Appointment of Bernward Geier as German NGO Coordinator of 64th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference
UN DPI & NGO/DPI Executive Committee Welcome
Appointment of Bernward Geier as German NGO Coordinator
of 64th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference
Following productive consultations with German partners about the planning of the 64th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference during the first DPI NGO technical mission to Bonn, Germany that took place 28 February – 2 March, Felix Dodds, Conference Chair and Co-Chair of the Planning Committee, returned to Bonn on 28 March to meet with a wide spectrum of European civil society organizations where Bernward Geier was unanimously selected to serve as Coordinator of the German NGO Focal Group.
Mr. Geier’s nomination was put forward by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), the organic world umbrella organization based in Bonn, where he had previously served as director for 18 years. An agronomist and journalist by training, Mr. Geier founded in 2006 COLABORA - “Let’s work together” which works internationally on issues of the environment, sustainability, ecological agriculture and food culture.
Jeffery Huffines, Chair of the NGO/DPI Executive Committee, recently conducted a telephone interview with Mr. Geier who runs with is wife a small organic farm near Bonn.
Congratulations on your appointment as the German NGO Coordinator for the 64th UN DPI/NGO Conference. What attracted you to take this opportunity?
I have a long history of engaging with a number of UN agencies, including FAO, UNEP, and UNCTAD, on environment and sustainability issues from the beginning of my time as director of IFOAM. I had participated in the first UN conference on environment and development in Rio in 1992 as well as in the UN DPI/NGO conference during the 1990s. This year’s UN DPI/NGO conference hosted by the City of Bonn in partnership with the German Government comes at a historically significant moment with the 10th anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers taking place this year followed by the Rio+20 conference in 2012. As the premiere civil society event hosted by the UN, this conference is the perfect opportunity for NGOs worldwide to have a decisive impact on preparations leading up to the Rio+20 conference as well as on the volunteerism movement.
Tell us about the work of IFOAM as well as your new organization COLABORA.
IFOAM is the umbrella organization of the organic movement founded in 1972 that unites some 730 organizations in 120 countries around the world. It is an NGO associated with the UN DPI and accredited to ECOSOC (see also www.ifoam.org ). COLABORA, is Latin for “collaborate” which I translate “let’s work together” as it captures so well COLABORA´s mission. We link organic and sustainable agriculture with food resp. dining culture and fair trade. We work on film projects and in print media as well as organize international conferences on sustainability issues. For the last 25 years I have lived and worked on organic farms, originally on a dairy farm. Now we breed and raise Icelandic horses on some 30 acres.
This year’s Conference on “Sustainable Societies; Responsive Citizens” will focus on delivering outcomes for both Rio+20 and International Year of Volunteers +10. What specific outcomes do you hope that this Conference will achieve?
We hope to send a strong message on the important work that civil society is doing in partnership with other stakeholders to create a more sustainable future for the planet and to showcase the enormous solutions potential of civil society and NGO activities. Conference delegates will have the unique opportunity to develop a meaningful Declaration and straight-forward Action Plan that will be fed directly into the Rio+20 negotiations as well as serve as a reinforcement of the plans surrounding the first ever UN report on volunteerism to be released at the end of this year by the UN Volunteers Programme.
Based upon my own personal experience, the first Rio conference in 1992 had an unforgettable spirit that launched the sustainable development movement and put into operation the UN conventions on climate change, biodiversity and combating desertification. While the follow up Rio+10 conference in South Africa in 2002 was in my eyes rather a set back, we have to make sure that the original spirit and impact of Rio will be recaptured at Rio+20 next year as our problems are so much bigger now. Real paradigm shifts are required which needs the active engagement of “responsive citizens” in every country. This is why the volunteerism movement is so important as demonstrated by the democratic transformations now taking place from the bottom up throughout North Africa and the Middle East.
Not many people outside of Europe know that Bonn is also Germany’s “United Nations City” being home to some 18 UN agencies including UNV and UNFCC. What do you expect that this venue will offer to civil society and NGO delegates coming from around the world.
Bonn is the ideal place in Europe to bring NGOs and the UN together to promote sustainable development and volunteerism. When the German capital moved to Berlin, the City of Bonn not only convinced many UN agencies to move here but it also attracted many international and national NGOs to come to Bonn as well. There are some 160 NGOs headquartered in Bonn, including IFOAM, Forest Stewardship Council, and Fair Trade International. Because there is such a strong civil society base here, we hope that we will have a great level of participation and interaction among diverse stakeholders, including opportunities to participate in volunteer activities.
Located by the Rhine river, Bonn is a very charming and international city. It is a very sustainable city engaged in greening the community. As the city of Beethoven and with the fascinating “museum mile”, we can promise you that conference participants will have an opportunity to enjoy our lively culture featuring both classical and modern music and the arts.
What opportunities will this event offer to facilitate global partnerships between civil society, UN and business?
Given the unique setting of Bonn with the headquarters of so many types of NGOs and of business, I expect a lot of synergies to take place with conference participants, UN agencies, governments and corporate sponsors. Many NGOs here have a strong focus on the Global South, and are very active in developing countries. Germany also borders Central and Eastern Europe where we hope to attract the emerging NGOs in those countries to participate in our activities. We will be organizing capacity building programs, receptions and other networking opportunities. Moreover, we will be organizing a program of public events to invite the participation of both business and civic leaders.
We want to make this conference as participatory as possible with engaging moderators who will inspire an active dialogue between exciting speakers and active conference participants. As a university town, Bonn has a strong youth factor which will help us organize events and fantastic cultural programs. We want conference delegates to take full ownership of the conference outcomes so that after three inspiring and action filled days, global civil society will be able to shape with strong messages and clear results the process of Rio in the right direction and re-energize the volunteer movement.
As a center for international dialogue on sustainability, Bonn is also hosting a number of other conferences later this year on the Green Economy, forests, water, energy and food security. Rather than viewing them as competition, we see these other events as opportunities to develop synergies which will permit us to address a whole range of issues dealing with sustainable societies. Because this is the NGO conference of the UN, it is the one conference that will provide civil society delegates with the opportunity to liaise directly with the UN and to influence the UN agenda.
Tell us more about the work of the German NGO Focal Group. If others want to help out, how can they join?
Given the fact that we are strongly integrated in Europe, the German Focal Group has the understanding that it is also an European Focal Group. We have established parallel subcommittees on experts, youth, workshops, media and exhibit to partner with those organized in New York, and we have found very engaged and skilled co-chairs. We know that we are rather late in the planning process, but we are working now full speed on conference content, workshops, exhibits and public participation events.
European NGO volunteers, who would like to engage and help us out by joining the NGO Focal Group Subcommittees, can contact me at colabora-together%27%de,b%27%geier .