UNGA CONFERENCE 2021
TRANSFORMING OUR WORLD
Wednesday 22 September 2021
The UNGA Conference is the flagship event of the JWF, creating a platform for diverse stakeholders to discuss the Global Agenda 2030, offer innovative solutions, strategies, and policy recommendations to advance further the culture of peace, human rights, and sustainable development. Every year, this global event gathers an interdisciplinary group of distinguished panelists and high-level speakers to discuss a particular agenda around the three subsequent panel sessions in response to the priorities of the present UN General Assembly and propose a framework for action.
The successful implementation of SDG #17: Partnerships for the Goals remains at the center of the UNGA Conference 2021 as the SDGs can only be implemented with strong global partnerships and cooperation. The SDG 17 is focused on the UN rallying together strong partnerships in achieving all the Global Goals. The JWF has contributed to this goal by mobilizing its Global Partners in sharing best practices and initiating people-centered policy suggestions on the achievement of the UN Development Agenda 2030.
The action-oriented 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has encouraged all stakeholders, including UN Agencies, Member States, the private sector, civil society actors, and experts to bridge the gap between policy and knowledge while creating interlinkages between them the goals and accelerate the implementation progress of the SDGs.
This year, 2021, still represents the critical turning point for our global community which has been combatting the COVID-19 Pandemic. The challenges posed by his global health crisis enabled our international community to redefine economic and social development while following new trends of methodologies and policy implementations.
The UNGA Conference 2021 covered the following themes: (1) Progress of SDG 17: Partnerships for the SDGs; (2) Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability; and (3) Quality Education in the Post-Covid Era and Digital Technologies.
Cemre Ulker, US Director and Representative of JWF to the UN Department of Global Communications welcomed the global audience to the 6th Annual UNGA Conference 2021: Transforming Our World, organized on the occasion of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. In her remarks, she stated that the UNGA is a critical time during which the Heads of States are delivering their statements on the world`s most pressing issues. The main theme of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly is “building resilience through hope”. Recovering from COVID-19, rebuilding sustainably, responding to the needs of the planet, and respecting the rights of people are set as the priorities of the 76th Session of the UNGA.
Ms. Ulker quoted the President of 76th Session of the UN General Assembly His Excellency Abdulla Shahid: “We place our hope in humanity, because at the end of the day, that is all there is.” She continued: “In partnership with 36 civil society organizations from 24 different countries, we are here to transform our hope for inclusive societies into action, offer innovative strategies, and policy recommendations to advance the culture of peace, human rights, and sustainable development.”
The successful implementation of SDG #17: Partnerships for the Goals is the main mission of this international platform. Ms. Ulker indicated that SDGs can only be implemented with strong global partnerships of civil society organizations with Member States and UN agencies. She highlighted that the UNGA Conference will host 25 distinguished speakers from 14 countries, all are experts in different areas. Following today’s gathering, Ms. Ulker noted that the Conference Committee will adopt a Declaration and Proceeding Document, as well as an action framework to be implemented by the Conference stakeholders.
In closing, Cemre Ulker extended special thanks to the following global partners for their valuable contributions in organizing the UNGA Conference 2021. Argentina – Intercultural Dialogue Center; Australia – Affinity Intercultural Foundation; Brazil – Institute for Intercultural Dialogue; India – Indialogue; Japan – Japan Multicultural Association; Romania – Association for Dialog and Universal Values; South Africa – Turquoise Harmony Institute; Thailand – Samakee Institute; and USA – Cage Free Voices.
Her Excellency Célia Parnes, the Head of the Secretary of Social Development of the State of São Paulo was the first Keynote Speaker of the Opening Session at the UNGA Conference 2021. Her Excellency has been honored by the State of São Paulo Legislative Assembly Foreign Communities Parliamentary Council with the Military House Medal for her outstanding social services and she had been appointed as the Woman of the Year by the São Paulo Municipal Chamber. In her speech, Her Excellency Parnes highlighted the importance of global solidarity and building sustainable partnerships, especially during the times of a global health crisis. She touched on challenging the status quo, improving on social mobility, sustainable development practices touching on social justice, access to universal health care, education, promote equality and ended her brief speech by call on the international community to join hands in fighting coronavirus, the inequalities most families face in distribution of vaccines and improving livelihoods of those affected to cope. Her Excellency concluded her remarks by inviting everyone to take an action to transform our lives by providing opportunities for all in the local and national communities.
Honorable Verity Firth, Former New South Wales Minister for Education and Training and the Executive Director of Social Justice at the University of Technology Sydney was the second Keynote Speaker of the Opening Session. Hon. Firth has over fifteen years of experience at the highest levels of government and the not-for-profit sector in Australia. Before her parliamentary career, Honorable Firth worked as a lawyer and was Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney. In her speech, she started by honoring the first people of New South Wales by mentioning the Aborigines. In reference to SDG 4: Inclusive and equitable quality education for all, Hon. Firth highlighted how inequalities have emerged in digital education due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Australia was affected like most developed nations were. She talked about the relation of family economic status in response to the school learning success. Students from the higher ranking schools whose parents were also more empowered scored better marks than those from mixed diversity schools. It immediately dawned on policy analysts that children from low level family status did not have resources for internet connectivity and even if they did, they could not afford a laptop to organize their learning and assignments. Society needs to acknowledge equity impact in learning. Hon. Firth said that there should be a more community driven response to the education and needs of its community members. Advancement in technology can assist teachers and pro-actively support remote learning. Hon. Firth concluded her keynote speech by saying “Bottle it and keep it for all. Re-organize learning to cover everyone.”
There is a call for working towards a framework of an accurate alignment between the local, national and recovery plans. The UN DESA`s studies underline that “a recovery plan that is actively aligned to a holistic, comprehensive account of the 2030 Agenda” is essential to build back better. This approach could help address concerns from the UN DESA Report on “The Impacts of COVID-19 on Stakeholder Engagement for the SDGs” which indicates that “stakeholder engagement is at risk of falling away in the face of key challenges”. One of the most prominent challenges highlighted in the report is that there is a need for more international calls for partnerships to better implement SDG17. The panelists have shared their remarks on how to facilitate collaborations at different levels of stakeholders and shared several civil society best practices.
Prof. Patricia Kunrath was the moderator of Panel 1. Prof. Kunrath is the Knowledge Coordinator of the Group of Institutes, Foundations and Enterprises in Brazil. In her opening remarks, she indicated that “According to the Social Progress Index, at the current rate of progress, the Sustainable Development Goals will not be achieved until 2082, decades after the deadline set by the UN.” Sharing several best practices from Brazil, Prof. Kunrath underlined, “we know that it is not an easy task to align often divergent interests and even diverse world conceptions to work towards common goals, but several initiatives show that this is the most effective and sustainable way of paving the road for systemic change.” Moderator Prof. Kunrath started the session by introducing the respective Keynotes of Panel Session 1.
H.E. Ms. Markova Concepción Jaramillo is the Permanent Representative of Panama to the United Nations. Her remarks underlined the critical implication of the pandemic on education as this global crisis has endangered twenty years of education progress. Families were affected most by having their livelihoods diminished. Her Excellency Ambassador Jaramillo indicated that “Global partnerships within sectors are vehicles that will allow us to materialize this ambitious people-centered agenda in a timely manner.” She concluded her remarks by reminding the global audience that Sustainable Development Goals encourages us to imagine a world with no poverty, good health, quality education, gender equality, sustainable communities, and a better balance with the environment.
Michelle Breslauer, the Senior Manager of the Peace and Humanitarian Affairs at the UN Global Compact was the second Keynote of the Panel Session 1. Michelle Breslauer indicated that the UN Global Compact is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative with over 14,000 participants and over 69 networks globally. Ms. Breslauer talked about the importance of businesses establishing trust and connection with civil society. She indicated that “We know that Agenda 2030 not only calls for the participation of the private sector but requires it. Businesses have an essential role in this process as a holder of economic power, pioneer of innovation and technology and influencer of stakeholders including governments, consumers, investors, and suppliers.” Ms. Breslauer continued her remarks by underlining that “Transformational governance calls for businesses to provide greater accountability, integrity and transparency in their own corporate governance but also stronger environmental and social protections and supporting efforts to create more inclusive institutions, laws and systems – as a compliment not a substitute for government action.”
The first speaker of the session was Sarmad Khan, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Affairs of New York University and a Member of the ACUNS Board of Directors from Canada. Mr. Khan presented an overview of SDG17: Importance and Current Challenges of Multi-stakeholder Partnership for the Goals. In his remarks, he shared his vast experiences in international affairs in United Nations development cooperation, international policy and programs and executive leadership development. Mr. Khan underlined that innovation and finding good solutions should be the key to global partnerships. He added that “The essence of collaborative leadership is to be able to identify the dynamics, manage relationships among different groups and bring all stakeholders to form a new commitment for the whole society to change and strive to achieve this agenda”. Mr. Khan concluded his remarks by indicating that making this SDGs driven, multi-stakeholder agenda successful requires coalitions, a common driven platform that allows individuals and institutions to work on complex and conflicting issues in constructive ways.
Nancy Mahon is the Senior Vice President of the Global Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability at The Estée Lauder Companies. Ms. Mahon focused on corporate social responsibility for implementing the global agenda 2030. Nancy Mahon indicated that “if you go along, you go quickly, but if you go together you go far”. She focused her remarks on the importance of social environmental sustainability and supporting the communities where we live and work. Ms. Mahon underlined that at The Estée Lauder Companies, “Our commitment to tackling environmental issues and climate change is non-separable; we work together with communities to advance the women and girls”. She emphasized that companies with a global footprint have an impact and we have a responsibility. It is a business imperative to make sure women, in particular, are treated fairly, equally and have the resources that they need to be active participants in the global economy.
Prof. Chol Bunnag, the Director of SDG Move at Thammasat University, Thailand, focused on the capacity building for socio-economic development. He said that SDGs are not only goals and indicators but also development principles, shared language, frameworks for planning, reporting impact and tools for empowering and negotiating with other stakeholders. Prof. Bunnag shared his analysis from Thailand underlining that there are not many available resources to raise awareness among the public on the content of the SDGs. Later in his remarks, he presented SDG Move`s initiatives and best practices for capacity building by bringing essential reports to the attention of the public audience and creating platforms for scholars to share their insights in regards to the implementation of the SDGs.
Dana Coppola, the Public Relations and Media Specialist at Embrace Relief, was the next panelist focusing on how partnerships, voluntarism and collaborations assist Embrace Relief to deliver humanitarian assistance worldwide and contribute to the UN in achieving the SDGs. She started her remarks by saying that through collaboration and education, the world can begin to transform. Ms. Coppola introduced Embrace Relief as a non-profit organization dedicated to providing innovative, sustainable, research-based solutions to vulnerable communities worldwide for long-lasting improvements. Throughout her remarks, she shared several best practices from Embrace Relief such as First Bricks, an educational program for the refugee children advancing the SDG 4, the right to achieve quality education.
The last speaker of the Session, Ashok Sajjanhar is a Former Ambassador of India and the President of Institute of the Global Studies. Ambassador Sajjanhar discussed the role of peace and security to facilitate global partnerships for sustainable development which is a key to peace-building and a facilitator of SDG 17. He indicated that the advantages of virtual connections and digital technologies should continue to assist stakeholders to initiate global partnerships in the Post-COVID 19 Era. Ambassador Sajjanhar highlighted that “the whole world is a family” an Indian philosophy encouraging our global community to share its resources and knowledge in combatting the adversities that impact the world.
The setbacks during the COVID-19 caused a reduction in the ongoing environmental damage, only in the short run. Climate change and ecological threats are still posing a great risk to the timely achievement of the SDGs. The targets of the Paris Agreement are still off track. According to the progress report of SDG 13: taking urgent action to combat climate change, “in order to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels as called for in the Paris Agreement, global efforts would need to reach net-zero CO2 emissions globally around 2050”.
The moderator of this session was Takahisa Taniguchi an Environmental Activist from Japan. Mr. Taniguchi initiated a movement called, “Chikyu wo ma-moro (Save the Planet)” and started generating knowledge about the consequences of climate change and mobilized civil society organizations to take concrete actions. In his opening remarks, he presented a brief overview of the recent highlights of increasing climate change and ecological threats.
The first panelist of this session was Lauren Herzer Risi, the Project Director of Environmental Change and Security at Wilson Center. Ms. Risi focused on the impact of increasing ecological threats on future levels of conflict, migration and talked about the US perspective. She highlighted that “Climate change acts as a risk multiplier, not just for migration, but for conflict and human security as well.” Climate change compounds the risks that people are already facing in their day-to-day lives including instability, food insecurity, access to safe and clean water, and they are indeed magnified in being new threats. Ms. Risi put an important emphasis on the fact that “the challenge of climate change is the unpredictability of its specific impacts” and how these factors interact with existing vulnerabilities.
As a next panelist, Prof. Will Steffen, the Councillor of Climate Council of Australia and Climate Change Expert at Australian National University discussed climate crisis calling for a global response. Prof. Steffen started his remarks by underlining that climate change is happening more rapidly than we anticipated and it is becoming more dangerous. He continued his analysis by presenting several recent natural disasters that are escalated due to the effects of climate change in Australia, Canada and Germany. Prof. Steffen indicated that 2020 was 1.2 Celsius above the 1850 – 1900 average (pre-industrial period) and it was one of the three hottest years on record. This spike of the dramatic increase in climate change is the result of human influence due to burning fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas. Prof. Steffen concluded his remarks by reminding the audience that we need to act now as the climate evidence is absolutely clear and moving at an unprecedented rate.
Following Prof. Steffen, Jonathan Sury, the Project Director for Communications and Field Operations at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP), The Earth Institute discussed climate change, community resilience and gender equality. Mr. Sury started his remarks by a briefing on the recently evolving disaster landscape such as extreme weather events, emerging infectious diseases, man-made disasters and information overload. He indicated that “post-disaster vulnerability is increased due to shortage of basic services including education, health, and employment, less capacity for local organizing and unsustainable over-production to ensure short term income. Mr. Sury also talked about the important framework of gender, vulnerability, and intersectionality in disaster preparedness. He underlined that women are affected by the climate crisis disproportionately as they are less likely to control the production of income, have less education and training as well as holding fewer positions on decision-making bodies.
Aleandra Scafati, the Founder and President of Ecomujeres Foundation from Argentina presented an overview on the role of women in combating climate crisis and shared several best practices. Ms. Scafati indicated that humanity`s survival depends on a rapid migration into a circular and low-carbon economy. These changes require modifying consumption and production patterns, thinking in circular holistic business models, having empathic, supportive, and cooperative leadership. Women are the natural candidates to lead that transition. Ms. Scafati said, “Women have characteristics that define the ideal type of leadership needed to exercise the transition into a neutral carbon economy.”
Anne Eta is a high school senior at the Childville, Ogudu GRA school in Nigeria and she attended the Cage Free Voices Ambassador Program. Her intervention was on youth leadership in establishing community resilience and combating climate change. Ms. Eta said that “As youth, we play a major role in the development of our countries. The sooner we realize that the power to aid a country’s development and growth is in our hands and take charge of promoting social transformation to our countries, the more secure our future is. Anne Eta also underlined that “Promoting youth leadership by encouraging our adolescents in our community to exercise authority the right way over themselves and others pushes us closer to our main goal: Combating Climate Change.”
All the Global Goals are interrelated and dependent on each other. SDG4 “ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all” has a remarkable contribution to the implementation of the Global Agenda 2030. One of the critical areas that the COVID-19 Pandemic has caused a substantial setback is access to education. Panel Session 3 addressed the following themes: Long Term Implications of an Unequal Access to Education During COVID-19, Remote Learning: Opportunities and Challenges, Overview of Global Access to the Digital Technologies, Resources, and Disparities, Girls` Education and Women’s Empowerment in the Era of Digital Technologies.
The moderator of this session was Dr. Rajendran Govender, the Executive Director of Mzansi Empowerment Enterprise and Social Cohesion Advocate at the Department of Arts and Culture from South Africa. In his opening remarks, Dr. Govender highlighted that one of the most critical areas that the COVID19 caused is the substantial setback to access quality education. He underlined that there is an urgent need to develop new conceptual frameworks for effective teaching and learning strategies engaging students meaningfully to lead to better outcomes. Dr. Govender also added that there is a need to move away from conventional teaching styles to use interactive digital technologies.
The first panelist of this session was Prof. Modesto Seara Vázquez, the Rector of the Oaxaca State University System and the Honorary President of the Mexican Association of International Studies from Mexico. Prof. Seara Vázquez focused his remarks on the long-term implications of unequal access to education during COVID-19. Prof. Seara Vazquez started by highlighting that resource management globally has been very irrational in recent decades pushing human survival at stake. He stated that education as an instrument of mobility and social progress is only effective if it is high quality. Prof. Seara Vázquez emphasized the fact that “If we misunderstand the sense of equity, we limit ourselves to the facilitating young people within the educational system obtaining degrees that is not packed by knowledge resulting in permanent imbalances.”
The next panelist Vivian Heyl is the Representative of the Minister of Education from Chile shared her insights on the theme of remote learning opportunities and challenges. Ms. Heyl underlined that in Chile during 2020, only 56% of homes had access to the internet and 30% had access only through mobile phones with lesser connectivity in low income households, especially in rural settlements. Vivian Heyl indicated that “COVID19 increased social inequalities: leaving school has an impact on future income, negative effect on upcoming economic and labor opportunities, increasing the risk of poverty and social exclusion.
Following Vivian Heyl`s remarks, Dr. William C. Schulz, the Director of Academic Outcomes Research and Founder of Center for Social Change at Walden University talked about the overview of global access to digital technologies, resources, and disparities. Dr. Schulz said that integrated classroom design, engagement, expectations and technology deployment are critical elements for quality online education approaches which may create challenges for access. In his presentation, Dr. Schulz proposed that “we should leverage the power of specialization, cooperation and build hybrid cooperatives, public and private, in which individuals with higher experience in the online world can begin to work with people on the ground with local experiences.”
Mirabela Amarandei, the Director of Strategic Orientation and Public Policies at the University of Bucharest from Romania, talked about girls` education and women’s empowerment in the era of digital technologies. According to Ms. Amarandei investing in girls` education creates our future, transforms families, communities, countries and shapes the entire world into a better and prosperous place. She said that “Girls and women are the real agents of change.” Ms. Amarandei highlighted that “girls education goes beyond the simplicity of going to school; it means proper conditions of living, ensuring a safe and meaningful space for learning, maintaining equal opportunities for inclusive quality education”.
Feyzullah Bilgin, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Tulip International Colleges shared several best practices of the right to access quality education during COVID-19. He presented an overview of the challenges that students encounter in Nigeria. Mr. Bilgin said that “According to UNICEF, one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria; here, about 10.5 million children are not in schools.” The states in the northeast and northwest have female primary net attendance rates of 47.7 percent and 47.3 percent, respectively, meaning that more than half of the girls are not in school. In line with SDG 4, Mr. Bilgin indicated that “we are educating around 1500 girls in our schools, which are mostly located in the northern zone of Nigeria. NTIC scholarship scheme has also been extended to 40 Dapchi girls who were kidnapped in 2014 after their release in 2016.”
The last speaker of Panel Session 3 was Rares Voicu, the Board member of Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions from Romania. He pointed out that the pandemic has wiped out 20 years of educational progress and affected the lives of young people worldwide. Mr. Voicu indicated that “We are facing an educational catastrophe.” He talked about the fact that the most unrepresented stakeholders being the school students, the main beneficiaries. Mr. Voicu said that “At the 76th Session of the UNGA, the world leaders have been talking about the brighter future that we will have, but we can only get there through quality, inclusive and accessible education.”
The Keynote Speaker of the Closing Session at the UNGA Conference 2021 was Dr. Swadesh Rana, the Former Chief of the Conventional Arms Branch at the Department of Disarmament Affairs at the United Nations. Dr. Swadesh Rana is a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York and the UN Representative of the Academic Council of the UN System. In her closing remarks, Dr. Rana talked about the importance of SDG 17 saying that it is one of the most cross-sectoral goals. She highlighted that there are less than 10 years to achieve all the goals and talked about the urge that the 2020s should be the decade of transformative actions for the implementation of the Development Agenda 2030. Dr. Rana underlined that the main facilitators of this ambitious development framework are the partnerships that civil society organizations lead, the academia and the scientific community that bridge the gap between knowledge and informed decision-makers.
Closing remarks of the UNGA Conference 2021 were delivered by Mehmet Kilic, the President of the Journalists and Writers Foundation. Mr. Kilic started his remarks by thanking the keynote speakers, moderators and panelists for their outstanding presentations, reflections, and remarks. The panelists provided participants with a substantial analysis of information on the Progress of SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals; Climate Change and Ecological Threats; and Quality Education during the Post-Covid Era and Digital Technologies.
Mr. Kilic reiterated the Journalists and Writers Foundation`s commitment to youth empowerment, youth leadership and youth engagement, which play an important role to offer sustainable solutions to social, economic, and environmental challenges. Young people have the energy and potential with the 21st century knowledge, skills, determination to make a difference in society. Mr. Kilic highlighted that following the exemplary leadership of Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, there are tens of thousands of young people in our community who want to make a difference in society, who want to express their ideas on sustainable peace, climate change, gender equality, social justice and equality, and other issues. It is our responsibility to engage young people in our work and give them a voice. Mr. Kilic reminded the global audience that climate change is a global threat that requires partnerships, collective efforts, and actions. Governments, the private sector, and civil society must work in collaboration and cooperation to overcome its social, economic, and environmental challenges.
In his final words, Mr. Kilic reiterated that the Journalists and Writers Foundation and its Global Partners are committed to an inclusive, transformative, and achievable UN Development Agenda for humanity and the planet that will help achieve our global mission of “Leaving No One Behind.”
UNGA Conference 2021 was a success with 25 speakers from 14 countries; over 3500 participants from 28 countries; and 36 Global Partners from 24 countries. The Panel sessions were recorded and will be available at www.unga-conference.org and JWF’s YouTube Channel.