innovativeness and dedication of UN Geneva staff that we were able to continue delivering our mandate and facilitating multilateralism.

At the same time, in 2020 UN Geneva marked 75 years since the signing of the Charter of the United Nations. UN Geneva organized events and initiatives to build upon the global dialogue launched by the Secretary-General for the anniversary, which focused particularly on youth. This historic milestone was an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come, where we stand now, and the direction we want to take for our common future.

The challenges of 2020 have crystallized some of the pathways ahead. The virtual way of working cannot replicate the richness of in-person interaction; this is especially true in multilateral diplomacy, where context and nuance matter greatly. Nonetheless, UN Geneva is building upon the skills and experience gained over the past year to become a centre of excellence for hybrid conferencing, virtual events and virtual collaboration, thereby bringing greater flexibility and inclusiveness to international cooperation.

In 2020, we were reminded that some of our greatest challenges, from COVID-19 to climate change, do not recognize borders. As we strive to overcome this pandemic and build back better, we must work in solidarity – not in isolation – and prioritize a strong multilateral system. Learning from 75 years of unity and resilience, UN Geneva stands ready to support the international community in the transformation to a more just, equal and sustainable world.

Signature of the Director-General of UN Geneva Tatiana Valovaya

Tatiana Valovaya,
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament