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Youth Summit Session One

Panel shot of speakers at UN MUN Youth Summit Session 1

Session One: “UN Action for the SDGs, UN Connections”

[Presentations by United Nations officials]

“Creating Impact to Achieve SDG 16”

Gilberto Duarte is a criminal justice officer hailing from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Currently, Duarte is working on an ‘education for justice’ initiative, trying to engage the actual United Nations with high school and college students who want to do something bigger with their background in Model UN simulations. Through this initiative, he said he aimed “to inspire students to support SDG 16”, one of the UN initiatives “to bring peace, justice and strong institutions.”

While it might seem daunting to address and solve the world’s greatest challenges at the local level, Duarte posed an interesting solution to “bridging the gap”. He stressed the importance of combining knowledge with small actions in the community. “Getting people to get thinking about these issues is why we are all here,” he said. 

Duarte recalled a solution at a school in Ethiopia. After debating about human trafficking at multiple Model UN conferences, students at Lebawi Academy decided they wanted to enact real change. Their idea was an art show and competition that would showcase artworks highlighting the horrors of human trafficking. The students posed their idea to UNODC, which not only supported the show but generated publicity. As a result, the show was a massive success generating knowledge about human trafficking to not only Ethiopia but globally. These were real students who found a real issue at a Model UN conference.

"How to tap into current UN SDG Campaigns"

Esra Sergi, a member of the United Nations Department of Global Communications, educated the audience about how to address the Sustainable Development Goals and improve the global environment.

She kicked off her presentation by encouraging audience members to pull out their cell phones and join an interactive poll about everyday actions that affect the environment, displaying their live responses. Good habits include turning off the lights when you leave a room, donating or repurposing old clothes, and knowing your carbon footprint, in addition to lesser-known suggestions like buying ugly-shaped fruits and vegetables at the grocery store “Many fruits and vegetables are actually thrown out because of their size, because of their shape, or because of their color,” despite tasting “perfectly good,” said Sergi.

Afterwards, Sergi described several UN initiatives to help people increase sustainability and “be part of the solution”. First, the UN has created individualized action campaigns such as “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World,” which sorts steps to lasting sustainable change based on one’s “laziness levels” (ranging from level one, “sofa superstar,” to level four, “exceptional employee”), and the ‘Climate! Comic! Contest!’ for students across the globe (This year’s prompt? Design a superhero who can save the earth!). Sergi also mentioned actnow.bot, a program hosted on Facebook Messenger, which recommends actions to reduce one’s carbon footprint; responses are delivered to the UN Climate Summit.

She said to use #globalgoals and follow @globalgoalsUN on Twitter and Facebook to receive more information about sustainable development.

“Delivering the SDGs for and with Children and Young People”

“Children aren’t passive recipients”, said Shannon O’Shea of UNICEF, adding that they have the power to enact real change. UNICEF is an organization with a presence in over 190 countries and territories. Its core document, “The Rights of the Child”, is globally one of the most widely recognized human rights documents.

In her speech, O’Shea stated that her goal was “to bring the United Nations’ SDGs to young people in the classroom.” This would be done through an “online platform for educators to implement lesson plans on each Global Goal”, in a general and individual sense. She called this “The World’s Largest Lesson”. By becoming aware, taking action, and being able to hold leaders accountable, children would be able to integrate grassroots solutions into their own communities and locally engage with the SDGs 

This is already a reality, O’Shea said. She shared examples of children changing their communities worldwide. In Philadelphia, for example, children had built a community garden on the rooftop of a building. This reshaped a dangerous, food-insecure neighborhood into a vibrant community united by a public garden. In Nigeria, children fixed a waste management facility and brought back biodiversity into their region. In Jordan, a young Syrian refugee girl encouraged other girls to seek education and was able to bring better healthcare to her refugee community.

O’Shea’s ideas were uplifting and inspiring. When children are given an education to help kickstart their ideas, they really can help their communities change the world.