UNGA 72: 193 Member States, 9 Days of Debate, 1 Sustainable Development Agenda

The annual General Assembly is like drinking water from a fire hose. There are endless side events, report launches, closed meetings, celebratory receptions and of course the infamous General Debate. This year, more than half of the world’s Heads of State traveled to UN Headquarters in New York City to discuss the most pressing challenges their countries face, what must be tackled together, and reaffirm commitments to global development and humanitarian response.

Every moment must be high-leverage, strategic and seemingly tireless. This even extends to diplomats’ attire, as western suits pale in comparison to the inviting, professional and traditional dress donned by men and women at all levels of diplomacy from across the globe.

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The 72nd General Assembly of the United Nations convened at a time of severe natural disasters, economic sanctions against North Korea, the largest number of migrants in recorded history, and ongoing politically-driven conflict. At the core is how UN Member States will coordinate together and with other stakeholders to uphold their commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals, and at the helm is progressive feminist Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (thank goodness).

Below, are take-aways from a civil society perspective through the eyes of a UN Representative familiar to life inside the UN when less of the world is watching.

Press Press Press – It seems this year the press had unprecedented interest in covering the annual dialogues and commitments by nearly 100 Heads of State. It is reasonable to posit that this was largely due to the anticipation of President Trump’s official remarks to the General Assembly given the growing bone of contention with North Korea. As the Trump Administration threatens to cut US funding of the UN as the world’s largest contributor, the media is recognizing the world’s concerns around economic and political stability – especially amidst the pressing issues of global migration and growing food insecurity.

Shrinking Access for Civil Society – It is not new that civil society representatives require secondary badges or meeting passes to gain entry to UN Headquarters during the General Assembly; it must be a heavily secured area given the mass numbers of Heads of State and other high level world leaders. The UN may have the best intentions to ensure civil society access, but the timing and location of pass distribution has become increasingly insufficient and inconvenient.

Movement inside UN Headquarters was nearly impossible without a pass for each specific area. Passes for events were only available outside the secured areas, so thousands of civil society delegates to UNGA72 had to leave UN Headquarters – sometimes several times in one day – and re-enter, having to go through security again. Passes for meeting and event registrants were rarely available until the meetings’ start time, making obtaining passes for overlapping meetings nearly impossible. Even when passes were made available in days prior to their appointed time, this often required sacrificing other events to pick them up. Civil society, and anyone attending UNGA, should not have to be overly selective with what they attend, ultimately forcing to remove one’s voice from many discussions.

My suggestion would be secondary pick-up points for passes within UN Headquarters and after the start-time of meetings/events (again, meetings overlap), so those already inside can obtain them easily and move efficiently inside Headquarters without worsening security lines.

IMG_1588Youth Getting Closer with World Leaders – The Office of the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth organized the annual High Level Young Leaders x World Leaders Breakfast at UN Headquarters on Tuesday, 19 September. The breakfast smoothly integrated young leaders with Heads of State, Ministers, senior representatives of civil society, academia, the private sector and the UN System to engage in thoughtful dialogue as peers and co-leaders in development. Before the flags went up, The Hunger Project’s Senior Policy Analyst and UN Representative, Mary Kate Costello, was seated as a civil society youth representative with Corinne Woods, Director of Communications for World Food Programme (WFP) and Flemming Besenbacher, Chairman of Carlsberg. Significant outcomes included agreement that world leaders need to “take risk” and place youth into [paid] decision making roles within government offices, greater decision making responsibilities in companies and organizations, and non-tokenistic seats on Boards. The Millennial Generation has proved itself capable to be an exponentially impactful work force with meaningful, innovative, account-driving and sustainable efforts to achieve the SDGs.

US Administration Shifting Development Priorities – After eight years of organized, gender-focused leadership under President Barack Obama, civil society had hoped President Trump would reiterate the US’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and express an ongoing priority for gender equality. Focus was instead placed on the US increasing reciprocal development partnerships – which is largely unrealistic and counterproductive in the short-term, and singling out certain nations for their abhorrent preservation of human rights. Standing at a podium which is an edifice of peace and diplomacy, the US president shockingly promised to “destroy” innocent people of North Korea out of a “loss” for reasonable negotiation with dictator, Kim Jong-un. <Shudder>

This shift in foreign policy and development assistance priorities further strengthens the need for community-leadership, country ownership, and transparent fiscal and political devolution to the most local levels. Decreasing dependency on top-down funding and implementation models of development are likely to be more successful at leaving no one behind within the time allotted to achieve the SDGs.  

Private Sector Continues on the Sidelines – Outside of UN Headquarters, large corporations hosted strategic meetings with a variety of stakeholders, including partners and thought leaders from civil society and academia, to discuss collective solutions on issues such as vector-borne illnesses and adolescent violence and mental health. Still, the UN writ-large – certain agencies withstanding – seems to fall short in engaging in meaningful and actionable discourse with influential and wealthy private sector actors despite the mandate of SDG 17. The pace, language and respective purposes in government relations are still largely uncomplimentary and “clunky” to link together.  

Admitting Mistakes and GapsLocus, a coalition of public and private international development organizations dedicated to advancing the profile of integrated and locally driven solutions, hosted a unique reception on Tuesday, 19 September, in which a valuable publication was launched: Lessons Learned the Hard Way. While nonprofits and international organizations continue to seek funding for their work, it inarguably behooves their future implementation to share challenges, failures and shortcomings to date. This can mitigate inefficiency, nepotism, and cultural clashes. Ultimately, success is still being found amidst lessons learned as we continue with courage in our convictions.

Women and Girls Remain a Priority – Side events hosted by UN Missions, agencies andcivil society were overwhelmingly (thank goodness) focused on the inarguable need to prioritize the empowerment of women and girls. Save the Children and International Center for Research on Women hosted an expert roundtable to discuss the ongoing issue of sustainably financing efforts toward gender equality. The meeting was convened to revisit the UN’s progress in establishing a UN task force, proposed by civil society.

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Every Woman Every Child (EWEC) erected an entire hub for discussions around gender equality on the UN’s North Lawn. A welcoming and attractive center sat along the East River, complete with outdoor seating for impromptu meetings and much needed UNGA decompression. EWEC launched a comprehensive progress report on partnerships to advance women and children’s health which outlines record progress with $45billion disbursed since 2010. The keys seem to be 1) evidence-based interventions, and; 2) human rights-based strategies. Living out the fact that women’s rights are human rights is not only proving successful, but also economically and politically fruitful.     

Data and Tech Continue as Hot Topics – Chances are you are reading this from a [smart] phone, if not a computer or tablet. Technology and technological communication is no longer only for the well-off or well-located persons: 75% of the world’s population use mobile phones and nearly 50% of the global population uses the internet. Digital literacy is crucial. Making use of people’s growing widespread access to and use of technological communication is a linchpin in making rapid and sustainable strides in development.

High-level discussions around why and how to leverage data and technology focused on birth registration, voter registration, farmers’ access to weather predictions, daily updates of competitive rates for certain goods and services, and gathering and assessing data to track progress or stagnation of efforts. One panelist stated “To count, you must be counted.” Of course all people behold inherent dignity by being humans, but they risk ineligibility for social services or program participation if they are not registered at birth and added to the demographic data of their country or tracked in a program.

SDGs Turned 2! – In marking any anniversary of the SDGs, there is precedent to expect improvement. However, 2017 has seen increasing conflict and worsening effects of climate change. The consequences are sobering: the number of food insecure people has gone up 35% since 2016. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN notes that while progress is being made in the areas of malnutrition attributed stunting and wasting, malnutrition attributed to obesity and overweight continues to climb in almost every country.

As the world continues to face natural disasters with biblical devastation, government accountability and transparency is growing as an urgent area to be addressed. Corruption is obvious in the rubble of poorly constructed or unlawfully licensed commercial and residential buildings. In emergency response, the importance of resilient communities and organized local government is proving to be the most life-saving and economically rejuvenating where such has been established.

Onward we go in achieving the SDGs, and upward we must go in holding our governments to account to their commitment to the 2030 Agenda.

Locus Coalition Appoints New Coordinator

In August 2017, the Locus Coalition named Ellie Price its new Coordinator, succeeding Gregory Adams in the role of leading the coalition. Ms. Price comes from FHI 360 where she was a Program Officer on the Crisis Response and Integrated Development team. While at FHI 360, Price led the Locus Coalition’s research  to quantify the impact of legislative directives in the U.S. foreign assistance budget on integrated, multi-sectoral development programming at the country level.

Locus is a coalition of organizations that is dedicated to advancing evidence-based solutions to global development challenges that are integrated, driven by local communities and based on shared measures. Our ultimate aim is to achieve a better model of development that results in greater impact to people living in poverty. Our members believe these are key pillars of effective global development practice in the Sustainable Development Goals era that will maximize development investments and impact by 2030.

As Coalition Coordinator, Price is committed to advancing the Locus Research Agenda on integrated development while ensuring Locus tools and products are practically relevant to development practitioners in the Global South.

To learn more about the Locus Coalition’s current activities, contact Ellie Price at gprice@locus.ngo.

Bracing for Impact: Proposed Budget Cuts to USAID and the State Department

By: @alovelyimperfection

President Donald Trump released his first formal proposed budget to Congress on 16 March 2017. As promised, the “America First” budget is proposing $54 billion in cuts throughout different federal government agencies and programs to offset an increase to the defense budget. Here is a snapshot of some departments that will be experiencing budget cuts: President Donald Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts.

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Department Cuts. n.d. CNN Politics. CNN. Web. 17 Mar. 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/16/politics/trump-budget-cuts/

President Trump wants to reduce foreign aid, and has reflected this by proposing a 31.4% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a 28.7% cut to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). If Congress approves this budget, it would cut funding for international development programs and the World Bank. It would also remove funding from programs aimed at combating climate change, therefore, lowering U.S. support to the United Nations’ climate change programs.

Direct impact on Movement for Community-led Development (CLD):

Independent agencies, such as the U.S. African Development Foundation, U.S. Trade and Development Agency, Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the United States Institute of Peace have been suggested for elimination. These agencies provide economic support, childhood development, education and food security, amongst other development services to communities throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Many CLD members’ programs rely on the financial support of USAID, the State Department and numerous independent agencies to support their missions.

It is imperative that Congress does not allow this blueprint to pass because of the negative repercussions it will have on U.S. foreign policy priorities and international development goals.

Additionally, CLD begins and ends with the empowerment of women for gender parity. These budget cuts – receiving strong criticism from both Republicans and Democrats – would jeopardize years of progression that development programs have achieved, particularly in the areas of reproductive and sexual health and gender equality.

The ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) rely heavily on investments and resources from the United States. The influence of U.S. foreign policy garners crucial support from communities and other donor countries around the world.

The Trump Administration’s budget proposal focuses on allocating the majority of federal funds towards defense spending. The international development community must stress to Congress that USAID and the State Department are critical implementers in protecting the United States from foreign attacks or additional immigration pressure.

CONCAUSA: Strengthening Youth Initiatives in the Americas

By: Adam Mohawk-Breen and Rebecca Nelson

31808400214_41bdcfb671_kFor International Youth Day, we celebrate the initiatives of America’s young people to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals!

Today is International Youth Day, which was started by the UN in order to celebrate youth contributions to conflict prevention and the transformation of their communities. This day gives us at América Solidaria a chance to reaffirm our commitment to ensure that every child in the Americas has access to the basic resources they need to live, learn, and grow. One of the most important ways that América Solidaria works to realize this vision is through our CONCAUSA initiative, which supports youth leaders who pursue sustainable development projects in their communities, in conjunction with UNICEF and CEPAL. These youth-led community development projects creatively address one or more of the Millennium Development Goals developed by the UN, which outline ambitious sustainable development goals to be achieved by the year 2030. Through CONCAUSA, América Solidaria selects three of these projects to sponsor with seed capital and mentoring, and invites the youth leaders of these projects to an international conference in Santiago, Chile, where the youth present their projects to their peers and an audience of UN representatives. Youth at the CONCAUSA conference also participate in group workshops and lectures, which are intended to improve the capacity of youth leaders to effect meaningful change in their communities.

On Thursday July, 20th, we closed this year’s CONCAUSA application period with 341 proposals, up from 244 in our pilot year in 2016. The proposals are currently being evaluated by a jury of youth peers and development experts, and the top groups will travel to Santiago de Chile in November of this year to participate in a series of training activities, which will culminate with a seminar at the headquarters of ECLAC. The results will be announced on 30 August through social networks and CONCAUSA web site.

In its first year, 60 young people from 11 countries met in the Chilean capital, sharing their experiences and thereby enriching their own projects, which have continued running during the following months. América Solidaria is looking forward to holding our second conference this November for a new class of youth leaders. As we hope to provide this opportunity to more youth in the future, contributions to our cause will have a great impact on the number of youth we are able to serve, and the communities we are able to impact. We hope that, on International Youth Day, you consider supporting our commitment to improving the lives of youth throughout the Americas!