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GA attends UN-HLPF SDGs Series 2020

By Gita Jaffe 


Starting the second week of July 2020, High-level Political Forum (HLPF) (the United Nations central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)) met virtually. The theme was Building back better after COVID-19 and acting where we will have the greatest impact on the SDGs. Focusing on  “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development” the HLPF did not adopt a Ministerial Declaration, however a summary from the president of ECOSOC to capture key messages of the discussions can be found here.

Representatives of the Global Alliance were present in a series of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) 2020 SDGs Learning, Training, and Practice workshops held over the HLPF.  Full details of all of the sessions can be found here. Blog posts regarding the sessions that representatives attended are below. 

GA at UN: Making a commitment to the SDGs

by Evelyn P. Tomaszewski


 Making the commitment to the SDGs:  Universities and Beyond. 

On July 9, 2020, The United Nations Institute for training and research (UNITAR) convened a panel entitled Teaching, Learning, and Integrating the SDGs at Universities and Beyond; using SDG 4 as the springboard for discussion.  As a social worker and educator, I was pleased to hear about both the efforts within the academy and the commitment to honoring and including live-long learning (LLL) in the conversation. 

Panelists provided a wide-range of ideas, possibilities and opportunities for educators to integrate SDGs in the classroom, research, community outreach, and engagement, as well as in the over-all campus operations.  For example, Chadrinka Bahadur –(SDG Academy)  asked us to think of: How do we help students to partner the reality of time and energy to delve into a particular subject of their course with the importance of their understanding the full breadth of the SDGs? Bahadur noted that while students are there to ‘master’ a particular topic or discipline, the success of the SDGs do not allow a ‘pick and choose’ approach.  While she noted an interdisciplinary approach is critical, it became clear from the panelist comments and participants chat that to truly achieve the SDGs, we as faculty, staff, and students must work to have universities commit to breaking through the silos that exist by the very nature of the structure (and funding sources) typical of) higher education.   

Joanna Newman, Secretary-General, Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) provided a clear example of Institutional commitment at the leadership level, by mapping the university efforts (e.g., identifying contributions, cross-disciplinary efforts) with the recognition that universities and colleges are often actual town or cities, and therefore have the civic responsibility to look at their own footprint.  She stressed the critical importance of inclusion of the arts and social sciences in this interdisciplinary work, including research.  A dynamic conversation was simultaneously happening in the chatroom, where I noted that “As an educator – approaching SDGs from a human rights lens – we must use the ‘classroom’ (of diverse ages and experiences and cultural context) as a way to bridge the students  own interests and research areas to the intersectionality of the SDGs - and that students are also stakeholders in the defining community-centered policy AND practice.”

In a brief presentation entitled “Integrating the SDGs at universities and beyond”,  Katarina Popovic, Secretary-General, ICAE, noted the current context of a global public health crisis finds systemic failures and challenges being faced by universities; and higher education must be open to explore and be critical of current models. She noted that now is the time to Think about and Rethink the SDGs.

I agree that now is the time for universities- whether as members of a community or large enough to be viewed as a stand-alone community – must commit to assessing and addressing the structural and systemic issues that have long been at the root of every inequity that hinders the achievements of the SDGs. This commitment will require working across disciplines and across continents. One example is the Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice Global Mental Health Task Force, comprised of a diverse group of disciplines, committed to building partnerships with practitioners in university settings across the globe, working to support “Making the SDGs a Reality”.

Evelyn P. Tomaszewski, MSW

Co-Chair, Global Mental Health Task Force, Global Alliance

GA at UN: Digital Skills for Development

by Gita Jaffe


During Accelerating action through digital technologies: Strengthening digital skills and capacities for human wellbeing, the discussion focused on the role of digital skills for development and the need to close the digital divide, particularly as the correlation between risks to COVID-19 intersecting with digital and social inequities were raised. The session highlighted examples from around the world with relation to access and barriers to reliable internet, in conjunction with the skills and platforms necessary to work remotely and attend virtual school. The central point was that digital skills (on desktops, laptops, and 

mobile devices) are required to accelerate the achievement of all SDGs. If used properly, such skills will be used as enablers, which means that without skills people will be left further behind. COVID-19 has brought to the surface the huge connectivity challenge, with over 90% of the world’s population living in an area that has service coverage, yet only 54% are using the internet, with less developed countries having significantly less usage (ITU, 2020)

Although there were very important information and recommendations to move forward with economic-focused well-being indicators (including case examples of implementing assessments and implementing recommendations in Ghana), no presenters included a holistic approach to ‘human well-being,’ a significant shortcoming when reimagining the digital divide and skill development.

GA at UN: Partnerships

by Gita Jaffe


Developing transformational partnerships to catalyze SDGs implementation panelists shared practical examples of how collaboration is necessary to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs, both between the SDGs and among stakeholders.  Recognizing that COVID-19 has highlighted the fundamental need to shift the way we live and work, examples focused on moving away from singular goals and towards engaging in transformational development.  As an example, the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform was shared. Utilizing a system thinking process to connect issues, this tool incorporates human intelligence and artificial intelligence in a revolutionary way mapping the connections within, among, and between key issues with relevant publications, videos, and data generated on every pathway in real time.

GA at UN: Food Systems

by Alexis Mitchell


During the Food Systems and Nutrition Patterns: Biodiversity, Resilience, and Food Security session, panelists shared strategies for improving how our global food systems operate. A central theme of this session included sustainable food production and distribution. That is, critically evaluating the methods for how food is grown, harvested, raised, fished, etc., and the effects these methods have on the environment.

Improvements being made in the realm of sustainable food systems and malnutrition were highlighted by panelist Dr. Howard Shapiro’s discussion on his project with The African Orphan Crop Consortium (AOCC) and The African Plant Breeding Academy in West Africa. These projects teach and utilize genetic sequencing technologies to advance the types of crops that are grown and harvested in Africa (i.e., more nutrient-dense crop seeds are prioritized and improved). The goal of this work is to increase the region’s degree of agrobiodiversity and establish a more resilient grow-harvest system.

Agrobiodiversity was a term that came up throughout all panelist discussions, which reflects that resilient and sustainable systems go hand in hand with diversifying, adapting, and improving current methods being used worldwide. For instance, the panelist Dr. Remans, a research scientist, highlighted that 75% of the global food supply comes from just 12 plants and 5 animal species. Currently, as a global community, our food systems are not diverse enough (i.e., focusing on crop yield versus crop sustainability and diversity is not viable), and this will result in less resilient and sustainable systems in the years to come. Without improving our food systems now, we risk increasing the risk for greater rates of malnutrition in years to come.

Global food insecurity and malnutrition are of grave concern to the Global Alliance. Increasing access to nutritious foods and encouraging cultural shifts about how food, climate change, and human well-being are interconnected are efforts that we are passionate about at the Alliance. We strongly affirm that all people should have access to the resources that make a healthy, fulfilling life possible, such as access to nutritious foods and quality healthcare. The issues highlighted in this session speak to the dire need for individuals worldwide to become more knowledgeable about food systems at a global, national, and local level to ensure our global food supply remains resilient in decades to come. World hunger has been on the rise since 2015. If we are no longer able to produce sustainable food options and connect people worldwide with nutritious foods, then how will we eradicate malnutrition and end hunger? Learn more about the United Nation's efforts to eradicate hunger and address food security issues. 

GA at UN: Energy and Participatory Science

by Alexis Mitchell


Session 6, Energy decarbonization and universal access: Participatory Science and Stakeholder Capacity Building in Sustainable Energy Development, was closely tied to SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy. Concepts relative to sustainability and energy decarbonization may not immediately come to mind when thinking of behavioral health or social justice, however, featured speakers passionately conveyed that having access to sustainable, clean energy sources is tied to health and wellness, as well as socioeconomic development. Two organizations were featured in this session.

First, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), spoke to their program in which they work in countries and regions around the world to improve access to sustainable energy sources and build decarbonized energy capacity (i.e., reducing sources of energy that come from burning fossil fuels). The second panelist spoke on behalf of the NGO Objectif Sciences International (OSI). OSI has been very active in providing opportunities all over the world for children, youth, and adults increasing knowledge about global scientific inquiries (e.g., climate change, endangered animal species, ocean conservation)– through camps, expeditions, and research projects. OSI centered their discussion on participatory science (also known as citizen science), which is the act of engaging citizens in scientific endeavors, like research. The panelist emphasized the role of participatory science in increasing individual autonomy, knowledge, and interest in global scientific issues. This in turn has positive implications for shifting cultural views about how everyday people can be agents of change towards global issues, such as climate change.

Access to participatory science opportunities remains an issue though. It is important that all individuals worldwide, especially youth, have equal access to be involved in science. Just as we see global disparities in education and health, it is important for OSI and IAEA to understand and address disparities that may crop up regarding access to clean energy and participatory science opportunities.

GA at the UN: Wrap-Up

by Gita Jaffe

WUAs I reflect on the process leading up to, and experience at the UN HLM and UNGA side events I feel hopeful that the progress made in NYC this past week is significant. It provides the necessary framework to act and amplify our voice. The meetings and events highlighted successes to date and presented glaring gaps that need to be addressed in order to achieve the SDGs and UHC in the years to come. The commitment is a long process, for each community and country. To be accountable the global community must move forward with tangible targets. For the Global Alliance our next steps include:

  • continuing to advocate and inform policy and research on pertinent issues UN
    surrounding the inclusion of mental health and behavioral health services as part of UHC, through channels such as written statements, policy resolutions and multi-stakeholder meetings;
  • develop and share good information about the intersection of behavioral health and social justice issues; and
  • complete an environmental scan to identify gaps in policy and research as well as potential partners engaged in global mental health advocacy and education.

This week, people from around the world shared common goals on this important stage. It was a great privilege to represent the Global Alliance in advocating for our shared values. #GA4UHC #SDGs #globalgoals


GA at the UN: A Decade of Action

by Gita Jaffe
UNPathfinders hosted the evening A Decade of Action: Accelerating Action to build Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies which are Free from Fear and Violence, based on SDG16+ which includes SDG 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and 24 targets from seven other goals that directly measure an aspect of peace, justice, and inclusion. The evening had three themes of discussion.  The first set of presenters were distinguished political guests sharing tangible examples of actions taken in their countries since the launch of SDGs and practical next steps.  Sierra Leone’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice Priscilla Schwartz shared a significant number of accountable actions they have already taken in areas such as civil registration (identity), technology and corruption.  The second set of presenters represented examples from civil society including Ms. Jhody Polk, Founder of the Legal Empowerment and Advocacy Hub, who emphasized that access to justice is a human right, and we must ensure access for all, including to incarcerated populations.  The final theme of the evening sharedUN examples of collaboration to accelerate action on SDG16+ from private and public stakeholders. The conclusion and common understanding throughout the evening was that without peace, justice and strong institutions no SDGs can be achieved. Investment in SDG16+ must be made by all, and collectively we must accelerate data-driven innovations and people-centred approaches.

GA at the UN: Turning the Tables

by Gita Jaffe
UNTurning the Tables: Patient Perspectives on Universal Health Coverage focussed on the importance of meaningfully engaging in patient-centred care.  It was acknowledged that there is a chasm between the political declaration and what occurs in communities. The speakers each shared their personal and professional lived experience to encourage patient knowledge in developing strategies that include collecting evidence to support efforts in moving forward in programming and policy.

GA at the UN: Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Wellbeing

by Gita Jaffe


The Launch of the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Wellbeing was introduced by the three initial champions of the strategy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and the President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo. Stronger Collaboration, Better Health: Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being for All brings together 12 multilateral health, development and humanitarian agencies to better support countries to UNaccelerate progress towards the health-related SDGs. Angela Nguku, Executive Director for the White Ribbon Alliance in Kenya, spoke for Civil Society and argued that a13th partner should be recognized as the voice of all people. This meeting was strongly based on the premise that SDG 3, to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, is the docking station for the SDGs. Therefore, engaging countries and communities to identify their priorities, accelerating progress, aligning support of countries and reviewing and sharing lessons to ensure accountability were the highlighted steps of action. As selected individuals shared their commitments to collaboration, the Colombian and Ugandan representatives both raised the critically importantUN issue of migrants and refugees and their health as a human right. 

GA at the UN: Children & Youth

by Gita Jaffe


The meeting, From 2011 to 2019: Global NCD Progress for Children and Youth focussed on (1) sharing global programs for NCDs (2) developing new opportunities at the global level particularly in the context of UHC and (3) to inspire young people to speak out and in support UNof NCDs. In order to 'walk the talk' they had 2 youth moderators Dr. Marie Hauerslev and Dr. George Msengi. In discussing the largest changes the NCDs community has observed, Sir George Alleyne explained (1) the shift to fundamentally listening to youth as opposed to the tokenism of inclusion previously and (2) the flow of information. Dr. Stefan Peterson, the Associate Director of the Program Division and Chief of Health for Unicef, discussed some of the current frustrations for adolescents and NCDs in the context of UHC including that collectively the community is still at the advocacy stage, partially due to the lack of mobilized resources. However, it is encouraging that Unicef has moved towards programming and have developed new guidelines on community-based mental health and psychosocial support. Her Royal Highness Princess Dina Mired focused on a transformative (and progressive) systems approach to achieve UHC, by finding efficiencies, communicating messages clearly and ensuring that 'nothing for us without us'. These concepts were supported by the panel and emphasized with action steps forward to (1) learn from shared experience, particularly through political entrepreneurs and champions and (2) link NCDs and UHC with human capital in messaging. #youthNCDs #youth4health #SDG3

UN

GA at the UN: The Overall Experience

by Gita Jaffe


I have been asked, what is it like at the meetings? My initial response is that it is a unique experience that I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to attend. Having been engaged in national and regional UN meetings in sub-Saharan Africa some time ago, I can say that the environment and energy is different here.

UNThe process has been intensive with a pre-registration and selection process for each event, multi-step ticketing pick up while in New York and security check points for any event within UNHQ. The streets are often blocked off for security, while motorcades for heads of state and other officials travel to the meetings. Among the champions of mental health the urgency is clear, there is no chance to achieve the SDG without its inclusion. Inside, and particularly at smaller-scale meetings, high level officials UNembrace speaking to champions of UHC. Together we hope to overcome the general lack of focus on behavioural health in order to influence and strengthen the inclusion of mental health and behavioural health services in UHC. #GA4UHC 

GA at the UN: Mental Health for All

by Gita Jaffe


Mental Health for All: An Evening for Action brought together leaders, distinguished guests, champions of mental health and advocates with lived experience from around the world.    James Chau, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for SDG and Health, introduced the evening acknowledging the historic event from today, as the UN welcomed the ‘most comprehensive agreement ever on global health’. Messages were consistent from speakers that included UNGA President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, Queen Mathilde of Belgium (a trained psychologist and UNSDG advocate) and WHO Director General Dr. Tedros, that mental health is the least talked about issue, yet presents some of the largest barriers to achieving the SDG, and that the time to invest must be now.  However, it was in a passionate speech by Amina J. Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary General of the UN, that clearly articulated one of the greatest challenges to achieving UHC, that even on this platform of the UNHLM, ‘not up to 5 ministers put mental health in their speech’.  Despite this sobering statement, the launch of Speak Your Mind a new global civil society campaign, organized by United for Global Mental Health was supported with hope and excitement, as they call on everyone to take 40 seconds to raise your voice with an aim of catalyzing action. #40seconds #speakyourmind

mh4 mh4
Amina Mohammed Jazz Thornton from Voices
of Hope (New Zealand) and
Victor Hugo  (Nigeria)
organizations  leading the
Speak your Mind Teams
and campaigns

GA at the UN:UHC

by Evelyn Tomaszewski


 The Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice applauds Secretary Azar (U.S. Health and Human Services) for recognizing – during a presentation at today’s UN High Level Meeting on Universal Health Care - that access to primary care is critical (part of universal health care), and that primary care must be integrated into and with behavioral health services, including the use of community health workers.     As stressed in the Global Alliance’s statement submitted during the UN HLM – UHC Interactive Hearing, the integrative and accessible programs and services must include resources for trained, supported (including supervision) and resourced behavioral health providers in the overall planning for human resources for health.  To read the Global Alliance letter to UN member states, click here.

GA at the UN: Day 1

by Gita Jaffe


In preparation for the United Nations High Level Meeting on Universal Health Care (UN HLM-UHC), I had the UNopportunity to attend a side-event on behalf of the Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice: "A World at Risk: Accelerating Global Preparedness for Health Emergencies”.  The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (which is co-convened by the WHO and the World Bank Group) released a ‘how to’ guide with clearly described recommendations of actions that leaders ought to take in order to better prepare the world for health emergencies, as serious gaps persist. The report can be downloaded here. The panelists all agreed that in regard to disaster preparedness, ‘no one is safe, until everyone is safe’, comprehensive community involvement is necessary (particularly for building trust) and that preparedness cannot be siloed, particularly in regard to UNUHC and the SDGs.  Ms. Kitty van der Heijden, the Vice Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, Netherlands stressed the importance of including mental health and psychosocial support within health emergencies and mentioned an upcoming conference the International Conference on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Crisis Situations in October. 

GA at the UN: Modern Slavery

by Gita Jaffe 



UN
The Freedom Fund and Walk Free hosted the session Unlocking What Works to End Modern Slavery.  Releasing their Evidence in Practice report Unlocking what works: How Community-Based Interventions are Ending Bonded Labour in India.  The premise of the discussion was to convene and collaborate ideas, particularly focusing on promising practice. Acknowledging the shared theoretical values that drive efforts to end modern slavery, three guiding principles were outlined: (1) to concentrate resources, (2) to organize for collective action (social movements) and (3) to commit for the long-term.   Co-Founder of Walk Free, Grace Forrest, referenced the Global Slavery Index for new data and emphasized the importance that all stakeholders (including but not limited to individuals, CEO's and elected officials) have in ending modern slavery.