Kristalina Georgieva: Coping with a Changing World

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Kristalina Georgieva, the Vice President of the European Commission, told an IPI Global Leader Series audience that while the world had been unprepared for the rapidity of modern change, she believed human and institutional versatility could meet the challenge of catching up.

“I would argue that we can be reasonably positive because humans are incredibly adaptive and creative, and we can find solutions,” she said. But she warned that “we are underestimating the significance of this speed of change and complexity.”

She spoke of the dangers posed by technological changes that were bringing advances but also spreading inequality at a time when the global population of needy was growing exponentially, enabling the emergence of a resort to terror by the young and idle.

“I lose sleep over this phenomenon,” she said, “the combination of jobless technology and demographic explosion.”

At one point in her September 22nd appearance, she broke from the subject of her talk to comment on rumors that she might be nominated by a country other than her own to be a candidate to be the next secretary-general. The question has arisen because there already is an official Bulgarian candidate, Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, who has not placed as high as expected in the four straw polls of the Security Council conducted thusfar.

“I am not seeking or willing to be nominated by another country,” Ms. Georgieva said. “This is my country, I love it. There is no way I will do anything that puts me at odds with being a Bulgarian.” She paused and then added, “We have given birth to more than one qualified candidate so what’s wrong with that?”

On the subject of change, she noted that “the combination of science, connectivity and the ability to mobilize civil society brings things that are incredibly good, like the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.”

But, she said, “the risk this enormous change brings is the multiplicity of shocks. Shocks come from economic crises that cross boundaries very quickly, natural disasters, and unfortunately one of the most significant drivers of shocks are conflicts tearing apart the lives of millions of people.”

She said that a new and increasingly dangerous phenomenon in the twenty- first century was the ominous presence of non-state actors who “have no interest in becoming recognized governments” and living by recognized standards. “They just want to wreak havoc and destroy livelihoods of people around us, and scare us,” she argued. “When you take this one step further with violence and terrorism, that picture of a pretty world with new technology gets a little murkier.”

She listed four primary needs:

  • Foresight
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Efficiency and managerial excellence
  • Political will for change, political will for action

Speaking from her own experience in humanitarian and development work both at the European Commission and at the World Bank, she spoke of the need for structural change to keep pace with change. “That, of course, means bringing down the silos between institutions,” she said, “bringing down the barriers between humanitarian first responders and development to work together.”

“This, of course, also has to be done in the direction of peacebuilding, security, human rights so we have a horizontal build that allows us to make the best out of the resources we have and be more agile when we use them.”

So how do you solve the world’s governance problems?, she asked in closing.

“There are two ways: one is realistic, one is fantastic,” she said.

“The realistic one is extraterrestrials come from space, take over our institutions and fix them. And the fantastic way is that people do it themselves.”

Introducing Ms. Georgieva and moderating the meeting was IPI President Terje Rød- Larsen, IPI’s President.