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WORLD PERSPECTIVE | PHILANTHROPY

Worldly Plans to Make Most of Gift to U.N.

Media magnate Ted Turner's foundation will disburse his $1-billion donation. Money may help fund secretary-general's bid to remake organization.

January 24, 1998|CRAIG TURNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNITED NATIONS — Remember media magnate Ted Turner's stunning pledge in September to lay a billion-dollar donation on the U.N. over the next 10 years?

Nobody around the U.N. has forgotten. Not a dollar has changed hands yet, but there are dozens of spending requests piling up here. According to Joseph Connor, undersecretary-general for administration, they range in price from a few hundred thousand dollars to $40 million.

Meanwhile, Turner has set up something called the United Nations Foundation to disburse the money--at a rate of $100 million a year for a decade--and the U.N. has created an office called the International Trust Fund to receive it and spread it around the organization.

As details surface, however, it's clear that there's more going on here than a plan to hand out checks to do-gooders around the world, although that surely will be one result.

If the project goes ahead as touted, Turner's millions could become a powerful source of funds for Secretary-General Kofi Annan's ambition to remake the world body for the 21st century.

Annan would like the U.N. to become an international conscience on human rights; a problem-solving forum on cross-border issues such as global warming and drug and arms trafficking; and a helpmate to poor countries left behind by the rush toward economic globalization. But he needs money to do that, and he has pledged to adhere to a no-growth budget for at least three years. Turner's foundation--which could be augmented by contributions from other donors--is an alternative source of money.

Turner and Annan were acquainted before Turner's donation. But just how simpatico they are in their views is evident in the priorities of Turner's new foundation.

As forecast by foundation President Timothy E. Wirth, a former Colorado senator who was until recently an undersecretary of State, the priorities include programs on the environment and climate change, children's health, human rights, water conservation and purification, population control and aid to women in poor countries--all projects also on Annan's agenda.

Wirth said the foundation also will focus on projects that advance Annan's U.N. reform effort and improve the organization's public image in the U.S. And, true to Turner's promise to try to wring money out of other wealthy donors, the foundation may offer to match contributions by others.

Annan, seeking to avoid what one official called "an undignified scramble" for the money, set up the International Trust Fund to screen funding requests, and he plans to install as its head a trusted aide, Miles Stoby of Guyana, who was deeply involved in the secretary-general's reform program last year. The fund's job, according to one insider, will be to make sure that the programs funded by Turner money are new, innovative and reflect Annan's priorities.

"We want to make sure we're not just served up warmed-over projects that haven't received funding before," the source said.

In an interview during one of his regular visits here from Washington, Wirth stressed that the funding process will be a partnership between the foundation and the U.N. trust fund.

Right now the foundation consists of Wirth, 58, and an employee on loan from the State Department, and it operates out of temporary office space in Washington. Eventually, Wirth said, he expects to have about 40 employees working in New York and Washington, overseen by a board of trustees.

The only trustees so far are Wirth and Turner, who is guaranteed the chairmanship.

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