World Vision ACT youth representative Jeeven Nadanakumar travelled to New York City to witness the adoption of the Global Goals at the UN Sustainable Development Summit.
From the window of the plane, I looked down at the distinct blue tower of the United Nations Headquarters on the east side of Manhattan, New York. It seemed to grow taller as my plane descended to the ground. I heard the wheels screeching on the runway. It was 10.30am. Right now, Pope Francis’ voice would be echoing around the hallowed UN General Assembly Hall as he addressed world leaders. By the time I walk out of La Guardia Airport, 193 heads of state and government would unanimously adopt the 2030 sustainable development agenda: 17 goals to completely transform the world’s people, planet and prosperity over the next 15 years. This was history in the making.
I got out of a yellow cab just one block away from UN Plaza in front of World Vision’s UN office. After briefly meeting some of our World Vision International colleagues I made my way down to the security checkpoint for my first high-level event. This was the largest security operation in US history. I had never seen so many security personnel in my life! NYPD officers, secret service, FBI, snipers and even members of the military patrolled every street corner, subway, tourist attraction and hotel in the area. A large media contingent was camped outside the building with reporters addressing cameras in every language you could think of. That majestic blue building towered above – only this time I was on the other side. Flags lined the footpath including two new additions which were raised for the first time this week: the Holy See and Palestine.
The excitement grew as we passed through security and were eventually escorted into the mezzanine layers of the UN to Conference Room 4. The speakers of the first event were UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh, UNDP Goodwill Ambassador Connie Britton, CIVICUS Secretary-General Danny Sriskandarajah, Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Amina Mohamed and Al-jazeera Journalist James Bays. The discussion was on how we turn the conversation about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into action. They pointed towards the fact that the three-year consultation period involving every sector (UN, government, business, civil society and individuals) resulted in a wide-ranging document that spoke a common language and had a high degree of ownership, so was more likely to be embraced and implemented. Unlike the MDGs which were more about what rich countries could do for poor ones, the SDGs are a universal vision. We all have a stake.
That evening we had a celebratory gathering at the World Vision UN office to mark the adoption of the SDGs. It was an honour to be representing World Vision Australia and speak with colleagues from every part of the world, including WVI CEO Kevin Jenkins and WVI UN Representative Frank Williams.
The next day I attended a high-level event on the role of young people in fighting hunger and achieving the SDGs. Speakers included Irish President Michael Higgins, World Food Programme Ambassador Against Hunger and Soccer Player Kaká and others. The best part of this day, however, was joining the World Vision International #HungerFree team at the Global Citizen Festival on the Great Lawn of Central Park. An audience of 60,000 people and thousands more around the world who streamed the event online were entertained by the likes of talented artists such as Coldplay, Arianna Grande, Ed Sheeran and Beyonce. The videos, performances and calls to action from speakers like Michelle Obama, Joe and Jill Biden, Ban Ki-moon, Hugh Jackman, Malala Yousafzai, Bill and Melinda Gates, Stephen Colbert, Leonardo di Caprio, Jeffrey Sachs, Bono, Richard Branson, numerous European leaders and many others inspired silence, laughter, tears and cheers that could be heard across Manhattan. It was completely inspiring and uplifting to be there in the middle of it and see the world respond to the challenge of making these Global Goals a reality with a resounding YES.
While in New York I also had the chance to attend the Social Good Summit hosted by the UN Development Group, UN Foundation and Mashable. High profile speakers included Helen Clark, Victora Beckham, Paul Polman, Queen Raina, Ian Somerhalder, Kailash Satyarthi, Graca Machel and more. The plenary sessions tackled challenging issues including the refugee crisis, education, HIV/AIDS and the role of technology and social media in responding to humanitarian disasters and assisting emergency relief efforts. It was great to catch up with two former World Vision Australia heroes at this event – Paul Newnham and Hugh Evans.
Towards the end of my week, I attended two days of talks on sustainable global peace, including a high-level side event on the links between sustainable development and countering violent extremism. This issue is particularly relevant today. Helen Clark’s key message during the week was that war and conflict are the greatest barriers to achieving the SDGs. Striving for greater peace and security not only fulfils Goal 16 but is vital to setting the conditions right to achieve the other goals. It was great to be briefed on World Vision’s involvement in peace building beforehand by Randy Tift from our Washington DC office. He gave me a sophisticated insight into how NGOs like World Vision develop important policies and manage negotiations with governments.
These security talks also included representing Australia at an inaugural Youth Summit on countering violent extremism and then having the enormous honour to sit on the floor of the UN Trusteeship Council Chamber for the Leaders’ Summit chaired by Barack Obama. I had the opportunity to speak with Helen Clark, David Cameron and Julie Bishop. To be one of the youngest people to sit in a room alongside kings, presidents, prime ministers, heads of state/government, civil society and private sector representatives was surreal.
My trip concluded with an invitation from Australia’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN to join her and senior Australian diplomats in the UN General Assembly Hall for Julie Bishop’s address. I then visited the office of our Permanent Mission to the UN to learn more about the SDG negotiation process and catch up with Australia’s UN Youth Representative Shea Spierings.
What I saw that week sparked in me a renewed sense of energy and passion for the work I do with an amazing team of Youth Reps to inspire and empower young Australians to support our transformative work overseas – work that is now part of a global strategy. Over the next few years it is our responsibility to “tell everyone” about these Global Goals as we interact with schools and students.
Just like the UN building that seemed to rise as I landed on the tarmac, the task of ending poverty, creating opportunity, sustaining our resources and achieving global peace and cooperation will raise the aspirations of children around the world for a brighter future. Organisations such as the UN and World Vision Australia have an integral role in ensuring this vision for every child is fulfilled – and I am so humbled to play a role in that global mission.