By Miguel Santa Maria
Hectic and invigorating are the two choice words I would choose to describe my experience at the United Nation’s High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, 2017. The theme of the 2017 HLPF was “eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world” and the summit focused on reviewing seven of the seventeen UN sustainable development goals, including goal 17. These goals are listed below:
Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
For the nine day HLPF, 2458 stakeholder representatives and 77 government ministers and staff were in attendance from UN member states and a total of 196 meetings, workshops, and seminars were held. As one can imagine from these numbers, the political traffic at the forum was enormous and any lobbying would require an equally enormous and organized support network. As an NGO consultancy affiliated with the UN, Nonviolence International is part of the NGO Major Group, which in turn is a member of the Major Group and other Stakeholders System (MGoS), and worked alongside other NGOs within this network and the UN agency charged with organizing the HLPF, UN DESA (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs) to coordinate and support meetings and side events during the HLPF and to lobby member states as well as stakeholders to remain committed to timely implementation of the sustainable development goals.
As an intern for Nonviolence International, I was assigned to help the NGO Major Group Taskforce as part of the Coordination Team to help prepare for and support their projects during the HLPF. Before the HLPF began I helped the Task Force prepare a Talking Points Document, which would brief MGoS representatives on specific issues and facts they should discuss with member state delegates and stakeholder representatives when they met with them.
At the HLPF, most of my time involved navigating my way through UN headquarters to attend some of the numerous side events held by member states and stakeholder representatives on the sustainable development goals. I would take extensive notes and pictures at these side events, which were focused on topics such as universal social security, child marriage, and economic development of small island developing states (SIDS). I was also lucky enough to attend and take notes on one of the formal HLPF review sessions, specifically reviewing Goal 3, Universal Health, and Goal 5, Gender Equality/Empowerment.
Updates from these side events and review sessions were discussed during daily Taskforce meetings and I enjoyed being the assigned note taker for one of these daily meetings. While note taking is often unseen and under appreciated, It’s importance is that it is a key to distributing meeting decisions and lobbying member-states. Gathering information and emphasizing one’s presence are invaluable assets to reinforcing a political position, and the Task Force aptly utilized its large network of staff to attend side events and learn about new opportunities to discuss and collaborate with delegates as well as other stakeholders on supporting and implementing the sustainable development goals. This was also a useful way for the Task Force to gauge the general attitude of member states at the UN towards the sustainable development goals and formulate new strategies for influencing states to make stronger commitments to implementing the goals.
In reality, the UN requires the political will of member states to implement the sustainable development goals and therefore lobbying by organizations like MGoS is a necessity to keep states accountable and mold political will towards successful implementation of the goals. This is not to say that the UN is ultimately ineffective but rather that a great majority of debate, discussion, and protest by NGOs are often unseen or unheard by the general public. Behind the glamour of every advancement or norm shift towards supporting the sustainable development goals are tireless hours of non-stop work by passionate and dedicated NGO staff and UN staff like those from the MGoS.
I am grateful to have met and worked alongside some of these colleagues during my time at the HLPF and sincerely hope that their efforts receive greater recognition from the UN and the general public in the future.