Reflections from UNGA 76: Building Solutions for a Better World

By James Da Costa, +SocialGood Connector

James Da Costa, +SocialGood Connector

As an entrepreneur building Fingo, a pan-African digital bank for young people,my UN General Assembly (UNGA) and Global Goals Week experience focused on how technology and entrepreneurship can be used to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis.

The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated global inequalities, whilst stalling progress towards the 17 Global Goals. — UNGA 76 represented getting the world back on track. From crowdsourcing innovation during crises, the importance of media freedom, and reskilling for the future of work, here are 3 of my key takeaways from the week.

Global Goals Week was a showcase of many new innovative solutions and ideas brought to the global center stage through crowdsourcing competitions such as UNICEF’s Generation Unlimited, the XPRIZE, and the Jack Ma Foundation’s Africa Netpreneur Prize. These competitions present participants with a challenge and an open platform to develop and share solutions, using rewards and mentorship as incentives. Another example is the Lead2030 initiative from global youth forum One Young World, showcasing youth business as an engine for change using the SDGs Participants have the opportunity to win start-up funding support from companies such as Reckitt Benckiser, Credit Suisse and Novartis. Together, these competitions rack up millions of applications annually, highlighting that there is both a clear appetite and demand for challenge-based youth entrepreneurship to take on the world’s problems and help close the global job creation gap at the same time.

As we enter the final decade to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we are seeing, and will continue to see, more global youth challenges and solutions framed around the Goals with a strong focus on climate action.

2. Growing importance of media freedom

One SDG that doesn’t always get talked about enough is Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. It’s sometimes overlooked because of the difficulty in quantifying its impact or political sensitivity in creating transparency around it. Media freedom and press have particular relevance to Target 10 within Goal 16: “16.10 Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.” In his briefing to the General Assembly on his priorities for 2020, UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted exactly this: “Terrorists, white supremacists and others who sow hate are exploiting the internet and social media. Bots are spreading disinformation, fueling polarization and undermining democracies.” Given the continued outbreak of COVID-19, this is more relevant than ever, ensuring communities have access to safe, reliable information in a timely manner.

This theme came up again and again in UNGA76. In the UN General Assembly a number of world leaders, in particular, highlighted the balances and downsides of social media, including Canada. Canada noted that the spread of systematic misinformation and propaganda on social media and the internet shone light on the risks and dangers of the digital revolution.

This goal is absolutely central to achieving the SDGs. If we are to achieve the Goals within the Decade of Action, transparency, collaboration, and public action must be central to our approach.

Reskilling for a better world

With millions more people set to join the workforce in the coming decade, as many as 600 million new jobs will need to be created globally over the next 10 years to keep unemployment at 2019 levels, once the world has recovered from the pandemic. Many of the events and speeches of UNGA 76 focused on building back better and paving paths to more inclusive growth. In Singapore’s address to the general assembly, they devoted 50% of their talk to exactly this topic: ‘the gulf of opportunities between digital haves and digital have-nots has also widened’

The pandemic has brought some silver lining to this — for example, technological advancements such as video conferencing and chat mean that many jobs can be fulfilled by talent from anywhere in the world.

Conclusion

Looking forward to UNGA 77 and Global Goals Week 2022 there are clearly a lot of challenges ahead, however, UNGA 76 provided much needed acceleration towards the SDGs as the world moves beyond the pandemic.

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