It has been a little over a week since the 67th United Nations ‘We The Peoples’ conference concluded at the United Nations, but I dare to say that emotions are probably still running high along with a renewed sense of hope and purpose. The conference is hosted annually by the UN Department of Public Information and the NGO/DPI Executive committee. It serves as an opportunity to discuss ways to take the UN’s people-centered mandate forward, in a close partnership with civil society. It is done in an effort to offer a platform for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to work more effectively with the UN to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – and to communicate and advocate for its implementation. The thematic roundtables this year were:
- Women and Girls Mobilizing
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70
- Doing the Math: A Repositioned UN Development System
- Youth: Today’s Leaders
- Shared Planet Shared Prosperity
- Towards UN-75: Communicating the Case for Multilateralism
Being a first-time attendee at the conference, I did not know what to expect, however, I did know that I would be surrounded for two days with people from all across the globe, that believed it was important enough to make the trek to New York to talk about how to continue (or begin) the conversation of doing better on behalf of humanity. I must also mention that the voices of the youth delegation were strong and optimistic. To have them take a seat at the actual and proverbial table was a signal to all that we should be ready to actively listen to new ideas and solutions.
The opening plenary session gave Conference Chair, Winnie Byanyima (Executive Director of Oxfam International), the opportunity to elaborate on the conference’s theme of multilateralism and how it is time to make sure that the United Nations fully recommits and engages with civil society and to refocus its efforts on the 2030 Agenda. Chair Byanyima reminded the attendees to stay true to the purpose of the UN and that we need a rules-based system that must include the voices of ordinary people. Ghana’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Martha Pobee, reminded attendees that civil society knows what works and doesn’t work on the ground and that no one country can solve the problems alone. Pobee concluded her remarks by saying that civil society can make multilateralism strong but that civil society must also speak up.
Other guests at the opening plenary included Ambassador Juan Camacho of Mexico. I thought his message was an insightful one. He said that we have to be truthful in conversations we have about the impact of global issues that we are confronted with daily – especially migration. His perspective on how we need to ‘de-mystify’ migration by sharing data and evidence was educational. He briefly delved into how the rate of migration has been consistent throughout history and has the potential to create wealth and prosperity for all. The opening plenary unquestionably set the tone for the workshops and themed roundtable that were scheduled with topics that appealed to the masses. Topics ranged from ‘Many Faiths – One Belief to Education for Global Citizenship’.
I am always interested in the role that the private sector plays in developing solutions to world issues. I attended the roundtable discussion on “Public-Private Partnerships to Implement the SDGs”. This workshop included panelists from diverse organizations that recognize the value in the United Nations, NGOs and civil society expanding and engaging in more opportunities with the private sector to expound upon the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
One of the panelists, Ambassador Henry MacDonald of Suriname, made the case that because of the interconnectivity of the world and because many organizations don’t have the necessary resources and funding to implement many of the valuable solutions to issues – more public-private partnerships are necessary. It was agreed to that many companies are already working with NGOs and civil society in multilateral engagements as a result of corporations having the ability to replicate and scale ideas and projects quickly to fit the need of society. During the session, attendees discussed the reluctance with many organizations not wanting to establish relationships with corporations – one big concern is that of possible corruption. This has the potential to happen more often in developing countries when there is limited competitiveness between corporations. Another resonating point of consensus was that in order for there to be a successful partnership there must be trust between the two parties. The conversation also included the obligation of companies to take seriously its ‘corporate social responsibility’ and be accountable to all stakeholders.
There was a similar discussion that took place in the “Partnerships for People and Planet” roundtable that talked about partnerships with corporations from a grassroots perspective. There were several entrepreneurs that participated in the discussion that shared experiences with partnering locally, specifically Global Access Partners, LLC. During that discussion, the panelists agreed that attendees should consider:
- More effort to partner at the grassroots level because it might facilitate the process of getting the assistance to the people in dire need
- The grassroots partnerships as a relationship where you learn from each other and build upon the connection
I look forward to attending the conference next year which will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Taking the conference out of New York City indicated to me that the planners see the value in hosting this event in places that will hopefully embrace and benefit from all that this conference and its attendees produce. Because as panelist Kehkashan Basu so powerfully stated, “our planet’s diversity is our strength”.
This blog post was written by Sheryl Ephriam Steadman. Sheryl is a candidate for the Executive M.S. in International Affairs in the School of Diplomacy at Seton Hall University. Sheryl also holds a B.A. in Political Science and a Master of Public Administration. She is a Digital Representative at the Center for UN Studies and specializes in International Organizations and International Law.