Why Will Beyonce, the President and the Pope Cause a Major Manhattan Traffic Jam This Week?

Photos from left to right by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images/AFP, Mandel Ngan/AFP and Vincenzo Pinto/AFP.

We know, it sounds like the start of a corny joke, but if you don’t believe us, get on Google and look up “UNGA.”

Starting Sept. 15, UNGA — the United Nations General Assembly — kicked off its 70th annual assembly, and this year’s is a big one. Not only will Beyonce, the pope and the president be there, but so will Usain Bolt, One Direction and all 193 members of the U.N.

So why all the big fuss for a yearly U.N. get-together? Because of these: the Sustainable Development Goals.

Boiled down, these are a 17-item “to-do” list to be accomplished by 2030; they’ll outline the things we want to do to lift people out of suffering, preserve the environment and combat inequality (among other equally awesome things).

Unofficially termed “the Global Goals,” the secretary-general of the U.N. says that the last set of goals, the Millennium Development Goals, which we’ve been working on for the past 15 years, helped lift more than 1 billion people out of extreme poverty and have gotten more girls in school than ever before.

Young women study at Saffa Girls’ School, one of the 57 schools that are part of the USAID’s Model School Network Program in the West Bank. / Bobby Neptune for USAID.

So we’ve already made some pretty great progress (check out some of our more captivating stories at our Extreme Possibilities storytelling hub) but our work to make the world a better place isn’t done yet, and that’s why these Global Goals are making such a stir. Everyone — from celebrities to politicians to philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates — has a stake in human progress, and that’s why they’re willing to show up to UNGA and take a hand in creating a better tomorrow.

You don’t have to be at UNGA to get involved with the Global Goals, though.

Mary J. Blige spreads a positive message about empowerment during the Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day, an event organized by the Global Poverty Project, on the National Mall on April 18 in Washington, D.C. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID.

The Global Poverty Project is an organization that’s working to create a new generation of Global Citizens who can help end extreme poverty in the next 15 years. By amplifying the voices of people and groups who can make a difference, they’re empowering us all to get things done. (P.S. they also put on some pretty awesome concerts.)

What’s another way to get involved? Check out USAID’s new Development Innovations Venture Global Goals Innovation Challenge, a contest we’re launching at UNGA where ideas are submitted — from whoever, wherever — as to how to solve development challenges. Think of it this way: People have good ideas on how to make the world a better place, people submit their ideas to the DIV contest, then USAID funds the ideas and uses them to propel human progress forward. Cool, eh?

We get it — the goings-on of the U.N. aren’t usually on your “things I care about at the moment” list. But maybe they should be. Because there’s a lot at stake here, and if we want to, we can help bring about some pretty amazing change. Plus, let’s be honest — if Beyonce, the president and the pope are going to be there, it’s got to be good, right?

About the Author:

Clara Wagner is a freshman at Tufts University who spent the spring semester of her gap year interning at USAID’s Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs. She’s now majoring in International Relations and Film and Media Studies; she one day hopes to continue her work in the areas of international development and non-fiction storytelling.

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