Our Perspectives


At Social Good Summit, everyone has a seat at the table

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Social Good Summit openningCelebrities, activists and development leaders opened the 2015 Social Good Summit by introducing the 17 Global Goals. UNDP photo

Victoria Beckham was there, as was the Queen of Jordan. But the most applause that day came for a 14-year-old boy from Texas who built a clock. His name is Ahmed Mohamed, and he was a big hit at this year’s Social Good Summit in New York.

The annual gathering, held in over 100 countries this year as the UN General Assembly convened, unites people from all over the world around a common purpose: using social media, innovation, and technology to help solve the world’s greatest challenges.

This year’s Social Good Summit theme was “#2030NOW,” focusing on the greatest challenges facing the world over the next 15 years, with a particular emphasis on the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or Global Goals, which will guide development policy and funding through 2030.

I attended this year’s NYC summit. While it was fun to see movie and TV-star Adrian Grenier, or actor and political activist Ashley Judd, for me the most exciting part of this year’s SGS was the attendance of so many young people.

Student Ahmed Mohamed and National Geographic Society President Gary Knell present Goal 9 on industry, innovation and infrastructure. UNDP photo

Case in point: Chinese environmental activist, and child delegate to the UN General Assembly, Zheng Booing. When I asked Zheng how he developed such a passion for the environment, the 14-year-old told me that the pollution where he lives can get so bad that kids can’t go outside to play, or even go to school.

Another teen who made waves at the SGS was inventor and clockmaker Ahmed Mohamed. Ahmed made news a few weeks ago when he was handcuffed and arrested after school authorities mistook his homemade clock for a bomb.

The Texas youth joined nearly two dozen celebrities, activists and development leaders, including UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, in opening the SGS by introducing the SDGs. Ahmed presented Goal 9 on industry, innovation and infrastructure. “Without innovation,” he told the cheering audience, “we cannot advance our planet and our people.”

The UN has recognized Collet Ngobeni and the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit for their work protecting wildlife in South Africa. UNDP photo

Equally inspiring was Collet Ngobeni, a member of South Africa’s Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit.  The Black Mambas, comprised mostly of young women from traditional communities, patrol the Balule Private Game Reserve to stop wild animal poaching. The group recently received the UN’s highest environmental honour, the Champions of the Earth award.

I also had a chance to speak with Marika Anthony-Shaw, a former touring member of the Grammy-winning band Arcade Fire, about her new project, Plus One. Plus One partners with artists who contribute US$1.00 to charity for every ticket sold, and has already raised over US$2 million for a variety of causes, while also engaging fans around the issues. Ms. Anthony-Shaw was at the SGS because she's interested in using Plus One's innovative social good fundraising to help further the SDGs. 

A woman uses the Millennium Campaign's virtual reality headset to visit a Syrian refugee camp. UNDP photo

Another memorable SGS moment was an encounter not with a person but with technology. The UN’s Millennium Campaign is using virtual reality to introduce the world to the plight of Syrian refugees, and of Ebola survivors in West Africa.

Using a headset that houses a smartphone, you can watch a 360-degree movie that makes you feel as if you are literally inside the film. One moment I was sitting in a schoolroom, surrounded by young Syrian girls. The next I was in a cyber-cafe being playfully taunted by refugee boys. The experience was remarkable -- and jarring.

“The Social Good Summit began its journey six years ago,” says SGS organizer Boaz Paldi of UNDP. “A group of like-minded friends at the United Nations Foundation, Mashable and the 92Y decided that while the UN General Assembly holds a closed door meeting at UN Headquarters, they themselves would have a conference were everyone could be invited and have a seat at the table.”

Queen Rania of Jordan was among the dignitaries who took part in the opening of the Social Good Summit. UNDP photo

At the 92Y this week, a teenager from China and a kid from Texas got a chance to rub elbows with Madeleine Albright, David Miliband and Queen Rania of Jordan. Hollywood stars shared a stage and a vision with people working on the ground all over the world to fight poverty, hunger, inequality and climate change.

For me, the takeaway from the Social Good Summit is that everyone can and must contribute to creating the world we want; and everyone must be included in the #2030NOW discussion.

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