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Joe Schwartzberg: Advocate of a workable world


The creation of the United Nations following the Second World War was one of the greatest steps so far towards achieving a peaceful and just world order. The UN, however, is still a far from satisfactory organization.

Recognizing this shortcoming, Joseph E. Schwartzberg, Distinguished International Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota, founded in 2014 The Workable World Trust, the purpose of which is to “devise and disseminate ideas for improving the United Nations system.”

Transforming the UN System in seven languages

A geographer by profession, Joe has traveled throughout the world, meeting all kinds of people and learning through experience of their needs, aspirations and potential. His ideas, developed over a period of more than half a century, are presented at length in his seminal work, Transforming the United Nations System: Designs for a Workable World (Tokyo and New York: United Nations University Press, 2013). In time for his 90th birthday, which Joe is celebrating today, six translations of the work have now been published in addition to the original English edition. It is now also available in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Russian, and Spanish, together with a study guide. Japanese translations are expected shortly.

Book cover of Transforming the United Nations System

As Joe explains in the introduction, the book is based on the simple, but key, premise that the design of decision-making institutions has an important bearing on the quality and legitimacy of the decisions they make. Thus, he is not so much dealing with specific policies that the UN should pursue but instead with reform proposals that improve the decision-making processes of the UN’s bodies. In this vein, the book presents numerous proposals, largely through weighted voting formulae, with respect to the UN General Assembly, the Security Council, a new World Parliamentary Assembly, and a reformed Economic, Social and Environmental Council, among others.

Without doubt, Transforming the United Nations System, which I had the pleasure of translating into German, is the most important work on institutional UN reform in a long time.

A World Parliamentary Assembly

Through The Workable World Trust, Joe is supporting a wide range of programs that help implement the ideas included in his book. In this regard, he attaches great importance to the international efforts for the creation of a World Parliamentary Assembly. In his opinion this new body would be the best way to enable citizen input in global governance and will do more to legitimize the UN than any other reform that he can envisage.

In 2016, The Workable World Trust joined the Steering Committee of the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly coordinated by Democracy Without Borders. Joe’s donations and collaboration through the Trust have enabled us to continue pushing for a citizen-elected UN body and global democratization. We deeply appreciate the generous support provided by Joseph E. Schwartzberg and The Workable World Trust.

Happy birthday, dear Joe!

Image: Joseph E. Schwartzberg in December 2014 by The Workable World Trust

Andreas Bummel
Andreas Bummel is Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders and co-authored the book "A World Parliament: Governance and Democracy in the 21st Century"