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Fostering Innovation to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the United Nations and its member states have committed to, are the UN system's compass in responding to humanity's most pressing challenges. As a delegate to the UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum for the SDGs, I seek to mainstream the role of technology, business, human-centered design, and entrepreneurship towards the achievement of the SDGs.


There's plenty of untapped potential in how technology and business can help solve the systemic problems that the world is faced with. It is time to build and invest in more technology ventures that have baked in their DNA, from day one, the idea that companies exist to solve environmental and societal problems, and that generating profit is instrumental to achieving financial viability rather than being the sole goal of these companies. This is the cornerstone of my advocacy, which often leads to conversations about new practices, such as inclusive innovation for shared prosperity, and the institutional changes needed to diffuse such practices at scale.


Given my interest in climate/ocean/deep tech, I have provided the UN member states and the other UN STI stakeholders with recommendations on how to enable the emergence of such technologies, and have also spoken and written about technology frontiers such as marine carbon dioxide removal, an area I became interested in while teaching Hacking for Oceans.


From the Streets of Europe's Anti-Austerity Protests to Putting Young People at the Decision-making Tables

The youth-led Arab Spring, Occupy Movement, Anti-Austerity Protests in Europe, and the Chilean Student Movement emerged in the early 2010s along with rampant inequality and worrisome youth unemployment rates in several regions of the world, including Europe. As the representative of European students at the United Nations, I sought to bring youth — more than half of the world's population at the time — into the spotlight of the UN agenda.


Through joint efforts and coordinated inputs at the UN, a large number of UN Civil Society Representatives and I collectively demanded more and better representation of youth and future generations as important stakeholders of decisions taken within the UN system.


In 2012, the UN Secretary-General announced that “the largest generation of young people the world has ever known” became one of the top five priorities in his agenda. He also appointed the first ever UN Secretary-General Envoy for Youth, who would become the direct channel connecting the Secretary General's cabinet and the UN delegates focused on youth issues.

Shaping the Sustainable Development & Climate Agenda

The sustainable development and climate agenda became officially the top UN priority during the early to mid-2010s. Back then, I served as the Representative of AEGEE at the United Nations and my work on sustainable development was tied to the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Summit (the largest event in UN history), and on the institutional process that led to it and the successive UN COPs.


While the outcome text negotiated in Rio was not satisfactory, a number of impactful initiatives were created in the months leading to Rio+20 and at the summit. In Rio, governments agreed to a series of commitments to sustainable development, including more than $513 billion funds.


On behalf of AEGEE, I contributed to the Rio+20 Compilation Document that was used as a starting point for the negotiations. I also co-created a multi-stakeholder initiative, together with other members of the UN Major Groups, to advocate for the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a way of breaking silos and putting sustainability at the center of development goals. My colleagues and I also sought to better include the interests of youth and future generations in the framework. Successively, the SDGs were proposed by the Government of Colombia and picked up by the 64th UN DPI Conference in Bonn in 2011, and then the process continued all the way to Rio+20 and beyond. 


My most important contribution was obtaining support from the European Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potočnik, and from the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative David Nabarro. Potočnik was one of Rio+20's most influential negotiators representing more than 500 million EU citizens, and Nabarro was highly involved with the UN Secretary-General's work on Sustainable Development. As they joined our table, our requests gained legitimacy that extended well beyond that venue in Rio.


After Rio+20, the SDGs were formally established and Nabarro became the UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change.

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