Today marks the 70th anniversary of the ratification of the United Nations Charter. I often wonder what it would have been like to sit in the room when the United Nations Charter was being signed. Did those in attendance know that this was a landmark occasion that would herald an era of international cooperation, consensus and most of all global peace and prosperity?
It would have been virtually impossible for signatories to the Charter to have imagined the unprecedented advances in technology and creativity that have been unleashed into the world 70 years later. This begs the question – how relevant is UN today?
On 25th September 2015, the United Nations adopted the post 2015 development agenda. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with its accompanied 169 targets illustrate the ambition of the 193 countries that form the United Nations. The SDGs, otherwise known as the Global Goals, are aggressive in their ambition to end poverty and hunger, protect the planet and ensure all human beings can lead prosperous lives in peace and free from fear and violence.
Much like its predecessor the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Global Goals provide the framework for an international call to action on the development challenges facing all nations - big and small. The latter propelled much movement in the global community, particularly among developing countries including my native country of Trinidad and Tobago where the MDGs were the basis of development assistance frameworks between the government and the UN Country Team. The Global Goals will do the same and will also hold more developed countries accountable.
After a month or so at the RSA I see a striking similarity between the aspirations of the Global Goals and the heritage and legacy of the RSA. Who would have thought that a small gathering in a London coffee shop would lead to the creation of an institution that has had such a significant impact on society, both in the UK and beyond its shores? For example, International Day of the Girl which recently gathered global support for a girl’s right to education made me think about the RSA’s work in 1871, which formed a committee to ‘promote the better education of girls in all classes.’
Even the legacy of RSA Premiums, which was at the heart of William Shipley’s vision, and arguably one of the first open innovation competitions, sought to encourage fresh thinking to create solutions to the challenges of the day. The development of the chimney sweeping brush to avoid small children cleaning chimneys in 1805 was one such outcome of the Premiums.Although it may not seem ground-breaking today, there are similarities with many innovation competitions around the world – from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Reinvent the Toilet Challenge in which grants are offered to bring about sustainable sanitation solutions, to the Amplify programme run by OpenIDEO.
However, the SDGs are not without its critics. Key criticisms are that the number of goals are too many to communicate effectively, and the range of targets sought to appease all parties involved means a risk of losing focus on arriving at achievable outcomes. While these are valid, it is important to understand that they do not discredit the ambition of the global community – and it is this energy behind ambition upon which we should focus.
According to Jeffery Sachs, who chaired the group of experts advising the UN on the goals, “the Sustainable Development Goals will provide the overarching narrative or explanation of how to make the world function adequately for its inhabitants and for the next generation.”
The SDGs provide the countries of the United Nations - and therefore the peoples of the world – a platform to engage in a conversation central to their development and future. It places the goals and its aspirations in the hands of the people.
Interestingly, isn’t this what the RSA also represents in this exciting and yet disruptive era of the 21st Century? A space that can enable people the freedom to choose the life he or she desires. The Power to Create the creative life that person wants. We do live in challenging times. These challenges are pushing us to innovate and invent new ways of doing and living. In a sense, this is calling us to a higher purpose and sense of ourselves.
So on this day, United Nations Day, in the 70 years since its creation, I am interested in learning about how you, dear reader, see yourself taking action on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Are you working on a project or part of an initiative that is aligned to any of the Global Goals? What do you think the RSA can do? Email me or tweet us@theRSAorg using #RSAGlobal