Progress Needs Protectors: How We Joined Forces in 2018 to Defend Human Dignity for Everyone, Everywhere

Photo credit: UNA-USA

Progress needs protectors. In 2018, it was starkly clear that many of the gains we’ve made in improving lives are under threat around the world — from climate change, conflict and violence, discrimination, inequality, political division, and a lack of empathy.

But as the year reaches its end, we’re focusing on what gives us hope: the partners and supporters who didn’t shirk from the challenges and stepped up time and again to defend progress and push for more.

Throughout 2018, as during the past 20 years of our operations, partners — from citizens to companies to cities — joined the United Nations Foundation to support the United Nations in advancing human dignity, peace, and opportunity for all.

This meant helping the UN meet people’s basic needs: vaccines and bed nets to protect children from disease; access to voluntary contraceptives for girls and women; and modern energy solutions so families can cook safely, and mothers don’t have to give birth in the dark.

It also meant helping the UN and partners safeguard human rights: helping girls understand and realize their rights; partnering with companies to promote LGBTI rights; and mobilizing Americans across the country and political spectrum to tell their elected leaders to stand up for human rights.

And it meant supporting the UN in taking on the complex challenges that are fundamental to a more equitable and stable planet: climate change, sustainable development, peace and conflict prevention, gender equality, the principled use of data and technology, responsible private sector engagement in the world, empowering young people, and strong support for modernizing and defending the UN and the multilateral system.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres continued to provide inspiration and leadership, spearheading ambitious reforms of the UN system, tackling the challenges of the 21st century — like the applications of digital technology and gender parity, both inside the UN and around the world — and urging leaders and people everywhere to stand up for our common humanity.

While serious challenges remain in the world, we end the year committed to supporting the UN to meet them. Here is an overview of some of what we did together in 2018. We hope you will visit our website,, to stay involved with us next year!

Driving Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals

Photo credit: UN Foundation

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the world’s shared plan to end extreme poverty, reduce inequalities, and protect the planet by 2030. The UN Foundation works with the UN and partners to catalyze high-impact solutions that drive progress across the goals — from advancing gender equality to improving health to expanding access to modern, sustainable energy. You can read more about this work in the sections below.

We also work to create an enabling environment for the SDGs to take root and thrive by: Mobilizing communities, including young people, entrepreneurs, and the private sector, to act on the SDGs; raising public awareness through media engagement, events, and communications; connecting policymakers with the latest research to turn evidence into action; providing decision-makers with a trusted space for debate and dialogue; and supporting the review process on the SDGs. Examples of this work in 2018 are below.

  • The UN Foundation, along with Aviva and the Index Initiative, launched the World Benchmarking Alliance, with the aim of helping businesses do more to achieve the SDGs. The Alliance — recognized as a top 10 solution at the Paris Peace Forum — will develop free, publicly available benchmarks that will rank companies on their contributions to the SDGs. Our Business Council for the UN continued to connect leading businesses to the UN to advance the SDGs.
  • We helped increase awareness of ways to attract and expand financing for the furthest behind by partnering with the UN Capital Development Fund, the OECD, Southern Voice, and Convergence to analyze blended finance in least developed countries.
  • This year, we helped connect more than 150 journalists to expert information on the SDGs and global issues. Additionally, through our +SocialGood and Global Moms Challenge communities, we engaged innovators, parents, and community leaders in the SDGs.
  • Along with partners, we supported Global Goals Week during the UN General Assembly in order to increase action, awareness, and accountability around the SDGs. As part of this, we co-hosted the annual Solutions Summit at the UN and the annual Social Good Summit to elevate innovators and solutions that are driving SDG progress.
  • Through 20 convenings, we engaged more than 500 people, including diplomats, UN leaders, experts, and civil society leaders, in conversations on how we are doing on the SDGs and how we can increase progress. We also supported the UN in rolling out “VNR Labs,” a designated space at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development for countries and civil society to informally share lessons and experiences in implementing and reporting on the SDGs.

Mobilizing Action on Climate Change and Sustainable Energy

Photo credit: Edward Echwalu for UN Foundation

The UN Foundation works with the UN and partners to fulfill the promise of the Paris Agreement, galvanize climate action across sectors and communities, bring clean energy solutions to global energy access and health challenges, and ensure the health of the world’s natural environment and ecosystems.

  • The biennial Investor Summit on Climate Risk, held at the UN and hosted by Ceres, UNOPS, and the UN Foundation brought 450 investor, business, and capital market leaders — with almost $30 trillion of capital under management — to work on aligning the private sector with the Paris climate goals, which paved the way for global investors to mobilize at the annual UN climate conference, COP 24, in Poland to demand countries “close the ambition gap.”
  • The U.S. Climate Alliance, housed at the UN Foundation, grew in membership and is now a bipartisan group of 17 governors committed to upholding the goals of the Paris Agreement. The alliance launched several initiatives designed to accelerate implementation of their climate priorities and utilize multi-state approaches to catalyze transformational change. This includes $1.4 billion for clean and zero emissions vehicle deployment, maintaining lands as a net carbon sink, and developing short-lived climate pollutant reduction strategies that seek to reduce these pollutants by as much as 40–50% by 2030, among other actions.
  • The UN Foundation served as a strategic partner to the Global Climate Action Summit, which convened cities, states, the private sector, UN partners, and others in San Francisco to celebrate and scale up climate action at every level, including local communities, states, and philanthropists (which committed $4 billion to climate action). During the summit, we launched Step Up World, a new digital climate show, which had more than 200,000 views worldwide.
  • The UN Foundation also worked closely with our UN partners to support the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report on 1.5 degrees of global warming. The message from the report was clear: Climate change is already affecting people, ecosystems, and livelihoods around the world. The report’s launch continues to play a significant role in discussions on climate change.
  • By supporting work to deliver reliable solar power to 62 underserved health facilities in Uganda and Ghana, we helped improve health services for an estimated 650,000 people. This, along with other advocacy efforts, helped raise awareness about the need for sustainable energy to improve health care — an issue recognized by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General, who committed the organization to “working toward universal electrification of health facilities with sustainable energy by 2030 to support universal health care access.”
  • In 2018, UN agencies, the UN Foundation, and partners launched the first-ever Global Plan of Action for Sustainable Energy Solutions in Situations of Displacement, a framework for coordinating action so “every person affected by conflict or natural disaster has access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy services by 2030.”

Advocating for American Leadership at the UN

Photo credit: UNA-USA

Through our sister organizations and campaigns, we work to deepen and diversify U.S. support for the UN and its lifesaving work.

  • In 2018, the United Nations Association of the USA (UNA-USA) held its largest Leadership Summit to date, with 500 Americans collectively holding over 300 meetings on Capitol Hill to advocate for full U.S. funding for the UN. They also delivered a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to all 535 House and Senate offices. In addition, UNA-USA chapters held over 100 events to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and elevate local human rights champions.
  • The Better World Campaign continued to educate policymakers about the value of the UN. It also mobilized Americans to show their support for the UN by sending approximately 50,000 letters to Congress in support of full U.S. funding for the UN. And it released a new poll that found that young Americans — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike — favor an “America first, but not alone” approach to U.S. foreign policy and consider environmental issues and human rights as the most important international concerns facing the world today.

Standing Up for the Rights of Girls and Women

Photo credit: Girl Up

We work with the UN to advance equality for girls and women because every empowered girl or woman has the potential to transform her family, community, and society.

  • According to Family Planning 2020, as of July 2018, the total number of women and girls using a modern method of contraception in the world’s 69 lowest-income countries had grown to more than 317 million. This is 46 million additional users than existed in 2012, the year FP2020 was launched — an increase that is approximately 30% greater than the historic trend. The partnership continued to grow in 2018, and now includes 44 countries, among other partners that have made commitments. Additionally, through an innovative partnership with CARE, FP2020 is working at the country level to support access to family planning in emergencies.
  • Amid attacks on women’s reproductive health and rights in the U.S. and abroad, the Universal Access Project (UAP) helped safeguard critical U.S. funding for international reproductive health and family planning. UAP also continued to engage with U.S. media to raise awareness of women’s health issues and the work of UNFPA, as well as with leaders in the private sector on the need to reach more women with reproductive health information and services.
  • Girl Up has impacted the lives of more than 84,000 girls through its leadership development programs in 2,500 clubs across 103 countries. Girl Up trains girls to act for gender equality through advocacy, fundraising for UN programs, and raising awareness of girls’ rights and issues. In 2018, Girl Up launched a STEM for Social Good program to promote leadership in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.
  • BNY Mellon and the UN Foundation released a report, “Powering Potential: Increasing Women’s Access to Financial Products and Services,” which found that closing the gender gap in women’s access to financial products and services could help achieve the SDGs and unlock $330 billion in global annual revenue.
  • The 3D Program for Girls & Women brought together government, civil society, and the private sector to drive convergent action for girls and women in India’s Maharashtra State. Key steps include the creation of a planning committee within local government to address rural girls and women’s needs in health, education, rural development, and other sectors. It also helped provide support for the health, safety, and livelihoods of urban waste pickers, over 75% of whom are women.

Strengthening the Health of Children and Families

Photo credit: Nothing But Nets

Healthy families are the foundation for thriving communities. We work to help the UN prevent disease and deliver better health for all.

  • Additionally, at the invite of the World Health Organization, we helped launch the WHO-Civil Society Organization Task Team to create recommendations for strengthening civil society engagement with WHO.
  • We co-hosted the second Call to Action on antimicrobial resistance, bringing 250 people together to share insights and solutions to address this major global problem.
  • The UN Foundation supported global and national processes on polio transition and action on measles, rubella, and tuberculosis through robust civil society engagement.
  • From refugee populations in sub-Saharan Africa to indigenous populations in Latin America and the Caribbean, this year Nothing But Nets continued its lifesaving work helping UN agencies and partners protect families in Venezuela, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Malawi, Nigeria, and South Sudan from malaria. The campaign activated tens of thousands of supporters to advocate for vital funding for UN programs, the President’s Malaria Initiative, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. To date, the Nothing But Nets community has helped deliver more than 12 million bed nets to families in need. In the last decade, the world has cut malaria deaths by more than half.
  • This year, Shot@Life advocates helped protect more than $580 million in U.S. government investments in global childhood immunization programs. Shot@Life granted $3 million to UNICEF and WHO to support their work vaccinating millions of children against measles, polio, pneumonia, and rotavirus. It also trained 400 champions to advocate for global childhood immunization programs. Since 1990, vaccines have contributed to a worldwide 58% decrease in the deaths of children under 5.
  • Partners of the Clean Cooking Alliance have helped more than 115 million people gain access to cleaner, more efficient stoves and fuels — helping to improve health, protect the climate and environment, empower girls and women, and improve livelihoods. The alliance also hosted the first-ever Clean Cooking Investment Forum as part of its focus on accelerating the growth of the clean cooking market.

Leveraging Data for a Better Future

Photo credit: DIAL

We bring together partners to leverage data and technology for sustainable development and to promote cooperation in the digital age.

  • The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data launched the Africa Regional Data Cube, a new tool that is helping Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania harness satellite data to address food security, agriculture, deforestation, and water access issues. It also welcomed Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic as country partners. And it worked with the Gates Foundation, donors, and UN agencies to launch the “50 X 2030” initiative — an ambitious effort to improve farming data in 50 countries to help end hunger.
  • In partnership with the International Telecommunications Union, the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) unveiled a new digital investment framework and global call to action to encourage countries to make smarter, more comprehensive investments in information and communications technology to achieve the SDGs. On other fronts, DIAL advanced work to leverage mobile distribution channels and promote the access and use of network data for development initiatives.
  • In 2018, Data2X brought the importance of data communication to the forefront of the data conversation, making the case for how better gender data can lead to better policy decisions for girls and women. Its call for “Gender Data Impact Stories” garnered over 60 responses, and Data2X led six panels showcasing the link between communications and data at a number of key UN moments this year.

Supporting the UN’s work on Peace, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Response

Photo credit: Giles Clarke for OCHA

In a world of rising tensions and persistent crises, we support the UN’s peace, human rights, and humanitarian efforts that are needed more than ever.

  • The UN Foundation organized learning opportunities for policymakers to see firsthand the work of UN peacekeeping missions in Liberia, Lebanon, and Mali. As UN peacekeeping turned 70 years old, we honored peacekeepers who put their lives on the line with one of our annual Global Leadership Awards. Additionally, we worked to raise awareness of the value of peacekeeping among the public and our sister organizations mobilized Americans to advocate for U.S. funding for peacekeeping.
  • In 2018, the UN Foundation continued to highlight the UN’s lifesaving humanitarian work, including communications on the UN Central Response Fund, profiles of UN humanitarian workers, and an end-of-year campaign to support the UN’s humanitarian fund for Yemen.
  • Throughout 2018, the UN Foundation and UNA-USA raised awareness of the UN’s human rights work and the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through events and communications. This culminated in events on December 10 in Los Angeles with the UN Human Rights Office, the Los Angeles mayor’s office, and the University of Southern California, which highlighted solutions from high school students and activists to stand up for human rights.
  • The UN Foundation partnered with Gap Inc, H&M, and Kenneth Cole Productions to raise awareness and support for UN Free & Equal, a global public information initiative advancing the fair treatment and equal rights of LGBTI people everywhere.

As 2018 comes to a close, we are also gearing up for an important 2019, which will include major gatherings at the UN for world leaders to step up action on climate change and the SDGs — opportunities we need to make sure they seize.

Visit to join our community to support the UN and protect progress for everyone, everywhere.