On Tuesday, January 31st, the United Nations held their annual 2023 Partnership Forum of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at UN Headquarters in New York City. This forum brings together member countries and other key stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), financial institutions, scientists, and members of the private sector with the goal of mobilizing partnerships and exchanging ideas. This year, the forum’s main theme was “Accelerating the recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels”.
Global Volunteers holds consultative status with the United Nations ECOSOC, and as the new Director of Reaching Children’s Potential Research, I served as Global Volunteers’ virtual representative at this event. Even as a virtual observer, it was energizing and humbling to see the UN headquarters and the hundreds of like-minded individuals gathered to share their experiences. Individuals ranging from high-ranking government officials to teenage advocates gathered in a room reminiscent of the United States Senate chambers to share short, impassioned speeches to other participants online and in the gallery above. The energy was palpable and the message clear: we are making progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, but not enough. COVID-19 has set us back, but we must keep moving forward.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were a focus of this session, and a cornerstone of Global Volunteers’ work. Established in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly, these goals were established after the global community did not meet the targets of a similar set of Millennium Development Goals. The 17 goals, including no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being and quality education, the UN seeks to achieve these by 2030 through actions by governments, NGOs, faith-based organization, corporations, and other stakeholders. The bar is high, but based on this forum, those involved will not be deterred.
The opening plenary was an inspiring experience, hearing from so many members gathered in solidary to share their successes, challenges, and visions for the future. The representative for the International Disability Alliance spoke bluntly – “Sustainable Development Goals must work for the least visible… [we are in the] recovery from a health crisis that showed our health systems have not worked for those of us that are most marginalized.” Similarly, the speaker for the United States Council for International Business emphasized that just as we do not want to leave anyone behind, we also do not want to leave anyone on the sidelines.
Others spoke of the need to focus on what the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is vital: disaster risk-reduction, importance of data availability and integrity, the cooperation between technology and scientific sectors, and knowledge transfer between the Global North to the Global South. India’s representative spoke passionately about how we have learned about the dangers of overcentralized globalization, unreliable supply chains, and the need for localization of capabilities and locally driven partnerships.
Some speakers were just teenagers; arguing fervently about the power of youth in the attainment of the SDGs, and showing a level of bravery that amazed me. The representative from Denmark recognized this power, stating that “Youth are a powerful global force and calling for change, wanting to be heard and waiting to be engaged – we must listen”.
In short, the day proved to me that there is no lack of passionate individuals, organizations and governments working to improve the lives of global citizens. As this forum was based on partnerships, the message was clear – alone we cannot achieve the SDGs, but in partnership we can both enhance progress and close the gap in funding. Global Volunteers is a vital link in this partnership chain. We embody so many of the identified needs, in particular by targeting the SDGs, focusing on locally-driven partnerships, transferring knowledge from our volunteers to the communities we serve and engaging youth in meaningful service and through the programs we provide. Being at the ECOSOC forum has energized me and ensured me that we are on the right track.