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Doha Debates News / September 16 2020

Can our global institutions save us?

by Amjad Atallah

A letter from Doha Debates’ managing director Amjad Atallah

There has perhaps been no event in modern history with as wide a reach and as swift a blow as the COVID-19 pandemic. As of this writing, some 30 million cases have been confirmed across all but a small handful of countries. On top of the immediate, major health threats this pandemic poses, the pandemic is exacerbating the other era-defining global threat: climate change. In just August and September, Sudan faced historic flooding, and the West Coast of the United States is enduring its worst-ever wildfires during its worst-ever heat wave. The world continues to face enormous challenges of inequality, poverty, the unknown futures of work and school, the digital divide and war and unrest. And as with the coronavirus pandemic, global inequality disproportionately affects those without sufficient access to resources, like health care and the ability to move out of harm’s way. 

There’s a sad irony to this, because as these issues — and their effects — become increasingly global, more countries are trying to go it alone. Nationalism isn’t just an organizing principle, it’s a zero-sum approach to problem-solving, and we’re seeing it worldwide, from the U.S. to Brazil to Belarus. 

As ever, younger people are coming together around the world, organizing together to engage in global issues at a local level. Whether systemic racism, the climate crisis or income equality, movements have sprung up organically around the world, led by young people demanding change.

In the chasm between global emergencies and individualist countries lies a bridge: multilateral institutions. The United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, among others, were founded in the aftermath of World War II by the war’s victors, whose goals were to manage their nations’ interests, and, one could argue, to provide global infrastructure to address problems like disease, famine, poverty, human rights and discrimination. And without doubt, there has been great success, even if our focus has tended to be on the failures. 

We will be having our 10th debate on September 20, 2020, just as the United Nations launches its 75th anniversary commemoration. Many have noted that it shouldn’t be a celebration, but rather a reflection on the path forward — whether there is a path at all — for the international institution that has most defined the post-World War II era.

How can we repair the bridge that connects younger generations who demand swift and meaningful change with the aging international institutions that no longer seem adequate and effective?

As always, we have three great guests to debate the future we need to create. Leymah Gbowee, a Nobel Laureate, whose efforts united Liberian women across religious lines to demand a more equitable end to a brutal civil war, will argue that we need to build on our existing institutions and make them more responsive and more effective. Ece Temelkuran is a Turkish novelist who will argue that we need to create mechanisms to include young people not only on the edges of international institutions, but in the very formation and leadership of the institutions we want to create or reform. Yanis Varoufakis is a Greek Parliamentarian and economist who will argue that the old order of multilateral institutions must be replaced or augmented by new institutions designed to address the greatest challenges we face today.

Our moderator, Ghida Fakhry, is no stranger to the questions we’re posing in this debate, having interviewed global leaders of most major international institutions. She will ensure that our guests provide practical advice, and our digital correspondent, Nelufar Hedayat, and our connector, Dr. Govinda Clayton, will again be on hand with our international panel of student judges and our online audience.

This will be our second live show with a virtual studio and student audience. We have expanded the student judging panel, and will be working some digital magic to make sure you can better see them during the show. 

As a reminder, our debates only start the conversation on a topic. Your involvement and ideas help us carry the topic debate forward, especially with our podcast, our films, our #SolvingIt series and our #DearWorldLive conversations. We always want to hear from you — because it’s your voice we want to amplify.  

Join us on September 20 and stay with us on social media @DohaDebates to see what’s new and what’s still to come. 

Please do let me know what you think about the debate topic. Your ideas drive us forward.




Listen to our episode of Course Correction about COVID-19