For me, the festival was all about the people I met. Over the course of three days, the UN Global Festival of Action for Sustainable Development took place in Bonn, a platform for activists with a global mindset striving for a better future. Initiating changes in their communities, the young leaders bring the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to life and are the accelerators of a global grassroot movement for sustainability. There is only one planet and only one chance to save it.
A highlight was the announcement of the UN SDG Action Awards on the first day of the festival. No eyes stayed dry during the acceptance speech of Richard Mawutor Dzikunu from Ghana as the director of Young Leaders for Change Foundation. Sex is a taboo subject in many African countries and in case of a pregnancy, girls are prohibited to go to school. The winner in the award category “includer” and his team give Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) to teenagers in Ghana so that girls are aware on how to avoid pregnancy. Thus, they can continue to benefit from education. On his initiative, they also teach maternal health to mothers in rural areas.
As the People´s Choice SDG Award winner Ashan Perera from Sri Lanka concluded concisely: we are the last generation to be able to act on climate change so we need to act now. He is the founder of Road to Rights, an initiative operating in 18 countries teaching the 2030 agenda and human rights to young people in creative ways.
Among the winners were also SDG voices from Belgium, Unreasonable Goals from the US, Creative Youth Initiative Against Corruption (CYIAC) Corruption Busters from Nigeria, SDG Youth Morroco, Daughters of Bangladesh and Global Goals for Local Impact / Open Institute from Kenya. (Check out their stories here)
A key learning was that basically one starts from scratch to build up an initiative and to get people in your community involved to fight for the right cause. It is a hard task, because not only do parents, public authorities, friends, schools, universities and policy makers hinder your progress, also the funding is a questionmark. Self confidence is therefore essential. This is what makes it so important to have contact to the outside world which can provide you with the right resources such as funding, toolkit, network and emotional support. Here is where the UN comes into play, organising the festival as a platform for exchanging and elaborating ideas, networking and empowering activists through workshops. There was no prize money offered by the UN, however it is a starting point for the young leaders to advocate for financial support.
After the conclusion of the conference, a casual meal at a Chinese restaurant turned to a brainstorming session between young African leaders on how to initiate a grassroot movement for change. I was left feeling confident that these people are going to change the world together.
On the first day, the director of the UN SDG Action Campaign Mitchell Toomey told us in the opening session that we are not part of a conference or a seminar, but a FESTIVAL and we could see it: the speakers were lively, modern and using social media to reach out. We all were encouraged to communicate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all other social networks to raise awareness on these topics. The session was concluded by BEATGlobal?!, a beatboxing initiative with the amazing artists Y? and Kaila Mullady from New York, emphasizing that it is a new way how to do things and reach out.
There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including the elimination of poverty and hunger, the achievement of gender equality and a sustainable future as well as peace and justice through strong democratic institutions (my personal goal number 16). The workshops and seminars took place throughout the day and we learned how to implement the SDGs into policy making, how to create a business plan for social businesses, how to reach out through social media and how to campaign. A main focus lay on new technologies such as virtual reality which have the power to change a person´s point of view immediately. Putting on Virtual Reality Glasses, the scene shown seems to be real, making it hard to close the eyes and not acknowleding the people´s pain. Also art played an important role in the three days not only through music performances, but also as an approach to reach out to people and get them involved. Art works unconsciously and breaks psychological barriers for emotions which are the accelerator for empathy and thus humanity.
With all these amazing people and ideas in my mind, I am looking forward to the Global Day of Action on the 25th of September.
Julia Solbach, 24/03/2018