UNITED NATIONS. TURNING TURNER'S FUND FROM A MISUNDERSTANDING TO A SUCCESS

 

TURNING TURNER'S FUND FROM A MISUNDERSTANDING TO A SUCCESS

15 MAY 2008

At a reception marking ten years of the "U.N. Fund," its initiator and main contributor Ted Turner did what he does best: telling it like it is; or -- to be more accurate -- like it was when he first made the offer. His intention, he confided publicly, was to cover the financial arrears of unpaid U.S. contribution to the U.N. When told that individual citizens could not replace their member state, he sought a positive way out of the misunderstanding. That is, he kept his money on his word.

A veteran observer who was present at the creation confirmed Mr. Turner's version. The CNN founder had come to speak at a U.N. World Television Forum in September 1996. Accompanied by his then wife, actress Jane Fonda, he addressed the gathering of professionals in the Economic and Social Council Chamber, stressing how embarrassed he felt because his own government withheld its assessed contribution, estimated then at over $3 billion, adding: "If it was left up to me, I'd put up a third of it." An enthusiastic round of instant applause, led him to add that "heck," he was willing to offer the money right there and then. During a lunch that followed, the then-head of the Department of Public Information explained that although an official financial exchange was not feasible, other options could and should be creatively explored. Mr. Turner seemed enthusiastic as to how best to help, yet he was in a hurry to catch up with his waiting son.

During another TV forum a year later, nothing was heard from Mr. Turner, particularly that one of the main participants, News Corp Chief Rupert Murdoch, was not amongst his favourites. Months later, however, in March 1998, Ted Turner had made up his mind: he had a practical proposal and the money to back it. The announcement was made as he and Secretary General Kofi Annan, only one year in his first term, attended a U.N.A. / U.S.A. dinner.

The main challenge was how to transform that original misunderstanding into a fruitful pragmatic and programmatic operation. Naturally, most senior U.N. officials started clamoring for a role. Some even tried to place their own people to run the newly proposed venture for a piece of the action. Naturally, some of those who knew Mr. Turner thought they would persuade him in their direction. Naturally, there were experimental appointments -- some were partial failure; some proved to accomplish success. Though not specifically known for his caution, Mr. Turner instinctively kept his finger on the U.N. pulse, injecting his own supervising balance. His appointment of Governor Timothy Worth to effectively represent him was perceived internally as an expensive proposition. But Mr. Worth proved his worth. His role was eventually complimented by the eventual appointment from the U.N. side of someone with the enlightened integrity and professional calibre of Amir Dossal. After the early years of inevitable frustration, the venture was able to fly with two competent capable wings: an experienced American with an international approach, and a dedicated internationalist with a practical approach. It was their joint collaboration that prompted Mr. Turner to proudly state during the tenth anniversary that he could not recall a single major disagreement between his side and that of the U.N. -- they both worked, as they should, like one team.

Organizations grow quicker than people. The mere presence at the commemoration of varied representatives and individuals, some of whom are seemingly in conflict, reflected a consensus to acknowledge a successful accomplishment. Ted Turner took a gamble on the U.N. His heart and mind were in the right place. And he eventually had the team to do it.