Michel Sidibé

Interview with Michel Sidibé, Executive Director, United Nations Programme on AIDS/HIV

Imagine that your organization didn’t exist and you were asked to invent it. What would you do? How would it be fundamentally different from what exists? What would be the differences regarding mandate, resources and objectives?

I would have invented UNAIDS 30 years ago, when a coordinated global response could have prevented the epidemic that has come to define our era. Perhaps we would be out of business by now. The upside is that we are a 21st century UN organization. By which I mean that it is a unique network-based partnership governed by member states, UN organizations as well as civil society. This keeps us fresh and innovative. Our vision –Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination, Zero AIDS-related deaths– has inspired and galvanized the global community. We renewed our mission last year with an emphasis on uniting and mobilizing all partners, speaking out in solidarity with those most affected, and empowering agents of change with strategic information. We have become the world’s go-to organization for HIV strategy and policy. In other words, I think that we have many of the fundamentals just right. If I were to start from scratch, I would have done two things differently. First, I would have led the UN in the use of modern communication tools –earlier and more aggressively. Too often the UN is behind the curve of technological innovation. These tools not only generate efficiencies but also connect us to emerging thought and bottom-up learning and change. The Arab Spring has demonstrated the real utility of modern communications and that solely top-down approaches are neither appreciated nor sustainable. Second, I would have put a shelf life on the organization –to convey both the sense of urgency and “feasibility” of getting the job done. With upfront investments in the HIV response we can end the HIV epidemic.

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