I have returned to New York with the express intention of bridging the spatial divide between you and the work of the United Nations during High Level Week of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). A week termed “Speed Dating for Politicians” by some, the next five days bring together world leaders, international entrepreneurs, motivated citizenry, and NGOs from across the globe; the many events and discussions provide a circus of networking and brainstorming potential for individuals working to discover common ground and novel ideas while tackling some of the world’s most pressing problems. In the lead-up to High Level Week here at the United Nations, Assistant Secretary of State H. Dean Pittman provided a key framework to understand some of the key issues facing the international community including acute health crises in West Africa, security and safety crises in Iraq and Syria, and European security concerns in Ukraine. The world’s problems have become a web of interconnected loci; they demand multilateral support from every individual and will only diminish in strength with increasing pressure from the young generation: We are the future!
My first foray into the madness of UNGA (Pronounced: Uh-N-Ga) week was spent as a panel moderator at the Social Good Summit (#SocialGood & #2030NOW) featuring Climate Change Campaigner Parker Liataud (@parkerliataud); UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmed Alhendawi (@AhmadAlhendawi); Entrepreneur Derek Handley (@dgh); Miss Universe, 1999, Mpule Kwelagobe (@mpule); and Co-founder of the Africa Rising Foundation, Kweku Mandela (@humanloveshuman). The 45 minute panel succinctly echoed the concerns of Assistant Secretary Pittman on West Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, while contributing valuable insights into the innovations that are helping to ameliorate these and other faultlines globally: “Change cannot be a top-down or bottom-up issue; we must focus on all realms of society while working to create and strengthen partnerships between leaders, innovators, citizenry, and investors,” Mpule Kwelagobe. Similarly, the importance of people and planet must be intrinsically linked in policy decisions moving forward. The world’s poor are disproportionately affected by climate change – irregardless of the beneficial or detrimental actions of the Global North – and will face regional challenges that vary in severity and intensity from one locale to the next. The fervor each panelist held for various causes was an electrifying start to the next five days.
Sunday’s additional actions by three-hundred thousand(!!!) climate change marchers in New York City alone emphasized the increasing importance of the bonds tying people and planet to one fate. We rely on environmental services (beginning with the sun’s energy – our ultimate natural resource) to live meaningful and effective lives. Climate change has never held a more important position at the United Nations than now serves as a platform for world leaders to discus various sustainable development initiatives from the premise of severe and REAL consequences. Following the world’s largest climate march in history(!), Secretary Kerry with Peruvian Foreign Minister Gonzalo Gutierrez and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stated: “…when it comes to climate change we know exactly what it takes to get the job done. . . . The solution to climate change is energy policy. The policies aren’t complicated. It’s getting the political will to make the decisions to do what we know we have to do about it.” (Click here for full remarks.) We have the ability to tackle change; today’s People’s Climate March verified that we also have the mentality to do so across the world. And we need to start now.
My remaining time Sunday afternoon was spent at 92Y and the Social Good Summit. Speakers, journalists, leaders from the United Nations, and motivated citizenry energized the audience from Noon until an evening performance from Alicia Keys (@aliciakeys) with messages on gender and LGBT equality, rural health and safety, and minority and children’s rights. Since 2000, the Millennium Development Goals have had a profound effect on communities world wide; but the work is far from over. In today’s connected generation(s), we must understand the power of connectivity and understand how to wield this innovation to every advantage. We must work to empower women and girls because when half the world’s population is relegated to second class citizenry we lose a potential opportunity. “Gender equality is the key to international development; information is power, and providing digital connectivity to women and girls provides an additional platform to empowerment.” We must divorce ourselves from the idea that the issues we face are not a(n) women’s/LGBT/minority/Third-world issue. These are everyone’s issues and the next five years must be more inclusive and more sustainable than ever before. At the same time, “we must not allow ourselves to let perfect be the enemy of good.” We have made progress and continue to make progress on health and human rights disparities globally. Health workers have nearly extinguished the plight of the guinea worm from the human populace and expect to see the disease enter extinction in the next two years (marking the second human-induced extinction of a human-borne disease in history after the eradication of smallpox). Learn about “Countdown to Zero: The Guinea worm app,” here.
“Our biggest challenge is to get people to believe the things that they don’t see.” While the UN works tirelessly to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems, perhaps one of the biggest barriers to our collective success in remedying conflict and promoting equality rests in our collective failure to understand the issues we have neither experienced nor witnessed. As ideas flow this week in New York and around the globe, I challenge you to select one issue and experience it from a new perspective. Research the Syrian refugee crisis in Turkey; discuss racial inequality openly with friends; ask for clarification on issues you don’t understand; and put yourself in new and discomforting situations. Change only results when individuals find a tender societal nerve and push. Find your nerve and push to create change for our and the next generation. We are #2030NOW.