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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: 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 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: 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