I went to New York and all anyone wants to know is if I saw the Pope

Reflections from Kareen Wong, ICN Youth Delegate to the UN Summit

It’s been a week since I’ve returned from New York where 193 world leaders gathered to sign on to the most ambitious global agenda of our time.

Attending the UN Summit on Sustainable Development in New York was a dream come true and one of the most incredible and formative experiences of my career to date. I barely slept it was all so exciting. The expression is trite, but it’s absolutely 5 days I will never forget. Not only was I physically present for one of the most pivotal moments in global cooperation history, I was given the opportunity to credibly use my voice in an international context.

I am bursting at the seams with reflections I want to share and excitement for the next chapter in global history, but all anyone seems to ask me is ‘So, did you see the Pope?’

No, I didn’t, but it’s a question worth unpacking. This is one of the major media narratives that has emerged from coverage of this Summit: Pope goes to New York, addresses UN. It was trending on Twitter for goodness sake! It makes sense that this is the instant association that most people make when they think back on this particular weekend.

However, conversations about what happened in New York need to go further than who saw or didn’t see the Pope.

17 new global goals. 169 targets. A document agreed upon, and signed, by 193 world leaders that states that I (and you reading this), we are part of the last generation that has a hope of reversing our current climate change patterns. This is a huge deal and the urgency is very, very real.

And the Pope knows, that’s why he was in New York.

Now, I do have to give the Pope some kudos here, calling on the world to take urgent action on climate change and insisting that the environment has rights are noble requests that I also share and believe to be quintessential if we are to move toward a better world.

So I find myself thinking, how can I talk about this?

(without boring people from the top of a soapbox)

For 5 days, I listened to, participated in, and read about how it will take the biggest collective effort the world has ever seen to make these global goals a reality. To make this happen, we need the whole world on board. We’re all on the same planet facing these global issues together, and we all have a role to play in collaborating to create solutions.

So how do I start that conversation?

This is what I’ve come up with so far:

Accessible Language:

One of the main take-aways from my time at university is that people working at an international level have a talent for coming up with terrible acronyms. The Sustainable Development Goals, the SDGs, sound more like a terribly unpleasant condition to most people than an exciting set of opportunities for positive social, economic, and environmental global change. This in itself highlights the need for these new goals to be spoken about clearly and simply. There is a great campaign underway that calls them the new Global Goals, something I’ve begun to do as well and plan to continue with in my capacity of Communications Officer.

There is a great initiative underway called 7 billion in 7 days aimed at exposing the world to this new plan to move together toward a better world and there is a social media movement growing that recognizes the importance of communicating these goals to all people everywhere regardless of where they are and what they do. This #TellEveryone movement is a great place to get your feet wet with these topics, each of which we all know far more about than we originally anticipate as they are woven through our own personal life stories. 

The document world leaders signed last week reads that these goals are universal in nature, (meaning they apply to all countries in the world and all people equally): We need to be serious about not leaving anyone behind. To achieve this, we need to use language that is enticing and inviting. We can’t afford for the importance and urgency of these global goals to go masked by a maze of fancy sounding terminology that ultimately leaves most people feeling as though they are not part of the global goals’ intended audience.

Active Connection Creation:

Everything is interrelated. We are all part of this world and each one of us needs the success of each global goal to thrive in our presents and futures. As it was once explained to me, these goals are not a check-list, they are not a menu where you pick what you like, they are a set. We cannot achieve some without achieving the others.

These new goals offer an invitation to collaborate. In my work with the Council and my life more broadly, I now regularly ask myself the question: ‘Which goals does this relate to?’ The pluralization is intentional because I’ve come to understand that there generally is always more than one goal that applies anything. The more I can actively recognize and help create these types of connections, the closer I can come to facilitating effective partnerships around them. Partnerships that can compound my ability to create and contribute to positive change.

Partnership > Pride:

There has been a lot of ‘I’ in this written piece. While it’s true I cannot speak for anyone else, nor do I want to, it’s important to recognize that as an individual, I am part of a community, part of a province, part of a country, and ultimately, a human part of a shared planet with finite resources and no shortage of interconnections.

As a species, humans have a tendency to crave being part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to feel a sense of belonging, a sense of connection to those around us and to concepts and ideas that have the ability to make an impact.

Yes, I went to New York, but this does not make me any more or less important than I was before. I had a wonderful opportunity to be part of something great, and now I have an even greater opportunity to use my knowledge and new ideas to better work with other people and groups striving towards the shared global goals vision.

We need to set our egos aside and think big picture. The global goals are the ultimate big picture and we will not achieve them without a strong and honest willingness to set pride and difference aside and work together with an agenda for the world rather than one for personal gain. We are living our eulogies, not our CVs. Think epitaph, not statement of interest.

Dare to Hope:

I repeatedly hear people ask the question can we afford these goals? The global goals will cost an estimated 3 trillion + a year to implement as written. But let me in turn ask, can we afford not to? Just this year we saw the US Supreme Court legalize same sex marriage and the world celebrated with the announcement “Love Won”. I have to believe that in a time when we have already proven that war is more expensive than peace, when we possess alternative technologies for renewable energy, when life saving medical breakthroughs are becoming a regular occurrence, that it’s only a matter of time, and human will that is left to navigate us the rest of the way.

Hope is a choice, a mindset, and a way of being necessary for conversations about the reality of achieving the global goals.

So please, ask me about New York, but let’s take it past the Pope.

I would like to tell you about the General Assembly lit up with all the world’s flags and the 17 global goals lighting the walls of the UN tower.

I would like to tell you about my excitement at sitting 20 feet from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Noble Peace Prize Winner and Africa’s first female country President as she addressed a small group on the importance of water and sanitation in the context of Liberia’s recent Ebola outbreak.

I would like to tell you about getting over my nerves of speaking publicly in my second language and doing a radio interview in French crouched in a tiny Brooklyn stairwell.

I would like to tell you about about my epiphany that world leaders are all just people too and the words they have to offer are not so far from words I myself can offer.

I would like to tell you about the pride and inspiration I felt spending 5 five days with 7 of the most amazing young, talented, intelligent women from all across our beautiful country, each of whom play a role in making me feel part of an existing partnership for global goal achievement.

I would like to tell you about how I feel I have a voice worth hearing and an ability to offer contributions to world now as a young person who cares.

I would like to tell you about how I make a difference.

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