he Global Alumni Meeting of the United Nations - Nippon Foundation Partnership Training Program on Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea took place in Tokyo from November 28 to December 3, 2014. Eighty former program participants from 49 countries took part in the meeting, and UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Miguel de Serpa Soares was present for the opening event. Designed to promote dialogue on global maritime issues and the search for viable solutions, the gathering featured presentations on specific countries and regions as well as group workshops, and ultimately led to the creation of an interdisciplinary global network to provide a prompt response to maritime issues.
Opening the Door to the International Study of the Oceans
The UN-NF Partnership Training Program on Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea aims to develop human resources in countries that do not have a comprehensive legal system and policies for maritime affairs. Each year approximately 10 people, mainly government administrators in charge of ocean affairs, are accepted. Since its inception in 2003, the program has been held 10 times, and a total of 100 individuals from 59 countries have taken part in it.
Nopparat Nasuchon, a fisheries biologist with the Thailand Department of Fisheries and doctoral candidate at Nagasaki University, said the program opened the door for her to study the world’s oceans. “I decided to apply because I wanted to learn more about maritime affairs and fisheries internationally. Prior to that, my research was limited to Thailand, and I didn’t know what was going on in the rest of the world. By a stroke of luck, I met someone in Thailand who had taken part in the program. After talking with her, I made up my mind to apply. The program provides the best way to gain an understanding of oceanography.”
Continued Support for the Alumni
The fellowship program is designed not only to train experts in countries that do not yet have policies for ocean affairs but also to provide ongoing support for the alumni and facilitate the creation of a global alumni network.
The program comprises two parts. All participants initially undergo training for three months at the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea. Following this, they undertake research and receive practical training at one of the 48 affiliated academic and research institutes in 24 countries.
After the program ends, participants have the opportunity to attend regional conferences and share information about recent developments in ocean affairs and initiatives in their own country. To date, five regional conferences have been held, beginning with Tokyo in 2009, followed by Barbados in the Caribbean in 2010; Nairobi, Kenya, in 2011; New York in 2012, and Fiji in Oceania in 2013. With each additional gathering, the network has grown larger and stronger.
The 2014 global alumni meeting in Tokyo, held from November 28 to December 3, was the culmination of the regional conferences, bringing 80 alumni from 49 countries together in a single venue.
At the opening event, Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa described the objectives of the program and emphasized that the oceans are a common resource, while also noting that the problems faced today cannot be solved by a single country or organization: “It is thus our view that in order to facilitate this international coalition, it is essential for all of us to develop professionals who possess a global and multidisciplinary vision and the capability to build comprehensive networks that go beyond existing frameworks.”
UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Miguel de Serpa Soares, who also attended the event, underlined the importance of providing ongoing support for former participants: “The continuing development of the alumni is built into the program so as to accompany individual participants as their needs change during the course of their careers and to equip them with the latest knowledge in the ever evolving field of ocean affairs and the law of the sea. It [the program] also seeks to harness the formidable potential of a global network of like-minded individuals with experience and knowledge in addressing ocean issues.”
The developed maritime countries alone cannot solve the problems involving the world’s oceans. The Nippon Foundation and the United Nations’ training program is designed to promote the creation of a global network by training specialists from countries struggling to deal with maritime problems and providing ongoing support for alumni who serve as government administrators and researchers in the maritime field in their home country. This two-pronged approach, it is believed, is the key to enabling a prompt response to problems involving the oceans, which are a resource shared by the countries of the world.
Birth of the Alumni Network
Following the opening event and lectures, the participants spent three days giving presentations on new developments in individual countries and regions and taking part in seminars geared toward the creation of an alumni network. The impassioned presentations elicited a range of comments from the participants and generated a valuable exchange of opinions.
Thi Gam Pham, deputy chief of the Division for Legislations, Vietnam Administration of Seas and Islands stressed that the regional gatherings and the global alumni meeting provide an invaluable opportunity to stay abreast of ongoing developments: “After finishing the program and returning to Vietnam, I was too busy with work to stay on top of new developments. Here in Tokyo, I was able to meet with specialists and researchers in my field from around the world. I was also able to hear more about their experiences and findings.”
Abbas Daher Djama, permanent representative of the Republic of Djibouti to the United Nations Office in Geneva, said that even though he stays in touch with the former participants through e-mail messages he gained a lot from actually attending the Tokyo conference. “We had the chance . . . to come here and to talk about regional issues that we confront because we are facing the same issues. What we are trying to gain from this meeting is to identify . . . the main challenges but also to know what we as alumni can accomplish in order to solve such issues. . . . [As to] what the most important aspect is, the fact that we see each other and we talk to each other, not only during the meeting but outside the meeting, is also so extremely important, so we can create the dynamism that is vital for us to move forward.”
The Peruvian diplomat in the Republic of Ecuador, Gian Pierre Campos, also emphasized the contributions alumni can make to the network: “We are here not only to share information but also to establish our own strategy on how we can continue working . . . in a serious and real way. The majority of us finished the program a couple of years ago. Now [we have] more experience . . . , I think we can provide more for the program and the other people at the meeting, too.”
On the final day of the conference, the participants agreed to create and run a website and collaborate on a publication. It is hoped that the alumni network will become a force in the resolution of global maritime issues as participants in the program return home and make the professional experiences and know-how they have gained on the job available to other alumni.
Photographs by Hisayoshi Osawa, Noriaki Miwa, and others