19 March 2019
My heart sank when the news came: “Nairobi-bound plane crashes soon after takeoff in Addis Ababa.”
The route—which links the Ethiopian headquarters of the African Union with the African headquarters of the United Nations in Kenya—is so familiar to many of us that it is sometimes called the “UN shuttle.” A tragedy along this flight path was almost certain to hit the UN hard.
And the timing of the crash—on the eve of the biggest annual UN environmental conference in Nairobi—only compounded my concern. It wasn’t long before our worst fears were realized. Among the 157 victims from dozens of nationalities, 21 UN colleagues lost their lives.
Who were they?
By the very nature of such a tragedy, a random group. Yet they were also a mirror of the UN: women and men, young professionals and seasoned officials, hailing from all corners of the globe and with a wide array of expertise.
They worked on peacekeeping and reversing climate change, on empowering women and reducing plastic waste in the oceans, on helping people forced to flee their homes, and so much more.
They were joined on the ill-fated flight by many other civil society partners and humanitarians—a constellation of advocates and activists that the UN brings routinely together.
They included youth delegates to the environmental conference, bursting with enthusiasm, as one wrote, “to discuss global environment issues…connect with youth and leaders from all over the world…and share as much with folks back home.”
Yes, these were exceptional individuals whose dynamic global engagement shines bright in the light of a tragic event. But they were also everyday people. You may have had an equal chance of finding them providing food to war victims as you might hearing them share the latest news about a wedding, a birthday party or a football game.
At a time when many cast doubt on international cooperation and even deride the very notion of multilateralism—remember these lives cut short and their mission.
Go to any trouble spot and you’ll find them. Picture any global challenge and you’ll see them at work—far from home, without fanfare.
Unbowed by cynicism, they are out there every day—acting on their conviction to improve our world in the best possible way—by simply going out and doing it.
At its heart, what is multilateralism? People around the globe joining forces to make the world a better place.