UN Meetings of the Usual Kind

 

 

I was to attend a UN conference in Prague. The organizers as a part the “deal” had asked some of the us to draft the outcomes of the meeting so that the summary could be presented in the concluding session and “ratified”.

We were told to stay late in the evening and continue to work in the meeting rooms. The work was divided and each one of us was asked to capture the key messages of the allotted session, based on the speeches made and comments from the participants.

I was not happy with this expectation. I knew that these kinds of meetings really do not lead to outcomes worth discussing and be agreed upon. I am saying this out of the experience I have in attending several UN meetings as a resource person. The summaries are drab, wordy and sometimes even meaningless.

In our resource person group, there were however few younger colleagues in the mid-forties, who did not know this truth. Some of them in fact felt elated to be called as the resource persons so that they could sport this title in their CVs.

I had planned that after the days long, routine and ritualistic presentations to get out on the streets of Prague. You need to have a good drink after the dose of terms like sustainability, striking partnerships, promote harmonization etc. You are often siting in a poorly ventilated room.

In Prague, my favorite place has been the Reduta Jazz Club. It is situated on Národní street in the centre of the city, close to the National Theatre. Redutta is a legendary jazz spot where stars like Ray Charles and Louie Armstrong have played including Bill Clinton. It’s a small, old and traditional (a little shabby) club located in the basement floor. My idea was to give some excuse to Carlo, the organizer and escape the so called working session of the evening.

During the lunch break at the meeting, Carlo introduced to me to Tamara, a Japanese-American girl. “Tamara is a professional writer” Carlo said. “I use her in most of the UN meetings as she is quite familiar with the protocol (especially in citing the country names etc.). She will take over the draft summary you guys will do and polish to come up with a final draft that we could present in the last concluding session.” Tamara was a pleasant personality, with chinky eyes and an American accent and had a smiling face. She must be in her mid thirty.  “Nice to meet you Dr Modak, I look forward to drafts from you and your colleagues”.

I told Carlo about my unhappiness of spending time in the evening to work on the draft summary.  I told him that I plan to go to Redutta. I assured him that when I will return, I will work in my room and email the draft each night to him and Tamara. The meeting was for two days and each day one session was allotted to me.

Carlo wasn’t happy with my proposition as he wanted that the resource persons discuss as they write the draft and thought that I could provide the overall direction. But when I pleaded, he gave up “But Dr Modak, please ensure that your drafts reach me, Tamara and other resources persons in time”. I assured him. I realized that my seniority, age and long connection with the UN system worked.

After Carlo left, Tamara continued conversation with me. “Tell me about Redutta Jazz Club” She asked “Must be an interesting place since you don’t want to miss. Can I join you too? This is my first visit to Prague and I love Jazz”

Well, you are most welcome to join, we will leave the hotel by 7 pm so that we get the seats.  I said

“But Tamara, how would you manage?” I said this with great concern “You are in charge of the final summary and perhaps this would require your continued presence in the meeting room. There are 7 sessions over 2 days with 20 speakers and 80 participants – that’s going to lead to a large cloud of words that will need to be burst to get some drizzle” I said in a lighter vein.

Tamara smiled – “Yes, Dr Modak, there will be lots of words of wisdom that will need to be managed and massaged”

I continued “And don’t forget that the drafts you will receive from the resource persons will need to edited from language and protocol point of view. That will be some challenging work. I expect you to work whole night tonight as well as tomorrow to come up with a summary that can be presented”

Tamara said “I am aware Dr Modak and honestly I am quite used to. I will manage. See you at 7 pm in the lobby”

I was surprised with Tamara’s confidence

We reached Redutta in time and grabbed good seats next to the stage. We got craft beer to start with. The jazz band was fantastic. After the first break, Tamara and I started talking. She told me about her life. Her father was American and mother a Japanese. She grew up in Washington DC, did mass communication in the bachelors with MBA from Wharton. She worked for a News magazine in New York and in the past five years started freelancing. UN was one of her major clients.

“Wow, exciting Tamara, so do you work for many UN meetings of this kind in the year” I asked

Well, on an average at least 4. I also do post production of the event apart from the summary. I have a team of photographers/videographers who do for me photoshoots and video bites.

The second session of the Band was getting even better. Both of us were enjoying another round of craft beer. After the second session got over it was already 10 pm and I realized that were getting late.

I told Tamara that let us return now return to the hotel considering that I have to do my draft as promised to Carlo and she will need to work on the drafts of the resource persons.

Tamara held my hand and spoke to me in a hush hush tone as if she is revealing a big secret.

Well Dr Modak, I write the summary of the event BEFORE coming. Based on my experience of several UN meetings, I know the outcomes already. This meeting “designed” by Carlos has an internal agenda that he wants to be “ratified” in the group of 80 who have been carefully invited to ensure representation of countries – not forgetting the presence of LDCs and SIDS. He has already given me a brief and copies of PowerPoint presentations of the speakers. On this basis, I have done my job and prepared a working draft. Generally, the draft will not change and there will be a bit of tweaking required if someone does make an out of the box point. But given the kind of participants UN invites, I have rarely come across such a situation. So don’t worry, there isn’t any original work to do”

I always suspected this cheeky UN strategy but didn’t realize that there was the case in reality. So Tamara was a highly-specialized writer and hence a valuable resource for person like Carlo. The outcomes of the event were already decided and me, other resource persons and even the participants were just the pawns of the “game”.

“So, let us stay more for the third round Prasad. Its the famous Alice Springs Blues Band who would play” Tamara held my hand and kissed on my cheek.  And I stayed.

 

Cover photo taken from http://www.prague-guide.co.uk/reduta-jazz-club/


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