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Young people take action for the SDGs


Model United Nations, also known as Model UN or MUN clubs, is an academic activity where students can roleplay delegates to the United Nations (UN) and simulate UN committees. It is believed that the first Model UN was held in 1949 in St. Lawrence University. Today, thousands of middle school, high school, and college students from across the United States and the world participate in MUN clubs. The center of their activities include simulations, debates, public speaking, critical thinking, leadership abilities, and teamwork for students to learn about diplomacy, international relations, and the UN itself.

The United Nations in its interest to see Model UN go beyond simulations, research, and debates, and become actual agents of change in their communities across the globe, hosted the first-ever United Nations Model UN Youth Summit (UNMUN). The event, which took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on April 12th, 2019, brought together students from various Model UN clubs across the globe. The aim was to present their projects to take action for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and received ideas, a network of support, and a new action-oriented vision for their MUN clubs.

Alison Smale, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, started the Summit by stressing their desire for all MUN clubs to move the Global Goals into the center of their activities. As explained by the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, the UN is in trouble because his generation has failed the world in several different ways. The most important of these is climate change. Temperatures are on the rise, glaciers are melting rapidly, and as a consequence water levels are rising as well. The direct impact is that more than 20 million people living in coastal areas around the world will soon be displaced. Diversity is the second element Guterres underlined. “We see in our societies a diversity that is an enormous richness. But instead in being recognized by all, it’s becoming something many feel is a threat.” As a result, “the present generation is giving rise to new xenophobia and racism,” as well as “extreme thinking like white supremacy and neo-Nazis that create hate speech and dangerous actions.”

“Leave no one behind” is our slogan Guterres held, “but the problem is that many were left behind and many more are being left behind.” To counteract these world issues youth has two obligations. First, to mobilize public opinion and organizations in your communities and confront them with the fact that we are failing to save our planet. Second, youth will soon be in charge and will have to be more drastic in the efforts to lead and save it.

One of the aims of the Summit was to answer the question: how did people and youth play a role in the creation of the SDGs and what can they do to help implement them? Shannon O’shea, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative during the negotiations leading to the adoption of the SDGs, said that “people’s participation and youth was one of the hallmarks of the SDGs.” However, “this principle must be carried through into the implementation of the goals at the local, national and international levels if we want to be successful.” In her remarks, O’shea explained that UNICEF believes that children are not passive recipients of aids or another vulnerable group. In fact, youth under thirty were the largest engaged constituency in the SDGs consultation process. “The SDGs are often referred to as the people’s agenda” because millions of people lend their voices, views, and ideas to help shape and create the Global Goals. This was done through online and offline consultations, workshops, forums, and surveys. O’shea listed three ways in which young people can engage with the SDGs. First, by raising awareness so that children and youth understand how they relate to their daily lives. Second, by inspiring, encouraging and celebrating their actions on the issues and towards achieving the goals. Third, by increasing their ability to hold governments and decisionmakers accountable.

Building on UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson’s words, “sometimes a healthier world is one idea away,” O’shea presented a video titled “World’s Largest Lesson 2016: Invent, innovate, and campaign.” In the video, a girl named Elif from Istanbul, Turkey, invented a natural plastic made from banana skin to help combat climate change by using natural waste. A group of girls and innovators from Nigeria noticed that many people were getting sick because garbage was not being cleaned up properly. They created a phone app where waste can be reported and cleaned away safely. Lastly, a girl named Nasir and who lived in a Syrian refugee camp did not like that may girls in the camp had to marry so young that they had to give up their education. She then raised a campaign to convince parents to keep their daughters in school and not make them marry too young. O’shea stressed the impact one girl can do with education and enough determination. Accordingly, she concluded her remarks by encouraging educators around the world to raise awareness in their classrooms by downloading lessons on the SDGs in the website called the World Largest Lesson.

In today’s digital world there is much youth can do to become agents of change in their communities. Ella Mielniczenko, director of editorial video BuzzFeed, spoke on “How Social Media Can Create Community.” Mielniczenko said that sharing is inherent to human nature. It is a part of what we do because we come from a tradition of storytelling, plays, to print and video, to now going live. Today, “an idea can spread in a mere matter of second. Something we call virality.” As she explained, in the 2000th something began to happen. Sharing went from this idea of news and storytelling to something as common as speaking. The democratization of the media was allowed by the rise of cellphones, which gave us the ability to reach people anywhere at any moment. YouTube and Facebook became popular with young people that were experimenting with storytelling. They started to reach communities that were entirely unrepresented.

How do you create shareable content? You have to listen and relate in order to provide an emotional gift. Listen to the conversations that are happening in your surroundings and try to connect to people on an emotional level. Try to think about how you can share your stories and experiences and make them feel something. Making them feel something is an emotional gift. “In the worst cases, social media can be harmful,” she said. However, more than often, you will find stories that have reached communities. Mielniczenko emphasized to the youth in the room that “you can learn, you can feel, you can reach across nations and share moments. You can uplift small businesses in your communities. You can enact change.” After all, “social media is a tool for information and information is power.”

To conclude, the main takeaway of the summit was to empower all of us to be content creators and agents of change. Mielniczenko confronted everyone with the question, “what changes can you create in your communities and what can you do right now?”

This post was written by Cristian Y. Ramos. Cristian is a first-year graduate student at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University, specializing in International Organizations and International Law and Human Rights. Cristian is a United Nations Digital Representative at the Center for the United Nations and Global Governance Studies, the Vice-President at the Graduate Diplomacy Council and a Graduate Research Assistant at the School of Diplomacy.

One Comment

  1. Cristian Y. Ramos provides a comprehensive overview of the United Nations Model UN Youth Summit, highlighting the imperative role of youth in driving change towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By emphasizing the need for active participation and engagement, Ramos underscores the potential of young people to become agents of positive transformation within their communities. The summit’s emphasis on empowering youth to leverage social media as a tool for sharing stories and enacting change reflects a contemporary approach to advocacy and mobilization. Overall, Ramos’s insights offer valuable guidance for individuals seeking to make a tangible impact in advancing the SDGs and fostering a more inclusive and sustainable future.

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