Ruth Blackshaw

Arrived in Geneva: 3 times so far – Summer 2012, Summer 2013, and Spring 2017

Organization: Executive Officer, UNAIDS. Recently completed two years as Network Enabler with Young UN, co-funded by UN Geneva, UNHCR & WIPO

Hometown: Newtonmoore (the Highlands), Scotland

Tell us who you are and what you do in Geneva.

I am a few different things at the same time. I am passionate about solving global challenges through collective efforts. So far that has taken me to work with UNAIDS in different contexts and also to build up the Young UN: Agents for Change network, which aims to bring people together to change the UN system from the inside. We have a vision of a UN that fully embodies the principles it stands for and we are moving towards that by crowdsourcing ideas, piloting new approaches and building a movement for change in the UN.

I am a connector—connecting ideas, across different disciplines and domains, and people who share a common passion and want to collaborate. I am a social scientist by background, with a specialization in geography, and I recently completed a Master’s in Sustainability Leadership focused on employee activism and employee-led movements on climate action.

How do you reflect the 2030 Agenda’s paradigms of innovation, integration and collaboration in your work?

For me:

Innovation is believing everybody has the capacity to be innovative and creative. We need to create the spaces that enable both and get rid of the structures that block them.

Integration is connecting ideas and people. Many of the types of challenges we are facing are interconnected and cannot be addressed in a siloed approach. I am a strong believer in systems thinking and approaching whatever you do through that lens rather than seeing the issue at hand as an individual, standalone challenge.

Collaboration is finding out what sparks different people’s curiosity and working together towards a shared purpose. Collaboration should be ‘for something’ and to ‘achieve something’. When you define that purpose, you can collaborate effectively and overcome obstacles. Ultimately, whatever you are trying to achieve should become your North Star.  

What do you find unique about the Geneva ecosystem of actors?

The idea of an ecosystem is powerful because there is an inherent diversity of ‘species’—you need all the different layers and factors to enable it to work effectively. This metaphor is fitting for what Geneva is known and recognized for, particularly its concentration of high-calibre actors; people from many different contexts who share common interests and who come together even if there are differences, combining common energies to make change happen.

What do you think is one of the most important assets or qualities of the Geneva ecosystem of actors?

The breadth and depth of the community. The fact that the Geneva 2030 Ecosystem is a conscious effort, supported and enabled by the SDG Lab and IISD, is something not to be taken for granted. Another asset is the sustainable finance community. This is a unique area of work that the Ecosystem can further develop in a transformative way.

What is on your mind right now?

A few things: how to build movements for change and communities that can be sustainable and have ongoing and lasting energy and momentum; how to connect those communities to each other and across different sectors, like the tech sector, the public sector, the legal sector and so on; and how to connect people who are trying to drive system-level change so you can effect even more change.

What’s your favourite thing to do in and around Geneva?

I like to go up mountains and do so in different ways—on foot, on bike, and on skis. I also like to have picnics by the lake and jump in for a swim, and I am always curious to meet new people.

What is one thing that most people do not know about you?

I play the cello and tin whistle. In secondary school, I was part of ceilidh band. And I like to keep a scrapbook.