You are here: UNA-UK marks 75th anniversary of the UN with first ever virtual UN Day

24 October 2020

On Saturday 24 October, UNA-UK commemorated the UN’s 75th anniversary by presenting the Sir Brian Urquhart Award for Distinguished Service to the UN to renowned journalist Zeinab Badawi.

Named in honour of a former UN civil servant whose service spanned four decades, UNA-UK’s Sir Brian Urquhart Award celebrates individuals whose work reflects Sir Brian’s own dedication and endeavour.

In honouring Ms Badawi we were able to highlight her years of work supporting global justice, women’s education, and the crucial role of the Global South in shaping international institutions. Her long standing advocacy for a more open, inclusive and effective UN is relevant now more than ever amid calls for the doors to be opened wider at the UN.

UNA-UK was delighted to be joined virtually by Zeinab Badawi, who accepted the award and underlined the importance of the United Nations, stressing that a world without the UN would be a world without hope. 

Reflecting on her interactions with the UN, Ms Badawi said:

“In so many ways, personally, as a journalist, and as an advocate and a sharer of the vision of the United Nations, I have seen the importance of their work at a grassroots level.


As somebody who has always had a foot in two camps, the global south because I was born in the Sudan, and the global north because I have live in the UK since I was two years of age, I can honestly say that wearing these two hats, we need hope, wherever we are in the world.”

Natalie Samarsinghe, Chief of Strategy for the Commemoration of the United Nations’ 75th Anniversary, and Executive Director of UNA-UK, presented the award.

Ms Samarasinghe said:

“Sir Brian was the second person recruited to the UN, and he shaped the organisation, he embodied its ideals. UNA presents this award each year to people we feel carry his legacy. In this anniversary year, a year marked by issues around gender equality, racial justice, the need to dispel misinformation, the need to reach out and touch people emotionally as well as intellectually, Zeinab was a unanimous choice. 


She is quite simply one of the most talented and distinguished broadcasters. She is a compelling storyteller and brilliant interviewer, and a longstanding champion - and not an uncritical one - of the United Nations and of UNA-UK, of bringing more diverse voices into international relations, and into broadcasting.”

The UN’s 75th anniversary also offered a key opportunity to look to the future.  

UNA-UK was delighted to be joined virtually by H.E. Maria Fernanda Espinosa, Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, climate activist Nisreen Elsaim, CIVICUS Alliance’s Mandeep Tiwana and Ahmad Fawzi for a panel discussion on the future we want and the UN we need in 2020 and beyond.

They explored the vital role of the UN in the last 75 years, and the continuing relevance of the Organisation amid the Covid-19 pandemic. They also discussed the importance of good governance, leadership - and the need for the UN to connect better with people on the ground.

H.E. Maria Fernanda Espinosa said:

“The UN has to learn to use less acronyms and more synonyms. To connect better with people on the ground. The Organisation has to deliver for - and with - ‘We The Peoples’”


Young people should be given a platform, a voice, and the opportunity to shape the future they want for themselves. We need to overcome a communications challenge, but also an inclusion and participation challenge and deficit.”

Looking to the future, Lord Mark Malloch-Brown said:

"I think the UN will make it to 150 and beyond. Going forward it needs to renew its relevance and have an agenda which touches the lives and aspirations of people everywhere."

Nisreen Elsaim noted progress made by the UN, raising the importance of engaging people on the ground:

"I think the UN is getting more inclusive, especially with the start of the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, that I am Chairing right now. The UN is opening more doors and opening its arms to young people. 


Young people have proved that in all aspects - peace, security, climate change - we are always in the front line. I think some of the UN agencies should do better to include climate change in their negotiations and agendas.


If we want to move far we must move together."

The discussion also highlighted the growing movement calling for a champion for civil society at the UN.

Mandeep Tiwana calls for a move away from a state-centric focus:

“The UN Charter begins with the words ‘We the Peoples’.  But a lot of people feel the UN is very far away from them. Even though the UN’s decisions are impacting their lives, they don't feel they have enough say on these decisions. 


We need a Civil Society Champion at the UN, someone who can ensure more inclusive conversations at the UN. This is something that is fairly easy to do."

Ahmad Fawzi said:

"The UN75 consultation process has underlined that people on the ground have a lot to say - and have the right to say it - they have to be included in the decision-making process."

This year’s UN day was part of a wider organised by Peace Child International and UNA London & Southeast Region. 

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