2016 in Review: 12 Steps of Progress We Took Together

By Rick Parnell, UN Foundation Chief Operating Officer

Photo credit: Patrick Adams

As 2016 comes to a close, the United Nations Foundation wants to say thank you to our supporters and partners; you make our work possible.

Because of you, we are able to support the United Nations in its vital work around the world to make sure no one is left behind. The UN was founded by “we the peoples,” and it remains an essential platform for global dialogue and action.

The world has big problems that need serious attention, and while the solutions are not simple, we know that doing nothing is not the answer. Progress doesn’t happen by accident; it happens because of action — from people working together for change.

Below you will find 12 highlights from 2016 of what we have been able to do together to support the UN in advancing sustainable development, promoting human rights, health, and well-being, and moving toward a more just, equitable world.

While we face serious global challenges, change happens when people take action together, and we look forward to continuing our work with you in 2017.

Here are 12 highlights from 2016.

Photo credit: Josh Krause/ UNA-USA

Engaging Americans in the UN’s Work

In July, the Better World Campaign partnered with the ONE Campaign and CARE to host Global Oval — a pair of foreign policy summits during the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention to bring international development and foreign affairs issues to the forefront of the convention conversations. During the election cycle, the Better World Campaign engaged more than 140,000 American voters to take action in support of a strong U.S.-UN partnership.

Additionally, the United Nations Associated of the USA (UNA-USA) connected Americans to the UN’s work educating refugees. As part of its initiative to raise funds for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), UNA-USA co-hosted 20 “Back-to-School” events across the U.S., at which refugee students received over 1,000 backpacks full of school supplies.

Protecting Refugee Families from Malaria

Refugees who have had to flee violence often face another threat: malaria. This year, the Nothing But Nets campaign and its community of supporters and partners worked tirelessly toward “The Million Nets Pledge” — an ambitious goal to protect refugees from malaria by helping UN partners deliver 1 million bed nets to vulnerable children and families across sub-Saharan Africa over the course of 2015–2016. The campaign also activated tens of thousands of supporters to advocate for vital funding for the President’s Malaria Initiative and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Improving Children’s Health

Vaccines protect children from diseases like measles, polio, pneumonia, and rotavirus — yet millions of children don’t have access to them. The Shot@Life campaign, in collaboration with Walgreens, launched the fourth year of Get a Shot. Give a Shot.®, which has helped the UN provide more than 15 million vaccines for children around the world. Additionally, Takeda pharmaceuticals joined Shot@Life this year with a gift of $10 million over the course of 10 years, which will support the work of the Measles & Rubella Initiative to vaccinate millions of children globally. The Measles & Rubella Initiative, of which the UN Foundation is a founding member, continued to help protect children from these diseases. This year, the World Health Organization declared the Americas the first region in the world to be free from both measles and rubella.

Through the Global Moms Relay, the Global Moms Challenge community and partners unlocked $500,000 from Johnson & Johnson for: vaccines for the world’s hardest to reach children; education opportunities and life skills training to prevent child marriage for girls; health worker training and equipment for a neonatal resuscitation unit in Ethiopia; and bed nets to aid in the fight against malaria. This community of over 150,000 people and 35 partners supports the UN’s Every Woman Every Child movement.

This year the world made an extraordinary commitment toward ending three of the deadliest epidemics of our lifetime by pledging nearly $13 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The UN Foundation funded and collaborated with many Global Fund groups that raised awareness of the Global Fund and advocated for increased funding.

Empowering Adolescent Girls

Adolescent girls are among the most marginalized populations in many communities. Protecting their rights and well-being is the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do since an empowered girl is one of the world’s strongest forces against poverty. The UN Foundation’s Girl Up campaign supported UN programs and other efforts to help empower 54,000 girls in the world and support their health, education, and safety. This includes a push to help 4,990 refugee girls in Uganda go to school for the first time. Globally, the number of Girl Up Clubs has risen to 1,400 Clubs.

Photo credit: Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images Reportage

Strengthening Women’s Health and Rights

This year, Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) announced that for the first time in history, the number of women and girls using modern contraception in the world’s 69 poorest countries has surpassed 300 million — a milestone that has taken the health and development sectors decades to reach. Additionally, the FP2020 partnership, which supports the UN’s Every Woman Every Child movement, continued to expand, now reflecting the policy, financial, and programmatic pledges of more than 90 commitment-makers.

The Universal Access Project (UAP) helped secure U.S. and UNFPA funding for international family planning and reproductive health programs in the world’s poorest countries, supporting 27 million women and couples with lifesaving contraceptive services and supplies in 2016. UAP also connected nearly 40 American journalists with expert information and firsthand knowledge of women’s health and rights around the world, including bringing journalists to a clinic in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, where UNFPA and USAID support has led to 6,500 safe childbirths with no maternal deaths.

Reducing Air Pollution through Clean Cooking

Air pollution is responsible for more than 7 million deaths per year. More than half of these deaths are caused by household emissions typically from cooking with heavily-polluting fuels like coal, wood, kerosene, and animal dung. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership with more than 1,600 partners, has helped more than 50 million people gain access to clean and efficient stoves and fuels — helping to save lives, protect the environment, empower girls and women, and improve livelihoods.

Supporting LGBT Rights

In too many places, LGBT people are among the most persecuted, marginalized, or at risk. The UN Foundation partnered with Gap Inc. for Pride Month to jointly raise awareness and support for the UN’s LGBT rights work around the world — with a focus on the Free & Equal campaign of the UN Human Rights Office. By spurring conversation online, at in-person events, and at pride parades, we drew attention to the need for more action to protect LGBT rights around the world.

Keeping the Momentum Going for Action on Climate Change and Sustainable Energy

The UN Foundation supported UN efforts to keep climate change high on the world’s agenda by bringing together partners to raise their voices for strong action — an important message as the Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force in November. Then, as leaders met in Morocco for the COP22 UN climate conference to discuss implementation of the agreement, the Earth To Marrakech climate movement, launched by the UN Foundation and more than 100 partners, sent a global message from citizens to world leaders to move forward on climate action.

Additionally, through the Energy Access Practitioner Network, the UN Foundation worked to expand access to sustainable energy to promote development while protecting the planet. This year, the network hosted technical webinars; brought its investment directory online; established new partnerships, including on off-grid energy; and grew to nearly 2,500 members. These decentralized energy service providers have achieved a total installed capacity close to 5,000 MW, reaching an estimated 4.5 million people with sustainable energy solutions.

Photo credit: INSIDER IMAGES/Craig Warga for UN Foundation

Harnessing Data for Gender Equality and Sustainable Development

Data2X made significant progress toward filling gender data gaps by: supporting commitments made by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and partners across governments, multilateral institutions, and philanthropic organizations; growing our partnerships on women’s financial inclusion and work and employment; launching a new partnership on data and displaced populations; and producing new research and recommendations for monitoring progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Additionally, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data has grown to more than 180 partners working to harness data for sustainable development as part of the global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The partnership created a toolbox to support the work of countries to develop and implement data road maps for sustainable development, among other actions.

Expanding the Conversation on Sustainable Development

The +SocialGood community — a global group of innovators and entrepreneurs focused on using technology and digital communications for social good — held more than 150 events in 25 countries in 2016. This included the annual Social Good Summit, which sparked conversations in New York and in more than 100 meet ups around the world about how we can make progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals.

Additionally, the UN Foundation worked with partners to connect more than 700 journalists in 18 different countries with information about the Sustainable Development Goals, climate change, and local work on these issues. We also enabled media partners to expand reporting on global development issues.

Photo credit: Stuart Ramson for UN Foundation

Leveraging the Power of Business and Entrepreneurship to Solve Global Problems

During the UN General Assembly, the UN Foundation, the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service, and other partners held the second annual Solutions Summit to connect 10 grassroots innovators with the strategic advice, networks, and partners they need to scale up their efforts and increase impact in advancing sustainable development solutions. Solutions ranged from low-cost kits for women’s health to translating the language of whales to a sustainable toilet system.

Additionally, the UN Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council visited Sweden and Jordan to learn about and highlight solutions to support refugees and communities affected by the refugee crisis. From the work of UNHCR and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Jordan to innovators working on mobile apps to connect refugees to jobs in Sweden, the members of the council shared lessons about how promoting entrepreneurship can help refugee families and local communities.

The Business Council of the UN (BCUN), a network of companies hosted by the UN Foundation, continued its work engaging the private sector in solving global problems. Throughout the year, BCUN hosted briefings and consultations on humanitarian assistance, access to medicines, antimicrobial resistance, and innovative financing solutions to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Working closely with the UN Global Compact, BCUN also connected business organizations to support knowledge exchange and cooperation. 
 The UN Foundation also collaborated with the Commission on Sustainable Development and other partners on issues related to the implementation of the global goals.

Advancing an Inclusive Digital Society to Promote Sustainable Development

In 2016, the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) laid essential groundwork to help advance an inclusive digital society that supports the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. DIAL’s global team now includes technology researchers, developers, investors, negotiators, and policymakers. It recruited a Board of Directors comprised of strategic advisors and business leaders from the information and communications technologies sector. In the coming year, DIAL will publish research and materials to support implementers’ work in the digital space and broker new partnerships to help achieve our goals.

While we’ve made important progress together, we can’t stop until we reach a world where no one is left behind. Your support in the coming year will be vital to that effort. To join the UN Foundation community to help the UN support vulnerable families and more equitable world, visit unfoundation.org and sign up here.