The Formation of the Psychology Coalition at the U.N. (1995-2013)

Corann Okorodudu, Ed.D., Professor of Psychology & Africana Studies
UN/NGO Representative of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
Chair, Psychology Coalition at the UN

Brief Historical Background.
At the APA Annual Convention in New York City in 1995, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) together with the American Psychological Association (APA), Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR) and various APA divisions, hosted a symposium and conversation hour on poverty at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. The symposium featured Ambassador Juan Somavia of Chile, the Secretary-General of the UN World Summit on Social Development that year. During the Conversation Hour, in response to a question on how psychologists could be more effective at integrating psychological contributions into the UN agenda, Ambassador Somavia’s response was brief: Form a coalition of psychologists.  As far as we have been able to discern, there were five psychology/psychology-related organizations accredited at the UN at the time: The World Federation for Mental Health, the International Council of Psychologists, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the Association for Women in Psychology, and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

Over the past decade and a half, the number of psychology/psychology-related organizations accredited at the UN has increased to the following ten that we have been able to identify thus far: American Psychological Association (APA), Association for Trauma Outreach and Prevention (AOTP), Association for Women in Psychology (AWP), International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP), International Council of Psychologists (ICP), International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS), Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology (SIOP), Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), and World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH). There has also been a corresponding increase in the number of psychologists representing these organizations.

Developments during 2011-2012.
In the Fall on 2011, during the planning of the Fifth Annual Psychology Day at the UN, APA and SPSSI representatives took the lead in calling for the formation of a coalition and worked with representatives of other psychology organizations in developing a mission statement for the Coalition and an advocacy statement for the 2012 Commission on the Status of Women. In February, March, and April 2012, APA, SPSSI, ICP and IAAP professionals and interns, with the support of other psychology organizations, formed a team that launched very successful advocacy interventions at the Commission on Social Development, the Commission on the Status of Women, the Informal Negotiations for the Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development, and the Commission on Population and Development. The volume of this work and the number of contacts made directly with representatives of government missions at the UN has been truly remarkable.

Concurrently, an Ad Hoc Task Force drafted By-Laws, which identifies a structure to enable the members of the Coalition to work together effectively to accomplish our mission. The By-Laws went through four readings and revisions and was initially approved at the March 22, 2012 meeting of the Coalition, after which it was sent to the headquarters of the psychology/psychology-related organizations for their review and comment. Feedback from organizations and suggestions for revisions from Coalition members at the UN were integrated into the By-Laws which were then reviewed and approved by the Coalition at their September 20, 2012 meeting,

General Strategic Objectives.
The work of psychologists and other social scientists at the UN has been largely marginal. We envision that the Psychology Coalition will enable the Psychology/Psychology-related Organizations to have a greater visibility and impact on the UN agenda than we have been able to achieve thus far. Governments, UN agencies, and civil society organizations at the United Nations tend to focus and place greater importance on the perspectives and indicators of economists in addressing global issues. While we as psychologists do not deny the significance and relevance of the work of economists, the purpose of the Psychology Coalition is to advocate for UN agencies, Governments, and civil society organizations to recognize that the goals of the UN agenda call for behavioral changes that psychologists address in their research and practice.

The Psychology Coalition at the UN is now established with five committees and is functioning according to a plan that focuses on the following general strategic objectives for the 2012-2013 program year:

A. To advocate to UN commissions and agencies, governments, and non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders, that policies and programs to meet recurrent and emerging global challenges of the UN agenda incorporate psychological principles, policies, science, and practice, including, but not limited to, the following subject areas: mental health, psychosocial well-being, psychological empowerment, social justice and human rights, conflict resolution and peacebuilding, psychosocial recovery from disasters, environmental psychology, and decent work

B., To educate and collaborate with various constituencies at the UN about the contributions that psychological factors and behavioral changes addressed by psychologists can make to plans for action to meet the goals of the UN agenda;

C. To inform the psychological community about the Coalition’s efforts to bring psychological principles, science and practice to bear on the agenda of the UN as well as to promote the integration of global/international issues, standards, and outcomes into psychological science and practice.
In conclusion, we want to assure the administrators of our organizations that we are mindful of our commitments to them by calling their attention to an important point stressed early in the By-Laws of the Coalition: “Membership in the Coalition is not intended to diminish or take away from the responsibilities that psychologists have to the missions of their respective Non-Governmental Organizations or to service on NGO Committees at the UN. Instead, organizational membership in the Coalition should provide opportunities to enhance and broaden the contributions of the representatives of each psychology organization to implementing their mission on NGO committees and in other areas of functioning at the UN.”