Recently, I attended the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Sustainable Development Conference on the behalf of ListenGive, an initiative dedicated to bringing about social justice through storytelling using social media, based in New York City. The conference was held in the UNCC building of the United Nations in Bangkok from November 28 to December 2. The week was dedicated to exploring ways to implement the 2030 Agenda Goals more effectively in a multi-sectoral and holistic approach, taking into consideration that there is never a one-size-fits-all policy, and that the empowerment of marginalized groups (women, disabled, youth, members of the LGBTI community) is not only essential but will greatly aid in the betterment of these goals and the well-being of the world itself. There were a multitude of different workshops, including those covering ways to support countries with special needs, implementation of the 2030 goals at the local level combined with urban governance, sustainable development in relation to investment, technology, micro and macroeconomic policies, the inclusion of youth, women and the LGBTI community in special Case4Space events, and the ways in which technology can sustainably aid international agricultural trade.
On the first day, I sat in on an the Expert Group Meeting on Developing Partnerships for the Sustainable Development Goals, which looked at the importance of enabling effective and sustainable involvement of partnerships and stakeholders with the 2030 Agenda at the forefront of the relationships. Individuals such as Dr. Patrick Ho Chi Ping, Deputy Chairman and Secretary General of the China Energy Fund Committee called for greater recognition of the positive correlation between renewable energy resources and livelihood, citing a paired one million dollar grant between China and the United States, which aids technological development by hosting a sustainable development innovation contest. The China Energy Fund’s high level steering committee awards the grant, and the 2015 winner was WE CARE SOLAR- an initiative which seeks to provide communities with sustainable solar power in places where there may be no power at all, such as in Tanzania and Kenya.
Ping summed up his thoughts with this wisdom: “In sharing, we become better partners in advancing sustainable development goals. Private sectors, governments, and NGOs can’t just open the door, bending arms and twisting ankles; things will not happen by themselves. We have to do it ourselves, be drivers to create values in partnership, but only if we can put partnerships together to give them values. We’re here to change the rate of values for partnership! We can’t be lazy – we owe this Earth, and owe each other that WORK!” It is essential to have these types of cross-sectoral goals with the involvement of governments, private sectors, and NGOs.
Barbara Adams, a Senior Policy Advisor on the Global Policy Forum echoed these sentiments, calling for increased communication on local, national, and international levels. “Why is the 2030 Agenda any different? People are starting to recognize the connection between social and environmental justice. We have reached the planetary boundaries, and inclusion is essential. This is not coordination, but rather integration. All stakeholders need to be involved in this process, with inclusion of the utmost importance.”
In a Practical Session on fruit grading, Mr. Peter Damen, a Specialist on Quality Control from the Netherlands, called for an international method of grading fruits and vegetables for smoother cooperation. To do this, there must be a system in which there will be approved labeling, with minor defects marked and explained.
“It is unrealistic to believe that all fruits and vegetables will be perfect – that is why there is such an issue of GMOs – people believe that food should be perfect, and as a result try to control its production. However, this often leads to different and unintended consequences that we have yet to see and will not know the full effect of for a few years. But what we do need is a general consensus of what are the differences between major and minor defects, and how we can interpret a standard that will make safe consumption for everyone.”
Case4Space is dedicated to putting youth at the center of the 2030 Agenda Goals by empowering youth from diverse backgrounds and giving them a voice in the UN. In a session concerning urban space organized by UNESCO, the importance of civic space was explored, as well as the direct correlation between the shrinking of this civic space and the freedom of youth, women, and members of the LGBTI community.
Hunter Gray from Bangkok’s UNESCO branch spoke of the LGBTI community’s lack of space, and therefore voice, especially in regards to youth. While educational institutions are meant to be places of freedom, often for these youth they are zones of danger instead, as they can experience much bullying from peers as well as teachers and authority because they do not fit in society’s boxes and are thus misunderstood. It is hard to have LGBTI-friendly points within the education system, as there is not often allowed space for LGBTI-friendly clubs and groups. Space both online and offline can often help with privacy and identity, as youth are better able to open up online where they are less discriminated against, and often are actually able to better unite.
“Through our #PurpleMySchool Campaign, we used social media to spread awareness of LGBTI issues in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, India, and the Philippines. Often, students prefer help from NGOs such as UNESCO because they have no space to express themselves in their own educational institutions, and are uncomfortable with asking their teachers for fear they may be discriminated against. By using social media, we are able to help students feel accepted on a global platform that might not be in their own communities, but it is important for them to feel acceptance in some sort of space.”
In the last Case4Space Session of the Conference, host Daniel Fieller from the British Embassy presented the question of how the Conference had affected the audience, and what both the youth and adults would do differently as a result of the meeting. Many brought up the recognition of the shrinking of society’s civil space, and thus a buffer zone between youth and other marginalized groups to voice their opinion and have a greater say in government. As a result of the meeting, many claimed that they would be more dedicated to the expansion of this civil space by spreading of awareness of inclusion and eliminating ignorance.
But as one student from Bangladesh stated, “We cannot, as youth, only have a say in matters which involve us. We must be included in all matters that pertain to the government and our everyday life, as well, because otherwise that hypocritically takes away our power. It is like when women were fighting for their right to vote, and to have power and an influence in the government in the US. They were told they could only fight for women’s rights, but not for making any other decisions. Don’t you see an issue with this?”
Layne Robinson, Commonwealth Secretariat for Jamaica agreed, and brought up the valid point that it is often government workers and adults who must be trained to work with children, and not the other way around.
“My friend ran a UNESCO office in Bhutan which sought to delegate tasks to youth about a year ago, and the result was that the adults and youth constantly fought over who should have tasks which delegated the other. The youth often were the ones coming up with better ideas, but the adults ultimately did not want to accept that the youth had better ideas than them, and felt as though they had a right to superiority in making decisions simply because of their age. Society has a perception of how youth should behave and act, and are accordingly underfunded because it is assumed they do not know as much as adults. We need to break down the barrier and start these conversations between youth and their government- as a result of their mistreatment, youth often do not have hope in authority. We need to change this stigma by having this conversation and training government workers how to be perceptive to youth and their amazing abilities”
Case4Space united youth from various Southeast Asian countries by allowing them to speak of their work for inclusion in their communities, working as photography and journalist interns during the conference, and connecting with each other through social media. I was able to connect with one young lady, Anusaya Pani, from Odisha, India, who had never traveled outside of her country before and presented her work about empowering rural women through education with the organization PREMA. It is wild to think about the power of communication, given to us by technology; I will be able to stay in touch with her even though she lives in a part of the world that is largely untouched by the developed world, while I’m in Bangkok, which has been extremely westernized. Youth must decide to use technology for the power of good, which it gives us.
The world awaits…discover it.