Who Should Lead the United Nations? PART 5 - Rebeca Grynspan

By Felix Dodds and Chris Spence
First published by Inter Press Service here 

The 15-member Security Council-- which includes five veto-wielding permanent members, namely the US, UK, France, China and Russia-- plays a decisive role in the election of a UN Secretary-General. Credit: United Nations

With current UN Secretary-General António Guterres set to step down in 2026, who is in the running to replace him? In this seven-part series, Felix Dodds and Chris Spence reveal who might be in the running and assess their chances.

The potential candidates include Amina J. Mohammed (Nigeria), Mia Motley (Barbados), Alicia Barcena (Mexico), Maria Fernanda Espinosa (Ecuador), Rebeca Grynspan (Costa Rica) and Michelle Bachelet (Chile). These are names that have come up in conversations with UN insiders and other experts. All six would offer skills and experiences we believe would be valuable in these fast-paced, uncertain times.

“The suffering we see around us is a reminder of what is at stake when we lose sight of the long term, when we leave people behind and we lose the ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes. What we’re seeing is a preview of what the world could be in 2030, if the Sustainable Development Goals fail.”

APEX, North Carolina / DUBLIN, Ireland, Apr 19 2024 (IPS) - This was the stark warning of Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in 2023.

Grynspan was appointed as the new head of UNCTAD—and its first female leader—in 2021. Before this, she had been Secretary-General of the Ibero-American Summits from 2014-2021, and a deputy head at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) from 2010-2014.

She has also held other UN roles dating back a decade further. These include serving as a subregional director of the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and as UNDP’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

But her expertise also crosses into government.

During the 1990s she held several high-profile roles in her native Costa Rica, including serving as Vice President from 1994-1998. She also held the housing, economics, and social affairs portfolios at various stages of her career, and was a Vice Minister of Finance in the late 1980s.

Grynspan has also been on various boards and high-level panels over the years, dealing either with financial matters, human development, or both. For instance, she chaired the board of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), served as a delegate to the UN Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti, and more recently was on the G20 High Level Independent Panel (HLIP) on Financing the Global Commons for Pandemic Preparedness and Response.

She has also served on boards tackling issues such as nutrition and food policy, and women’s political leadership. She is also coordinator of the Task Team of the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance set up by the UN Secretary-General to help support countries face the economic shocks related to the war in Ukraine.

Could Grynspan’s breadth of experience, and her deep background in finance and economics, be viewed as an asset at a time when financing in general, and particularly support for the Global South, are widely seen as inadequate?

For example, the shortfall in funding for the Sustainable Development Goals in the South is now estimated at $4 trillion. How can we turn this around? Grynspan’s professional experience, including negotiating the debt of her country with the IMF, and her extensive training as an economist (she holds economics degrees from universities in Costa Rica and the UK) could be viewed as timely and valuable in this regard.

Assessing Grynspan’s Prospects

Could economist Rebeca Grynspan become the next UN Secretary-General? Here is our assessment of her advantages and disadvantages should she choose to enter her name into the contest.


Seniority: Grynspan may not have been a president or prime minister, but as Vice President of Costa Rica she climbed close to the summit of her country’s political mountain. Although it is unclear whether the current Secretary-General’s status as a former prime minister will be a one-off event or the start of a trend, Grynspan’s seniority in her native Costa is unlikely to harm her candidature, should she choose to apply, and would likely help it.

UN Experience: As the first female Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Grynspan has already broken one glass ceiling within the United Nations. She would also bring more than twenty years’ experience within the UN system, something that would surely be viewed as an asset during these uncertain times. Additionally, she is familiar with the internal workings of the UN in Geneva, New York and across Latin America, giving her insights into decision making at both headquarters and regionally. This breadth of experience within the UN could be useful to any future UN leader.

Proven Impact: Grynspan is viewed as someone who can have an impact, a perception recognized by Forbes magazine, which named her among the 100 most powerful women in Central America four years running. She was also instrumental in the UN-brokered Black Sea Initiative agreed by Russia, Türkiye, and Ukraine that has allowed millions of tons of grain and other foodstuffs to leave Ukraine’s ports, playing an important role in global food security.

Connections: Grynspan has had many years operating in the regional level and at the global level, too. Her networks may arguably not be as wide as some other candidates, but would still provide a good platform for her to succeed.

A Woman Leader: As with our other candidates, Grynspan offers the chance to break the glass ceiling and become the first female leader of the UN.


Climate and the Environment: Although Grynspan has strong credentials on trade, finance and development, it is only recently that she began to have a higher profile on climate change and some of the other big environmental issues of our time. For instance, she recently co-hosted the first ever Trade Day event at COP28, and has become a strong advocate for reform of the financial and debt architecture to allow developing countries the fiscal space to invest in carbon mitigation and adaptation. Could her relatively recent involvement in this key issue count against her, or will it rather be seen as adding to her impressive credentials in other areas?

Peace and Security: Peace, security and conflict resolution have not featured prominently in her background. However, as with climate change, they are often front-and-center of international news. If the UN Security Council members are looking for expertise in this area, might Grynspan’s relative lack of experience be considered a possible weakness? Or, would they consider her recent role in the Black Sea Initiative as recent evidence of her engagement in this area?

Name Recognition: Although she is widely respected in her fields and across the UN, Grynspan may not have the same sort of name recognition among the public as some of the other candidates.

Prof. Felix Dodds and Chris Spence have participated in United Nations conferences and negotiations since the 1990s. They co-edited Heroes of Environmental Diplomacy: Profiles in Courage (Routledge, 2022), which examines the roles of individuals in inspiring change.

https://www.ipsnews.net/2024/04/next-un-leaderpart-1/ Amina J. Mohammed

https://www.ipsnews.net/2024/04/next-un-leaderpart-2/ Mia Motley

https://www.ipsnews.net/2024/04/next-un-leaderpart-3/ Alicia Barcena

https://www.ipsnews.net/2024/04/next-un-leaderpart-4/ Maria Fernanda Espinosa 

photo Rebeca Grynspan. (2023, December 2). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebeca_Grynspan 


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