Celebrating 74 years of Global Leadership at the UN

This year, the United Nations turned 74. To celebrate, the UN Foundation honored global leaders, voices, and movements that have shaped not only the UN, but the world. Activities commenced on November 20th, 2020 at the UN Headquarters. Business leaders, government officials, partners and friends of the UN Foundation gathered for the annual Global Dialogue on the Sustainable Development Goals. This event seeks to create discussion among individuals in different sectors. The topics discussed vary, but this year focused largely on biodiversity and climate action, gender equality, and access to healthcare for all.

As Youth Observer and someone who is very passionate about SDG 13: Climate Action, I was asked to join Dr. Mary Robinson and Dr. Thomas Lovejoy for a discussion on biodiversity and the climate crisis. I must admit, I was a nervous about sitting on a panel with two well-accomplished role models of mine. I struggled with the fact that I, Jay’Len Boone, would be sitting with the former President of Ireland and the “Godfather of Biodiversity”. That is until I met them in person.

Instantly, they both made made me feel welcome. They were very transparent and asked for my genuine opinion on specific topics. They even asked how they, as elders, could work to assist more young people as we continue to strike and fight for climate action. This warmed my heart and increased the respect and admiration I already had for them.

During our panel we discussed how climate change negatively impacts communities around the globe.  Dr. Robinson shared that while we need businesses and governments at the top and young people and activists on the ground, we ultimately need each other, in what she calls a “top down, and bottom up approach”. This slowly became the theme throughout the rest of night.

I got to share my own personal story and experience with Hurricane Harvey and presented the audience with some alarming facts about the destructive impact the hurricane had on American lives and our country’s economy. After I shared my story, one woman in the audience made the important point that we need to consider the negative economic impacts of climate change. This consideration is specifically crucial for vulnerable communities where local governments do not have the ability or funds to rebuild.

Overall, The Global Dialogue was an amazing event and the panel on gender equality got me excited for the Beijing+25 initiative happening in 2020. Dr. Lovejoy stressed that we need to address the vital role women and young girls play in combating climate change. When women live in poverty,  or are forced into child marriages, we all suffer. There is no way we can tackle the climate crisis without empowering women.

After the panel, the UN Foundation hosted its annual Global Leadership Dinner to celebrate individuals who have made tremendous strides in solving global issues. My favorite part of the night was getting to meet my UN heroes and advocates for youth. I ran into UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake, who hosted the UN Youth Climate Summit in September and has been working towards giving youth a voice in global decision-making processes.

I was also granted the opportunity to open the night with a speech on this year’s theme “We the Peoples” and introduce Deputy-Secretary General, Amina Mohammad. Her work and love of children is so evident in the decisions she makes and the places she travels. I sincerely thank her and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for modeling what real leadership and support for youth looks like.

I ended my trip to New York by meeting with 16 amazing students at Fordham University. It may have been a small group, but it was diverse, with over 8 nations represented! The students were also diverse in their academic pursuits, studying international law, business, and even sustainable fashion. It was honestly the most diverse group I may have talked to this year. The best part was hearing their opinions on the SDGs. While everyone had a different area and SDG they worked on, we ended the discussion with the revelation that all the SDGs are interconnected and that we need each other to accomplish them by 2030. This was my first time at Fordham but it will definitely not be my last.

The UN has a lot to be proud of. The past 74 years have been filled with strong multilateralism, groundbreaking achievements, and new partnerships among nations. The only question that remains is what can we do to make the next 74 years even better! Consider donating today to allow the UN to continue its longstanding commitment of maintaining peace and security throughout the entire world.