By Sage Wylie
Have you heard about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Unveiled in 2015 by the United Nations, the 17 goals range from the promotion of good health and wellbeing to reduced inequalities, and the adoption of peace and justice through institutions. The deadline for achieving these goals? 2030. The goals and targets are broad and challenging, such as ending all forms of malnutrition. Although all countries throughout the world are committed to seeing the end of the global challenges the goals seek to address, they will require significant investments in resources from stakeholders with different backgrounds and skill sets to successfully accomplish. The UN has put a strong emphasis on working across disciplines and countries to solve some of the most challenging problems facing the world today.
In mid-April, myself and other students had the opportunity to visit the office of the United Nations Foundation. This organization is a public charity which works with those in the US and UN to increase awareness about UN initiatives through grassroots campaigns and community partnerships. At lunch, we heard from Anna Mahalak who is the youth engagement manager at the UN Foundation. Her job is to engage young people throughout the US to teach them what they can do in their communities, college campuses, and relationships to ensure the UN initiatives are fully supported by young people who have the energy and drive to make a difference. Although the UN focuses on a number of different issues specific to each country, the UN Foundation strives to make a difference in four areas: energy and climate change, global health, girls and women, and, of course, UN advocacy. To date, the UN Foundation has invested $2 billion to further progress towards their campaigns and initiatives.
One of the key ways the UN Foundation drives the UN’s missions and initiatives is through youth engagement, specifically through their GenUN campaign. This campaign works with the UNA-USA to engage student leaders throughout the country to advocate for global progress. They provide tools to help students start their own GenUN chapter on campus or host an event supporting a UN goal, such as a film screening or a panel discussion on hot topics related to the SDGs. Even though GW does not have a GenUN chapter, Anna emphasized that official chapter membership is not a requirement for raising money or awareness about issues that we care about. Due to the fact that the SDGs are relevant to every discipline, hosting an event with your student organization that is focused around a goal is one way to ensure more people know about the work the UN is doing around the world. As students start to think about summer plans, Anna also left us with tips on how to channel passion and drive into our professional lives while still focusing on issues that we care about. For example, if internships aren’t available in your field, seek out volunteer opportunities instead. Sometimes just getting your foot in the door in the industry you are interested in will help you learn valuable skills you can take to a professional opportunity in the future.
Chairman and founder of the UN Foundation, Ted Turner, said, “You do not have to be a world leader-or even a billionaire-to make an impact. If we are going to turn thing around, we all need to do our part to make it happen. Change starts with you.” It is important for GW students to think about their impact and place in solving these global challenges that the UN, and the entire world, focus on every day. What can we do as GW students to advocate for the advancement of SDGs?