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 member of the UN Innovation Network and as a delegate to the UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, I contribute to mainstreaming the role of human-centered design and innovation for achieving the SDGs.
Given the complexity of the problems on which the SDGs focus, there is no doubt that innovation will be crucial to addressing such challenges.
From the Streets of the Arab Spring 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 significant youth unemployment rates in several regions of the world, including Europe. As the representative of AEGEE at the United Nations, I sought to bring youth — more than half of the world's population — into the spotlight of the UN agenda.
Through several inputs at UN conferences and consultations, 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 Agenda
Sustainable Development emerged as a top UN priority in the early 2010s, when I became a Civil Society Representative at the United Nations on behalf of AEGEE. My work in this area focused on the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, the biggest summit in UN history, and on the process that led to it.
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 Major Groups, to advocate the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the Government of Colombia and picked up by the 64th UN DPI Conference in Bonn in 2011. We also requested more collaboration between senior and young leaders beyond Rio+20 to achieve sustainable development and protect future generations.
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.