Diplomacy, Development, and the SDGs Shine Through at the UNGA

I am on my way home after a packed agenda in NYC for the UN General Assembly week or UNGA #72. Now I am decompressing and synthesizing what I learned. I feel exhausted and exhilarated; I am hopeful. The state of the world is precarious yet I feel cautiously optimistic that we will figure out the right path forward. There are too many smart and innovative people dedicated to this quest to let the status quo prevail. Despite the divide growing globally on the North Korea and the Iran issues, which is alarming, collective action is taking root in other areas that are germane to our work at Water For People. Here are my most inspiring takeaways as I strive to be a dedicated diplomat and a compassionate truth-teller of the world I work in, which is the half of the world that lives on less than $2.50 a day:

1. Education is the key to the future. Ghana had the courage to make education accessible to all through free secondary education. Imagine what a nation of 28 million can do with an educated population that has an average age of 20? Get ready!

2. Climate change is real. The millennials are the first generation to really see the effects of climate change, and they want to mitigate the damage and slow the progress. The World Economic Forum Global Shapers are taking it on as their #1 concern. Thousands of businesses, mayors, governors, and other leaders are also pushing for continued action with the We Are Still In (the Paris Agreement) movement. I support this 100%. As a Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur and environmental professional/protector, I intend to help the Global Shapers and the US leaders find solutions!

3. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are gaining momentum. The Skoll/TED/UN Foundation We The Future event about the SDGs was inspiring and thought provoking. While we are focused on SDG6 (sustainable water and sanitation for all) at Water For People , SDG17 (partnership) is another one that is extremely important for our success. We have partners in government, the private sector, other NGOs and civil society, academia, and in the communities where we work. It will take many more partnerships to solve the global water crisis. I have some new ideas for additional partnerships we can create after this UNGA that will potentially allow us to move faster.

4. Africa is the space to watch for the next decade. Spending some time talking with President Afuko-Addo this week, and hearing his speech to the UNGA, made me really believe that Ghana could win the race to the SDGs in Africa.

President Afuko-Addo addressing the UN (photo credit: www.myjoyonline.com)

He has the political will and the vision to make it happen, and can rally private investment to support public investment through his credibility and decisive actions. He is discarding the mindset of dependency. Go! Go! Go! It will be a neck-in-neck race with Rwanda to achieve the SDGs as President Kagame has his eyes on the prize too! I hope to see both countries get across the finish line together.

5. Emmanuel Jal’s story of surviving as a child soldier of South Sudan, and then dedicating his life to music, philanthropy, and activism to promote peace and reconciliation is… WOW — unbelievable. And humbling for us all. I really enjoyed hearing him speak with Ernesto Zedillo and Mary Robinson of The Elders at We The Future event. It was held on Peace Day and the speakers couldn’t have been better selected for this theme. What a wonderful combo of superstars.

6. Global development is still a US priority. I believe that there is a responsibility for nations that are wealthier to share their wealth and help pull the others up. Thankfully Mark Green demonstrated this very principle this week. Despite budget cuts, the US is still committed to aid. $800M was designated this week by USAID for Africa and the Middle East. Thank you, Mark, and you, fellow taxpayers.

7. Business can drive social impact, especially if it is a social benefit corporation. Nobel Laureate Mohamed Yunus said it so eloquently at We The Future:

Mohamed Yunus

“Creating a social business and putting the profit back into the business vs. keeping it for yourself is a selfless business” and is a proven way to make the world a better place. Being an advocate for empowered equality, I wholeheartedly agree! At Water For People we are always looking for corporate partners (for-profit corporate partners welcome too!) that can help us create sustainable local businesses through modeling, training, and empowering local entrepreneurs to ensure ongoing management of water and sanitation services.

Safeena Hussain, Georgie Bernadete, Maya Chorengel, and Matthew Bishop (moderator)

8. Women in finance are helping drive social change. The finance panel at We The Future was really interesting about impact investing and investing in performance-based education systems. Thought provoking for me… can we also use this performance-model for water and sanitation services? I say yes!

So it is a wrap. My head is full of new ideas. Now I need to unpack them with my team and take 1 or 2 forward and make them happen. As inspired by Astro Teller on Thursday at We The Future, I am off and running, and looking for moonshots!!

Parting words from Dalai Lama XIV: “Because we all share this small planet, we have to learn to live in harmony…”