I was skeptical when I arrived in Manhattan this week, where I joined hundreds of leading activists and innovators at the 2015 Social Good Summit. The Summit, which discussed the issues surrounding the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, seemed to have a lot to cover in a short window of time.
Like the naysayers who argue that the SDGs have bitten off more than they can chew, I wasn’t sure what the Summit might teach us.
Then, it kicked off with a bang. Victoria Beckham, Connie Britton, Helen Clark, Queen Rania Al Abdullah, Kathy Calvin and Graça Machel among others all took the stage together to ask a favor of the audience: “Tell everyone.”
They asked us to:
- tell everyone that one in five people lives on less than $1.25 a day.
- tell everyone that 62 million girls in the world are not in school.
- tell everyone that just one percent of our oceans are protected.
They asked us, in short, to spread the word about the importance of the SDGs and their multifaceted approach. Hearing the inspiring stories of so many – stories shared by speakers and fellow attendees alike – I began to feel not only that grand-scale, positive change is possible, but that it is imminent.
More than this, I was proud to represent Counterpart International, where we are already working hard with local partners to tackle so many of the different challenges addressed by the SDGs – issues like health, livelihoods, climate resiliency and inclusive governance. Because the one thing that became immediately clear is that none of these goals can be reached in isolation, and that none of us can do this alone.
“It’s not just jobs, it’s not just hunger, it’s not just poverty, it’s and,” said Richard Curtis, film director and founder of Project Everyone. “We hate ‘either/or.’ We love ‘and.’”
For as big as these goals are, we will need an even bigger collective effort to solve them. We will need, he said, both deep-reaching and immediate problem-solving from leaders working together across sectors and geographic divides toward a common mission.
What is perhaps most significant about the SDGs is the interest and involvement of the private sector in partnering with the social sector to achieve the goals. The message is clear: we all need to work in partnership – individuals, organizations, donors, government and the private sector.
This is also the aim of the #TellEveryone campaign. We must “tell everyone” about the causes that matter to us so that everyone in the world understands how we are all impacted and how each one of us can and should be part of the solution.
“Every one of us is responsible for the future of all of us,” said Gro Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway.
Just as each of us can make a difference, everyone we impact can make a difference too. As 16-year-old youth activist Chloe McGill put it, “Don’t underestimate the impact of helping one person.”
“It’s the ripple effect,” said Charlize Theron, actress and UN messenger of peace. “What effects you effects me. We are so connected. Be relentless, keep the conversation going. Nothing is going to change unless we can communicate with each other and feel safe doing it.”
Everyone agrees the SDGs are ambitious, but they don’t have to be overwhelming. Everyone has something to offer. “People ask, what can I do,” said Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand. “Use your voice to send the message of hope. These goals are universal and call on the best of all of us. Whoever you are, we need you.”
For all the discouraging statistics we hear, Hugh Evans, CEO of the Global Poverty Project, has another for us to consider. “More people have been lifted out of poverty in the last 20 years than in the previous 200,” he said. “We just have to help people believe that individually you can make a difference [while also remembering that] no true movement is purely about any individual.”
In the words of Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, “Every action matters but when 7 billion people do them it changes the world.”
So tell everyone. The SDGs effect us all, we can each make a difference and together, we can and will overcome today’s challenges while building for tomorrow. To learn more about how Counterpart is tackling the issues of the SDGs, click here.