Sustainable Development Goals engagement reaches
new heights at largest ever SDG Global Festival of Action

Activists, development experts, changemakers and creatives come together in Bonn, Germany, to catalyze action on the SDGs, test and accelerate new ideas, while deepening the coalition for SDG Action

The global community gathered at the SDG Global Festival of Action in Bonn, Germany, to reiterate its commitment to accelerating the Sustainable Development Goals. Organized by the United Nations SDG Action Campaign, the Festival stressed the need for advocacy, citizen engagement, behaviour change and political will to drive the action required to make the Sustainable Development Goals a reality.

Held from 2–4 May, this year’s Festival brings together over 1,500 participants from over 150 countries, ranging from activists to high-level representatives, offering a dynamic space where they can share different perspectives, test and accelerate new ideas, and build an environment where the SDGs become a priority for political engagement and democratic participation.

Maria Flachsbarth, German Parliamentary Secretary of State, spoke about the upcoming SDG Summit and how it should bring renewed political commitments to the implementation of Agenda 2030. “These are turbulent times. Around the world, multilateralism is coming under pressure.” Tania Freiin Von Uslar-Gleichen, Director for Human Rights at the German Federal Foreign Office agreed, urging everyone to walk the road of action together, and highlighting the need for international cooperation and ambitious multilateralism in the face of global challenges. Addressing an audience of creatives, activists, youth leaders and business and government experts, she said: “You are a force of nature for the 2030 Agenda.”

“We need partnerships, public and private, for-profit and nonprofit. We need governmental and nongovernmental organizations. You have to take the Agenda to your local constituents to nationalise the SDGs and transform them into their national development plans. Change requires urgency and determination”, Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, Assistant Secretary General and Director for the Regional Bureau for Europe in the UN Development Programme
“Change requires urgency and determination”

Speaking on a panel on multi-stakeholder insights, leaders will underline the need for advocacy and citizen engagement. Linking sustainability and citizen action, Juan Somavia, Former Director-General of the International Labour Organisation said that ‘it is totally impossible for the SDGs to become a reality without the people.” This was an overarching theme with the other panellists. “We are agents of change, and if we don’t believe that, nothing is going to happen in our lives’, said Gabriela Cuevas Barron, Mexican Congresswoman and President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. “This is the moment when we have a lot of questions, but at the same time, we have a very clear consensus: This development Agenda. This is a clear roadmap. A strategy that we must follow.” She continued by saying that this change starts with the government, working hand in hand, heart by heart, with the people they represent. “If we really want to change the world in 11 years, it seems impossible, but of course it’s possible, and that’s why we are here.”

Leadership was one of three keywords Cristina Gallach, High Commissioner for Agenda 2030 for the Government of Spain highlighted when discussing how the Spanish government has used the Agenda as a framework for political action. “Top leadership is essential,” but so is organization and mobilization. She suggested building alliances with entrepreneurs, youth organizations, academia, and artists — “civil society is key”.

Bringing in the youth perspective, activist and co-founder of Hashtag Our Stories, Yusuf Omar, compared the political protests that have swept the world these past few years to the climate demonstrations we are seeing today: “We are on the brink of another moment, a climate moment. This is not a future projection of what could happen — it is happening right now. He encouraged the participants to use their digital devices to tell their stories online.

Eddie Ndopu, Special Advisor for Impact and Corporate Sustainability to RTW Investments and soon to be appointed SDG Advocate, delivered a powerful message on defying the odds. Being diagnosed with spinal muscular dystrophy as a child, he outlived his expectations and became the first African with a degenerative disability to graduate from the University of Oxford. “I am in the process of putting the words disability and possibility in the same sentence.” Next year, he is planning to be the first disabled person to travel into space to deliver a televised address to the United Nations on greater SDG implementation. “Regardless of who you are, where you come from, how you identify, you matter, your humanity matters. And this is what it means to leave nobody behind, It means that we need to give way for the most vulnerable segments of society to move from the back of the line to the front so that they can lead”.

SDG Action Awards — Winners

The UN SDG Action Campaign runs the SDG Action Awards to celebrate individuals, civil society organizations, subnational governments, foundations, networks, and private sector leaders who are advancing the sustainable development movement in the most transformative, impactful and innovative way. Today, the winners of the 2019 UN SDG Action Awards were recognised at the SDG Global Festival of Action.

The innovative projects included: A crowdmap for sexual violence from Mumbai, India; an immersive multimedia form of storytelling following twelve families lives around the globe over the next ten years, a data-platform tracking over USD 10 million meant for social development impacting over two million rural lives across African communities; a project that uses creativity and participatory arts to tackle sexual and reproductive health and HIV in Malawi; a campaign showcasing the employment legacy of the London 2012 Paralympics; a nation-wide campaign that led to the repeal of the infamous rape-marriage law in Lebanon and finally a blockchain-based token rewards project mobilizing recycling entrepreneurs and tackling ocean plastic and global poverty in Haiti, Philippines and the USA.

The United Nations climate action campaign Act Now was recognised with an honourable mention for taking advantage of innovative artificial intelligence, creating a chatbot that helped connect people’s voices with the United Nations.

SDG Studio

In addition to the High-level plenary, the live-streamed SDG Studio provided a dynamic stage where Ted-style talks, interactive discussions and performances. Speakers included Ovais Sarmad, Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).