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 response to humanity's most pressing challenges. As a delegate to the UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, I seek to mainstream the role of technology, human-centered design and entrepreneurship towards the achievement of the SDGs.

 

There's plenty of untapped potential in how technology can help solve the systemic problems that the world is faced with. It is time to start building more technology companies that have baked in their DNA, from day one, the idea that companies exist to solve social, health and environmental problems, and that generating profit is the right way to make these companies financially viable, rather than the sole goal they have. 

 

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 number of UN Civil Society Representatives and I collectively demanded more and better representation of young 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 grew as a top UN priority during the early to mid-2010s. Back then, I served as the Representative of European students at the United Nations on behalf of AEGEE, 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, various positive 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 and design of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a way of breaking silos to put sustainability at the center of development goals and to better include the interests of youth and future generations in the framework. The SDGs were proposed by the Government of Colombia and picked up by the 64th UN DPI Conference in Bonn in 2011, then the process continued all the way to Rio+20 and beyond. 

 

My most important contribution was obtaining the support of European Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potočnik, and of 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, while Nabarro was highly involved with the UN Secretary-General's work on Sustainable Development. As they joined our table, our requests gained legitimacy beyond that table 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.