As the world’s governments and global decision-makers descended into New York on Sunday afternoon ahead of the 73rd UN General Assembly, a patchwork of social-good pioneers from literally every corner of the world were already in full flow at the iconic 92Y centre.
Campaigners, lawyers, chefs, youth leaders, best-sellers, entrepreneurs, comedians…even an antipodean prime minister – this is a community “connected by a burning desire to create positive change in the world” as Rajesh Mirchandani (former BBC correspondent & current UN Foundation Chief Communication Officer) enthusiastically rejoiced in his closing remarks of the 32-back-to-back-session-day.
So, 1 auditorium, 32 sessions, 56 speakers and 100s of inspired social good thought-leaders and advocates later, what were our top 5 sound bites from the Social Good Summit 2018:
1) “Everyone is a stakeholder in the process.”
Mental Health Strategist
Awareness of mental health – due to become the biggest global disease by 2030 – has increased exponentially in the global North in recent years. The reality for the developing world is quite different. Sitawa Wafula, a Kenyan survivor-turned-campaigner, poignantly talked about her battles with mental health, and called for more to be done to bring all people affected by mental health to the same table.
Joined by Elisha London, the founder of the new United for Global Mental Health, their message was a more action-oriented approach to be adopted by the world’s leaders to truly tackle mental health, one they’ll be taking to the UNGA this week.
2) “As Trump’s administration pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords, New York City committed to the very same Accords”
Commissioner at New York Mayor’s Office for International Affairs
Collaborative progress was a key theme throughout, not just between people and organisations, but also cities. One of the warmest receptions of the day came when Penny Abeywardena highlighted New York City’s act of defiance in 2017 when the city committed to the same climate agreement that President Trump had rejected as a country just weeks before.
Not to be outdone, Jan Vapaavuori’s (Mayor of Helsinki) announcement that his city was fast-tracking its target date of carbon neutrality to 2025, and would be collaborating with others to share their learnings, almost hit the same decibel count.
However, “The Speaker That Raised The Roof” Award goes to 11-year-old Mari Copeny, a key voice of the public outrage during the 2014 water contamination scandal in Flint, Michigan – “they weren’t going to listen to the adults, but they were going to listen to me”. Her mic-drop moment came as she proclaimed to a rapturous ovation that she would be running for President in 2048…could she start a little sooner?
3) “If anyone’s human rights are denied, everyone’s human rights are denied”
Actress & Activist
Few would deny a hint of scepticism – at least surprise(!) – when they saw Amber Heard’s name alongside Henrietta Fore (Executive Director of UNICEF), and Jacinda Ardern (Prime Minister of New Zealand), who has made recent major progress in women’s maternal rights. That being said, few would also be able to deny the poetic simplicity and relevance of her assertion when recounting her experiences of visiting the Zaafari refugee camp in Jordan, which has become home to close to 80,000 Syrian refugees.
4) “Why are we treating the biggest killer of children as a side show?”
CEO, Save The Children UK
There aren’t many people in the charity sector who’ve faced more scrutiny than Kevin Watkins this year, but this talk wasn’t about the safeguarding scandals; rather a desperate plea to draw attention to what is already the most anonymous killer of children in poverty – pneumonia.
Whereas Ebola and Zika have dominated recent global health headlines, pneumonia is on track to still be killing over 700,000 people every year by 2030, and the most prolific killer of children. In no uncertain terms, he called out the world’s leaders for not doing enough to shine a light on this mass killer of children in poverty because it doesn’t affect children in wealthier countries.
5) “Expect more of business, ask more of business…the power of the individual to question will drive change…if you want to be a member of the human race, you better start dealing with the threats that are endangering it.”
Corporate Affairs, Strategic Initiatives and Sustainability, Mars Incorporated
This was an accumulation of Andy Pharoah’s comments about the way he believes the private sector needs to move forwards, and how initiatives like the Lions Share can help them get there. For those who haven’t heard Sir Attenborough’s dulcet tones advocating it on Facebook, the Lions Share is a new campaign to mobilise the advertising sector by imploring them to donate 0.5% of profits from ads that use animals.
Possibly most important was his assertion that every company stakeholder, from employee to customer, should have a say in how that company grows to become more socially responsible.