UN Reforms—A Major Step Forward January 1, but Some Challenges Still to Overcome

By Sarah Cliffe and Karina Gerlach

UN Secretary-General António Guterres was appointed in 2016 on an explicit reform platform.  In 2017, we published commentaries on his reform proposals.  Now that those reforms that have been approved are moving into implementation, we publish this simple guide to what has been achieved and the potential potholes still ahead.


The secretary-general’s much-anticipated reforms are finally underway.  The UN has been putting effort into preparing for implementation, with more than 1,900 staff mapped to new positions, 1,400 staff trained, and a major retreat with resident coordinators in November to prepare for the change. 

The reforms promise to achieve the following five major steps towards a UN fit for purpose for the global challenges it faces:

  • Delegation of decisions to the field
  • Continuity of strategy in political and peacekeeping missions
  • Increasing the credibility of UN representation in the field
  • Separation of operational management from policy and oversight
  • A start to implementing a more modernized budget

How do the reforms stack up in answering specific problems raised by the UN's member states and staff who work at the coalface of delivery, often in emergency situations and under very difficult conditions? Continuing our series on UN Reform, this new commentary assesses how the reforms will resolve these problems in the future.

[ Read the full paper UN Reforms—A Major Step Forward January 1, but Some Challenges Still to Overcome.pdf ]

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Jan 28, 2019
Sarah Cliffe
Multilateral Reform