Criteria for Evaluation of Candidates for the Post of Director General of UNESCO

The candidates for the post of Director General should be judged on how well qualified they are to carry out the functions of their important post. It is often useful to define a set of explicit criteria against which those qualifications may be judged. This posting is an attempt to define such criteria. It is assumed without stating that all the candidates nominated by member states are persons of high moral character, physically fit to carry out the arduous duties of the Office.

In its letter to the member states inviting nominations for the Post of Director General, the Executive Board wrote the following:
In facing the challenges of the new millennium, it is important to highlight the personal qualities required for the UNESCO Director-General. The point of departure is that the General Conference, in the interests of all Member States, should appoint the best person for the post who should have the following qualities:
  • leadership and proven administrative and management skills;
  • a strong commitment to all the objectives of the Organization;
  • a visionary and active approach to the role of UNESCO in the community of nations;
  • good knowledge of the United Nations system;
  • commitment to the highest moral and ethical standards;
  • strong communication skills so as to develop effective internal and external communication strategies, vision and objectives for the Organization;
  • empathy and sensitivity to civil society as an important UNESCO constituency by utilizing, as appropriate, the existing structures and in particular the National Commissions for UNESCO."
(Tony Fleming, in his report titled "Improving Global Leadership Selection" has summarized the criteria used by other agencies of the United Nations system.)

While I do not disagree with the general criteria identified by the Board, it seems to me that more specificity might be useful. Here is a complementary list of criteria that might be considered:

General Criteria

Demonstrated effective action for the promotion of peace.

Demonstrated effective action for the promotion and conduct of dialog among diverse cultural groups.

Skills in international diplomacy.

Demonstrated effective action in assisting in social and economic development in an international context.

Organizational Skills

Ability to manage and reform a large complex intergovernmental organization, demonstrated by education and experience.

Ability to interface with and motivate global networks of individuals and organizations, especially the educational, scientific, cultural and other intellectual networks working with UNESCO.

Sectoral Leadership and Management

Education: A strong background in educational management, as might be demonstrated by background as a minister of education or president of a university.

Natural and Social Sciences: A strong background in scientific administration, such as might be demonstrated by background as a minister of science, energy or environment, or direction of a scientific organization such as a research center.

Culture: A strong background in management of cultural institutions, such as might be demonstrated by background as a minister of culture or direction of a cultural organization such as a firm in a cultural industry or a development assistance organization focusing on culture and development.

Communications and Information: A strong background in management of institutions in this field, such as direction of a national library, major newspaper, or media network, or minister of communications and information.


The Director General should be a public intellectual, capable of obtaining and holding the respect of the international intellectual community.

The Director General should understand broad global social and economic processes that are affecting demands for an on educational, scientific, cultural and communications and information systems.

Of course, no individual is likely to score well against all these criteria. Moreover, not all these criteria deserve equal weight in the selection of the Director General. Thus, the core function of UNESCO is to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men, and demonstrated commitment to the promotion of peace would seem to merit great weight in the selection.

The relative importance of the ability to manage UNESCO’s formal organization versus the ability to mobilize the informal networks that UNESCO catalyzes and stakeholder communities that UNESCO serves should be weighed. I would suggest that while bureaucratic management will continue to be important, it is still more important that the next Director General seek to improve the UNESCO’s outreach to this larger community.

Often through the use of such criteria, candidates can be divided into groups such as:
  • Highly qualified.
  • Qualified.
  • Marginally qualified
  • Unqualified.

Comments and suggestions are welcome!


  1. The new Director General should have a broad and deep understanding of global issues, rather than a narrow focus on a single regional conflict. He/she should have sensitivity to cultures other than his own, since UNESCO works with so many different cultures. He/she should understand how to promote peace!


  2. Zinu Labruca6/20/2011

    Intanto mi meraviglio come i sei candidati alla carica di DG della FAO siano tutti maschi. Possibile che non ci sia un essere femminile bravo come gli altri? In secondo luogo sarebbe da evitare candidati che per loro natura siano stati ministri di Stati eccessivamente sbilanciati in politica; nel senso che non dovrebbero avere accesso a una carica ex-ministri di estrema sinistra o di estrema destra. Attenzione all'aggettivo, perchè una delle caratteristiche del DG dovrebbe essere la sua imparzialità nelle decisioni che interessano tutti. Tanto per non fare gli ipocriti sarebbe da escludere l'ex ministro brasiliano Josè Graziano da Silva perchè non possiede questo requisito. Poi se prevarranno logiche estremiste non irritiamoci: l'abbiamo voluto noi.

  3. Zinu Labruca6/21/2011

    Sorry. I swapped the FAO site with UNESCO site.

  4. No problem Zinu, as there should be some commonality in the criteria for leadership in different decentralized agencies of the United Nations system.