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Main Themes from the 65th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference

NOTE: This guest post was written by Dana Terry. Dana is a 2014 graduate of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Her specializations include International Organizations, Conflict Negotiation/Management, and Post-Conflict Statebuilding. She has previously published pieces on the development agenda (MDGs: How Far We’ve Gotten), Bosnia & Herzegovina (Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Political Economy and Possibilities for Reform and Why Bosnia and Herzegovina Should Not Be Ignored) and is currently researching  the relation between politicized ethnicity and income inequality. She has also been selected as a 2014 Social Good Summit UNA-USA Blogging Fellow. Follow her on twitter @DanaTerry.


Last week, civil society from more than 117 countries convened to collaborate for a once in a generation opportunity to build on the extraordinary success of the MDGs for global transformation. The 65th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference hosted by the United Nations Department of Public Information provided a forum for over 2,000 attendees from hundreds of international NGOs to discuss what issues they wanted to be included in the post-2015 agenda. The conference contained a series of round table discussions and workshops each covering a pertinent global issue and each led by a panel of experts from a corresponding field. Topics ranged from whether a peace & security goal should be included in the post-2015 agenda to the need for increased focus on climate change to how media affects sustainable development and good governance. Each session wrapped up with a Q&A session and the conference concluded with a final Outcome Document Declaration which will be considered when member states draft the SDGs in September. I have compiled a few of the main issue themes I witnessed while live tweeting the event below.


Inclusion and Equality

One of the reoccurring themes of the conference was the topic of inclusion and equality. Groups such as persons with disabilities, indigenous people, and youth felt excluded from the decision-making process and drafting of the previous MDG agenda. Maryanne Diamond of the International Disabilities Alliance explained that persons with disabilities, 80% of whom are in the developing world, continue to face barriers in education, communication, healthcare, and transportation services. She stressed inclusion and equality for persons with disabilities as they are at the highest risk for social exclusion and poverty. Andrea Carmen, speaking on behalf of the International Indian Treaty Council, expressed a similar sentiment of exclusion as well as a desire for political and cultural recognition and land rights. In the words of Ralien Bekkers, the Youth Representative for Sustainable Development, young people are of the world’s best resources. Not only because 50% of the world’s population is under the age of 25 and youth (15-24) account for 87% of developing countries, but because youth are the future; they are innovators, social entrepreneurs, and beacons of untapped potential. Yet, young people are excluded from politics, negotiations, and civil society. As UN Youth Envoy Ahmad Alhendawi pointed out, a mere 6% of parliamentarians worldwide are youth, the minimum age to start a youth organization is 30, and peace talks and negotiations often exclude youth. Youth, the future of our world, are excluded under false pretences that they are too immature to participate in the decision-making process yet they are often amongst the most affected by conflict, poverty, and hunger. The inclusion of all people should be central to the development agenda if we aim to pursue universal progress.


Focus on the Importance of People

Another common theme was the synonymous link between human rights and development. As expressed by Exec. Babatunde Osotimehin of the UN Population Fund, the UN was built on human rights and an inherent view that all people matter. People must be at the center of the development agenda with specific focus given to women and youth. Furthermore, reproductive rights must be protected as they are imperative for women’s empowerment and poverty reduction. The 7.2 billion people who inhabit our world will grow to 9.6 billion by 2050 with most growth taking place in developing regions. Billions of jobs will be needed to meet this growth as well as quell the already high unemployment ratio. As explained by the representative from the International Labor Organization, people don’t want handouts, they want jobs and, under Article 23 of the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights), that is their right. There must be a focus on advancing human rights and sustainable living using the power of people.


The Importance of Peace & Security and including Stakeholders

As explained by several panelists during a World Federation of the United Nations Association workshop on the importance of a peace and security goal, MDGs that focus on the reduction of child mortality, hunger, violent deaths, and improving access to education are symptomatic of fostering peace and security. Conflict undermines the post-2015 agenda through creating a hostile environment for sustainable development and economic growth. During the opening session, US Ambassador Samantha Powers explained that, by 2015, more than half of the people living in extreme poverty will be living in places ravaged by violence. Laura Spano of WFUNA’s Conflict Prevention program expressed the need to engage civil society and government at the national and local level so the stakeholders of the conflict can be the drivers of change. WFUNA established its Freedom from Violence initiative to ensure that stakeholders have the capacity to advocate for positive peace, human security, and conflict prevention policies as well as engage in dialogue on how to integrate a peace and security goal in the post-2015 development agenda. Stakeholders must be the driving force to narrow the gap between the world we have and the world we want. Ambassador Powers summarized it best in her quote “Nobody has more of a stake in this agenda than the people whose lives it could change.”


Climate Change and Human Rights

Many at the conference agreed that refugees from climate change should be protected just as refugees from conflict are protected. In the words of Otu Uwem Robert of African Youth Movement, “climate justice must have a human face”. We must also consider the plight of the most vulnerable. As expressed by H.E. Dr. Caleb Otto of Palau, there can be no sustainable development without climate change as the LDCs (Least Developed Countries) are the most vulnerable. Climate change undermines development which harms humanity, but according to Dan Thomas of the My World 2015 survey, the climate change goal was ranked last amongst the 4,131,461 people surveyed. This signals a fundamental gap in our global environment education. MNCs (Multinational Corporations) have the resources to tackle climate change, but they must be urged to invest in our planet through ensuring that sustainable development is carbon free. There must be more concrete rules for transparency and monitoring, and a push for more green development jobs is a must. When it comes to the issue of our planet’s health, we are all stakeholders.


Accountability, Measurability, and the Importance of Free Press

To be effective, we must measure our impact and set concrete universal goals. Press freedom is at the foundation of agenda goals such as sustainable development and good governance as both need a narrative for accountability and measurement. Unfortunately, the power of digital media is often controlled by dictatorships. One of the panelists from the Committee to Protect Journalists gave the example of how we need reporters to be free to tell us how a rural school is contributing to local access to education in order for us to affectively measure its success in the development agenda. Thus, as set forth by Article 19 of the UDHR, the right to freedom of expression, access to information, and protection of journalists must be enshrined in the post-2015 agenda. Free media also plays an important role in our global perception and multicultural competence. In this age of information and interdependence, we are afforded a tremendous opportunity to learn, unlearn, and relearn important phenomena such as cultural norms, history of specific groups, and religious ideologies. A free media helps present a more accurate picture for intercultural relations as we are compelled to view our global counterparts as fellow human beings.



The conference was successful not just because my social media team was able to reach over an astounding 1,250,000 people in one day, but because it signaled the global commitment to improving the post-2015 development agenda. The conference served as a model for collaboration amongst the many levels of civil society, stakeholders, and individuals who each contributed their unique experience and knowledge to draft an informed and inclusive final declaration. This long, three-day conference comprised of a significant number of workshops, roundtable discussions, and exhibits on a variety of topics lead and attended by over 2,000 people, with different visions, representing a variety of civil sector organizations, with different missions, concluded with a final 14 page document that began each preamble with the pronoun “We” (“We declare….we affirm….we urge”). In three days, the global civil society convened to put aside their differences, open their ears, and produce a short, powerful declaration that compelled governments worldwide to truly listen to their strong, unified, and reverberating voice. This is our world, our future, our planet, and together we will unite for this once in a generation opportunity to transform our problems into solutions. Join us.

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