Kofi Annan and Online Volunteering
(I made the UN Secretary General laugh)

 
In December 2003, I had the moment of a lifetime: I got to meet, and have my picture taken with, Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations. While working at the UN, I quickly became a huge fan of his grace, openness, forward-thinking and focus of quality and results. To say I was thrilled to even be a few inches away from him is the understatement of the century.

I was at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), and was one of many representatives for UNDP's affiliate, the UN Volunteers program. I was there to talk to people about online volunteering, and to help manage the community technology center we'd created at the conference to serve as our display booth.

Early the first full day of the summit, we learned that Mr. Annan was somewhere in the exhibit area, and my co-worker went to track him down and get him to our booth. It's a long story about how she did it, but she did it -- she's rather magical that way. As a presentation took place in our center, I looked down the long hallway of stalls and saw a small mob moving our way, and a tiny black man in the middle of it all. I realized it was Mr. Annan and ran into our booth, telling people in a semi-hysterical voice, "Stop the presentation! Kofi Annan is coming!!" He stopped at no other booth -- he was headed to us, specifically.

We all beamed as though we were stoned out of our minds (I looked awful but, still, I beamed). He came in and I think I mouthed the word "welcome", but I couldn't really speak -- my voice was gone. The small mob filled our center and completely encircled us, and there was almost a hysteria in the air. It was impossible to talk to him, even if you were right next to him -- everyone was competing for his attention. Someone called for a picture with the UNV staff. So we all squeezed in around him, and he said, "Quickly, quickly." And there was a sudden quiet as everyone focused their cameras, and I thought to myself, self, if you wanted to speak to him, say it now. So I said, in a voice that carried over the shuffling and clicking while we all stared at the cameras, "Mr. Annan, when you are no longer Secretary General, you could be an online volunteer yourself." He laughed, in that way it shows someone has taken by surprise, turned towards me as he walked away and said, "Right."

And then he was gone.

  

I've no doubt that the reason he was (and is) so aware of online volunteering through UNDP/UNV is because of the former head of UNV, Sharon Capeling Alakija. I've no doubt that it was her passion for online volunteering that brought it to Mr. Annan's attention.

 
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