Catalyzing change: The temptation to do too much

The close of the 65th Annual United Nations Department of Public Information and Non-Governmental Organization (DPI/NGO, @UNDPINGO) conference re-iterated sentiments of Ambassador Samantha Power (@AmbassadorPower) and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations (@USUN) when attempting to affect change: (1) It is important that we resist the temptation to do too much; (2) we must ensure that ambition does not outstrip achievability; and (3) we are obliged to raise the voice of the everyday citizen.

The importance of long term achievable aims must also be stressed when discussing means of implementation – or how we intend to meet ambitious benchmarks in an international framework. Global resolutions between disparate bodies must agree that an international crisis (such as climate change or violence against women) warrants international collaboration. Of equal importance is the notion that each resolution—in a local or global framework—must contain incentives that build confidence and change perceptions about a given problem. Many states agree that climate change represents a multi-generational threat to economic and global security. Country- or region-specific incentives are often necessary to facilitate immediate action and sustainable change (consider, for example, carbon pricing). However, these incentives must build confidence that carbon pricing is one avenue to reshape economies and redesign business. Similarly, by incentivising climate change initiatives through possible financial costs and gains, climate change must become a key development issue for developing economies.

When attempting to affect change on a global scale, we must also remember that our collaborators often bring different cultural and social knowledge to the discussion. General citizenry may expect initiatives to be adopted resolutely across the globe; we easily forget however, that regional differences in culture affect policy implementation. For this reason, it is imperative that we listen across the table to perspectives that may ease the enactment of international policies in regions worldwide.

Because of our interconnected world, social media has similarly become a multicultural tool used to affect change at various scales of operation. In terms of number of users, Facebook would rank as the third largest country in the world if recognized as a sovereign state! We must remember our various citizenships and networks when seeking to shape society; technological literacy is a form of cultural literacy without which future social change will become increasingly difficult. Like all tools, we must also recognize the shortcomings of social media when attempting to convey a message. Facebook cannot transmit non-verbal communication electronically. For this reason, it is important to consider the audience and how best to amplify the voice of the common citizen—where actions sometime speak louder than words.

The United Nations represents a reflection of two realities: “how it is, and how it should be.” In understanding that we must resist the temptation to do too much for the sake of ambition, we must similarly work to amplify the voice of the everyday citizen. Our job is to narrow the gap between how the world is and how it could be. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. We need leadership and vision from all realms of society and we must work to ensure that no one is left behind.