The UN General Assembly
Mari Skaare joins the team behind the scenes
Earlier this year, His Excellency, Mr. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande of Nigeria was elected the 77th President of the General Assembly, and Mari Skaare was asked to join his team as Chef de Cabinet (chief of staff). Being of the curious sort, I went knocking on her door to see how she is faring in her new position.
Marit Fosse: Ms. Skaare, could you tell us a little about your background?
Mari Skaare: I came from the post of deputy permanent representative of Norway. Most of my professional life I have been working for the Norwegian Foreign Service.
I’ve worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo on a variety of issues. I have been posted twice to Afghanistan—as deputy head of mission and ambassador—and Afghanistan remains very dear to my heart. I have also been Norway’s deputy permanent representative to NATO, and I have worked for NATO as special representative for women, peace and security. I have worked at the Norwegian Mission to the United Nations as delegate to the U.N. and legal adviser. So, I have quite a broad multilateral background. Now I find myself in this great position.
MF: How was the transition going from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the United Nations Secretariat?
MS: I felt so privileged being offered the position as the chef de cabinet of the president. I started out primarily working with the Nigerian colleagues preparing for the presidency. We worked hard, prepared well, and had an excellent transition team. The transition went well, I must say, thanks to my wonderful colleagues here in the office. We assumed our responsibilities on Sept. 17, just one week before the high-level segment of the General Assembly of the U.N.
MF: We always hear about the high-level segment at the General Assembly. What is it really all about?
MS: Heads of state and government come to participate in the general debate on the United Nations’ General Assembly every year. The United Nations is a great convener of all of the world leaders, and the General Assembly is really the town hall of the world. On the margins of this general debate, there are lots of activities and there is enormous machinery in place to facilitate meetings throughout out the week. One hundred and twenty-three heads of state and government participated in the general debate and several thousand people were busy in the U.N. that week. We arranged high-level meetings on subjects that are important for the United Nations. There were also several hundred side events, and, of course many, many bilateral meetings. The President of General Assembly conducted 54 bilateral meetings and he spoke at 18 side events, and all of this in addition to his key role, namely to preside over the general debate and meetings under the auspices of the General Assembly. I think that, for everybody who had the experience planning and implementing all the activities at the high level segment, it feels like a crazy week. It’s really intense!
MF: How many hours of sleep did you get?
MS: I managed to get home around midnight, get some sleep and then get back to work at 7 a.m. So it was fine.
MF: What exactly do you do as a Chef de cabinet?
MS: The office of the president of the General Assembly is a group of approximately 40 staff. Our whole purpose is to serve the president, so he can fulfill his duties and carry out his tasks. My own responsibility is really to advise and organize how he spends his time and make sure that the colleagues in the office collect information, analyze, formulate messages and prepare documents for the president. Today, right now, he is making an intervention on International Tsunami Day.
It’s a very interesting job. I have been working as a Norwegian diplomat most of my professional life. To have this opportunity to move from deputy permanent representative of your country to the United Nations representing all member states is a real privilege, and it’s very interesting. It changes your perception and it allows you to work within a truly multilateral context.
MF: People say that the future of multilateralism is at stake, and that we have less and less of it around the world. Do you share this point of view?
MS: I think that we need to pull our forces together to solve global challenges. I also think that there is deep and broad recognition of the need to seek collaboration and joint avenues. That the high-level segment and the General Assembly get so much attention proves that world leaders and stakeholders from civil society, private business—everybody—are drawn to the United Nations. I believe that this is very strong proof that multilateralism is still very much alive, but I do think that we need to strengthen it and that we need to counter attempts to walk by yourself. The challenges are of such magnitude that they can only be solved working together. I cannot imagine that any country will be able to reach the sustainable development goals alone.
MF: Finally, if you have a message to our readers what would you say to them?
MS: When times are difficult, it’s always best to engage in dialogues. If you want to prevent conflicts, if you want to achieve Agenda 2030 and all the sustainable development goals, cooperation and dialogue is the way forward.
This article originally appeared in the January 24, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.