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65 Years Later - Don't Look for the UN in New York, Look in Kumasi

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After traveling in Africa over the past few days, it' s clear that the need and impact of the United Nations are greater than ever. As I write from Kumasi, a small town in Ghana in West Africa, I am still thinking about the children I met in a local hospital earlier this week. Three baby girls in particular haven't left my mind. There were three newborns named Jamilla, Selina, and Issaha who were sharing one crib because there weren't enough beds. All three were battling infections due to complicated births.

Luckily, Jamilla, Selina, and Issaha have a good chance at surviving thanks to the work of the UN and its partners. It's not easy work. But it's vital, and the UN is the one international organization with the reach and the mandate to partner with countries to get it done. The UN is working with the government of Ghana to provide immunizations and treatment to keep children safe. While on my trip, I talked with community health workers who are being trained to distribute life-saving measles vaccines to more than four million children across the country. The logistics of their efforts to reach children in remote villages is daunting, but each is committed to ensuring every child has the opportunity to lead a healthy life.

When I return to the U.S. in a few days, I'm confident I won' t see stories like Jamilla, Selina, and Issaha's in the news. Instead, I anticipate I will turn on the TV and be inundated with news about the upcoming elections and the fierce fights between the politicians running for office. When people talk about the UN, they are more likely to talk about the political realities of what happens when hundreds of countries are forced to make things work at headquarters in New York. Politics get the headlines, but the headlines are missing a major global story as the UN turns 65 today.

The elections are obviously important and we should all be involved in the political process, but what I hope our political leaders running for office will remember is that the U.S. cannot survive or thrive in a world where it doesn't engage. The UN matters more today than it ever has and smart candidates should be talking about global issues as part of their local campaign messages. Americans care about making a difference in people's lives not only in our cities and towns across the United States, but also across the world in places like Ghana. Yes, people are worried about jobs at home and how to grow the economy. But they realize that you cannot have a successful long-term business plan if the world doesn't have a long-term plan for survival. Americans today are more global than ever and care about the UN.

For those politicians who say their communities don't care about the UN, we have the data to prove that isn't true. In a poll released this month by the UN Foundation and Better World Campaign 59% of Americans said they support the UN's work to lift up the standards of humanity for people everywhere. Politicians who are fighting for their electoral lives at far lower approval rates should take note of these numbers before they decide what their voters think of the UN.

These polling numbers don't surprise me, but it's also not a secret that I believe strongly in the work of the UN. I've been proud to work with Ted Turner to lead the UN Foundation which he created with his historic $1 billion gift more than a decade ago. And since joining the UN Foundation, it is clearer than ever that the UN is the most relevant and cost-effective way to address the world's biggest challenges.

So today as we mark the UN's 65th anniversary, it's important to remember where the UN does some of its most important work 24 hours a day. The UN provides food to 108 million people in 74 countries; vaccinates 40 percent of the world' s children, saving 2 million lives a year; assists over 34 million refugees fleeing war, famine or persecution; helps prevent maternal death to save lives of over 30 million women every year; keeps peace with 116,000 peacekeepers in 17 operations on 4 continents; and combats climate change and leads a campaign to plant 1 billion trees a year. That's some " to-do" list, and it's just the beginning of what they have to get accomplished.

So as you research news about the elections and local campaigns, challenge yourself and your candidates to remember what' s happening in Kumasi. For Jamilla, Selina, and Issaha, it doesn't matter which party you support. What matters to them is an American commitment to the UN and its work to help children like them. They probably doesn't understand what it means to be a Democrat or Republican, but do understand that someone is fighting for them to live in a better world. They know the UN is on the job, and we should too.