Intergenerational Dialogues on the Sustainable Development Goals

Alexa Ward
August 1, 2017 - UN HQ, New York  

Deputy Director of WFWPI UN Office Serves as Rapporteur in Dialogues

The UN Department of Public Information (DPI) and the NGO DPI Executive Committee hosted an event, "Intergenerational Dialogues on the Sustainable Development Goals," on August 1, 2017, in the UN Headquarters in New York. The event was chaired by Mr. Jeffrey Brez, Chief of NGO Relations and Advocacy at DPI.

The Opening Plenary featured three prominent UN leaders. The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, sent a message of encouragement to the participants. "We have no greater partner than you, the non-governmental organizations. Today, you reach across generations to help realize the 2030 agenda, a life of dignity for all people." He closed his remarks with, "The UN is committed to working with you for a more peaceful, just and prosperous future for all."

The Honorable Peter Thomson, President of the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly, began his remarks with a personal insight, "In your 60s, you are at the top of your game. I intend to spend my 70s in a similar vein. Why shouldn't the older generation do what it is expected to do, and pass down insight and wisdom to the younger generation?" He offered his recipe for a sustainable place for humanity on this planet. "Young people need to take ownership for these goals, and we the older people who made these things the way they are, also need to take responsibility and work with them to make these seventeen Sustainable Development Goals achievable by 2030."

The UN Envoy on Youth, Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake, who was on the job for less than two weeks, opened her remarks with, "Solidarity across generations is key for social development, and for this we require new approaches in the workforce, in education and in social and economic development." She concluded with a call to action that highlighted the following principles: sharing decision-making power equally and ensuring meaningful participation of young people; recognizing the right to participate as a basic human right and practically engaging young people in planning, implementing and evaluating work and programs related to present and future challenges; and combining the unique skills, insight and experience of each generation.

Following the Opening Plenary, the event broke into six breakout sessions, referred to as "Dialogues." Alexa Ward, Deputy Director of the WFWPI UN Office, served as the rapporteur for Dialogue 1, which covered "Breaking the Intergenerational Cycle of Poverty." One of the four speakers, Patricia Talisse, a young Syrian woman, shared a number of insights. "The global community sees poverty as a problem that needs fixing, whereas hope and resilience are more important than knowledge,"said Ms. Talisse. "If you put any person in the center of their choices, you will see lasting changes...Empowerment is a circle, not top down or bottom up,"she concluded.

The Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the UN, H.E. Mr. Hahn Choong Hee, remarked "We can be the first generation to end poverty and the last generation to save the planet." He called for intergenerational dialogue to "focus on partnership, which includes all stakeholders,"and spoke on "the need to emphasize values, which are conveyed from parents to children and through schools."
The Former President of the NAACP, Mr. Cornell William Brooks, contributed, "Barriers that keep people locked in intergenerational poverty include racial and ethnic segregation, poor schools, under capitalization of poor communities, and communities that have been robbed of their social capital." He asserted, "The right to vote is central to alleviating poverty," and "the notion of poverty as a choice is a myth."

Ms. Anne Williams-Isom, with the Harlem Children's Zone, spoke of the organization's goal to end generational poverty by working with families over a long period of time. Their programs impact 12,500 children and 12,000 adults, and have resulted in an impressive 100% readiness for school.

Participants in Dialogue I offered the following suggestions: voices of the youth should be incorporated into every decision at the UN; create a senior-level position at the UN to screen all programs for youth; focus on and expand participation, protection and empowerment; assess people as humans; drop assessment by race and class; leverage and harness the power of technology; and provide women and non-traditional borrowers with access to capital.

The day ended with the Closing Plenary, which focused on actions through new partnerships with a call for commitments from participants.