Photo credit: SDG Global Festival of Action - Photo: 2019

Global Festival Looks Beyond Promises of Agenda 2030

By Sean Buchanan

BONN (IDN) – The SDG Global Festival of Action, which takes place in Bonn every year, is an occasion for bringing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) campaigners and multi-stakeholder partners together for inspiring and broadening the global movement to take action for the SDGs.

It provides a dynamic and interactive space to showcase the latest innovations, tools and approaches to SDG advocacy and SDG action.

Leaders from governments, local authorities, international organisations, civil society, activists, young advocates, the creative industry and the private sector converge to scale up the impact of their work and formulate strategies for joint actions, while motivating new organisations and individuals to join the movement and take action for the SDGs.

The third edition of the three-day Festival, which was once again organised by the UN SDG Action Campaign and ended on May 4, saw over 1,700 participants from all over the world join in a jamboree of exchange, learning and co-creation, motivated by a common desire to push for accelerated action to achieve the SDGs.

The Festival took place just ahead of the High-Level Political Forum on sustainable development scheduled at United Nations headquarters in New York in July, where voluntary national reviews by over 45 countries will focus on climate, inequality, peace, jobs and education.

In the run-up to the ten-year countdown to the 2030 target date for the SDGs next year, activists and high-level participants at this year’s Festival advocated for change and committed themselves to concrete action.

With some countries sharing their successes, challenges and lessons learned at the Festival, Cristina Gallach, Spain’s High Commissioner for Agenda 2030, laid out how governments can use the SDGs as a framework for political action, emphasising that leadership, organisation and mobilisation are key to building alliances with the full spectrum of civil society.

At a local level, the City of Milan’s Vice Mayor Anna Scavuzzo and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Security Enrico Giovannini made a commitment to prepare their first voluntary local review taking into account citizens’ feedback.

The Festival also saw a preview of an Augmented Reality campaign by the UN, inviting everyone to start a butterfly effect to catalyse action for the SDGs. “This campaign underscores the essence of the SDGs: ambition, innovation, positivity and inclusion,” said Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed in a recorded video message.

#IAMSDG invites people everywhere to make their support of the goals visible while inspiring others, showing that individual action can have a transformative impact. By choosing the wings of their choice, people will start a butterfly effect for the causes they support. The organisers announced that while a full toolkit and campaign will be revealed soon, a beta site is already online under the heading: ‘What cause would you start a butterfly effect for?’.

Climate occupied a prominent position at the Festival, including discussions on deforestation, extreme weather, climate challenges and solutions. The United Nations climate action campaign, ActNow, using Artificial Intelligence to inspire individual action, was recognised at the SDG Action Awards.

A new initiative, #SummerOfSolutions, calling on young people to create innovative tech-based solutions for global challenges, was announced at the Festival. “This generation is one that is more involved in the climate crisis than ever before,” said Yassamin Ansari, Principal Advisor for Mission 2020 and part of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit Team. “Together, outrage and optimism can be a powerful combination for action.”

#SummerOfSolutions is organised by the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, in partnership with UN Technology and Innovation Labs and the UN Development Programme.

Festival participants also learned of another new initiative that offers young innovators recognition, resources and funding to scale up their projects for the SDGs. The project was announced by Christine Albrecht, Chief Strategy Officer for Junior Chamber International (JCI), in partnership with the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Mobile journalism was a hot topic during World Press Freedom Day on May 3, with Yusuf Omar, co-founder of Hashtag Our Stories, speaking about digital storytelling and giving examples of how citizen action at the grassroots level can spark true change in the world. “We are on the brink of another moment, a climate moment. This is not a future projection of what could happen – it is happening right now,” Omar said.

The overarching theme of the Festival was to move from awareness raising to action on the SDGs, with citizen engagement as an essential driver. Innovative citizen-driven projects such as Solar Mamas, which empowers women by teaching them the skills to build solar panels, or the ‘A White Dress Doesn’t Cover Rape’ movement, which managed to repeal a discriminatory law in Lebanon in just two years, were recognised at the SDG Action Awards.

Female participants as well as para athletes and persons with disabilities took centre stage – among them Eddie Ndopu, the Special Advisor for Impact and Corporate Sustainability to RTW Investments and soon to be appointed Sustainable Development Goals Advocate. “We are not just the beneficiaries of this Agenda, we are the leaders of this Agenda,” said Ndopu. “To give credence to the notion of leaving no one behind requires us to move from the back of the line to the front so we can lead.”

Closing the Festival, Marina Ponti, acting Global Director for the UN SDG Action Campaign, told participants: “Let’s nurture the energy we felt here – knowing that the real work starts when we go back home. Disruptive change does not happen in meetings – not even at our Festival – but we can use these meetings to be inspired, to raise the ambitions and to connect with others knowing that we are not alone in this quest.” 

However, Inge Kaul, knowledgeable observer of the sustainable development process having been first director of UNDP’s Office of the Human Development Report, questions the utility of the Festival with its cultural performances, SDG-related films and promotion of virtual and augmented reality.

Asking why hold a festival when there is still a long way to go to achieve the SDGs, Kaul argues that progress toward meeting the SDGs still faces a number of obstacles that require major reforms in the global economy and an improvement in the functioning of the system of international cooperation.

“This is not the time for fun travel from one international SDG meeting to another, a pattern that has become rather popular after 2015,” she told IDN. “Although networking, information sharing, and storytelling can be useful policy tools, there is no justification yet for holding a festival or getting into a festive mood.”

“In fact, doing so,” she continued, “can be construed as signalling a lack of respect not only for the deprived among the current and future generations, but for the planet as a whole.

Kaul recognises that while the knowledge and resources needed to tackle today’s many challenges – such as climate change, human trafficking, illicit trade and tax evasion, war, international terrorism, and conflict driving people to migrate – are available, she told IDN that the key element preventing scaled-up and accelerated progress is missing: the willingness to act both unilaterally and collectively with the necessary sense of urgency.

“Such a shift from slow to quick policymaking calls for a worldwide action on part of the truly determined, realistic yet ambitious change advocates urging policymakers to act now and to do all what others cannot do better to ensure that problems not only get addressed in a piecemeal manner, off and on, but rather actually get resolved decisively.”

This, she continued, could “revitalise the global public’s and policymakers’ willingness to cooperate and innovate and move us forward toward global sustainable growth and development.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 07 May 2019]

Photo credit: SDG Global Festival of Action

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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