“The world is yearning for a society that is safe, equitable and inclusive of all, especially those left the furthest behind.” Rachael Rinaldo
Having recently attended the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) on behalf of the World YMCA, the above sentiment has stuck with me. The world, not just the United States, the United Kingdom or Asia, but the world, billions of people around the world, is yearning for communities to be safe, viable, inclusive, equitable, accessible and sustainable, not only for the privileged, but for all members of society, especially those left the farthest behind. That would include people with disabilities, LGBTQI, impoverished youth, women, indigenous communities, refugees, asylum seekers and the list goes on.
Many times leadership’s vision is tunneled and the focus is on the biggest, the richest or the most populated countries or territories. They lead with white fragility and tend to forget those who live in some of the darkest, poorest, marginalized parts of the world. Where water is scarce, where food is non-existent, where the ability for an education is nil and where the power sits at the top, never trickling down to where it matters.
The HLPF was an eye opening experience that gave me greater insight into the disparities, and efforts to lessen the gap in those disparities. Efforts that at times seem fruitless when they appeared to be isolated at the government levels and not in collaboration with civil society and local communities. Issues focused on education, gender equality and inclusion, climate action and peaceful, just and strong institutions swirled around in leader’s prepared remarks.
For me, as a passionate employee of a not-for-profit, it was not those remarks that spurred my thoughts or sent ripples of angst down the nerves of my spine. It was the “others,” those who had a seat around the perimeter of the council chambers, not in the center (another vision of oppression) who challenged my thoughts, who planted seeds that grew into questions, questions that I ask of myself daily and I challenge you to ask the same! What am I doing to support those farthest behind? What is the organization I work for doing to insure we are reaching those in the deepest, most remote parts of the world to insure they, too, can thrive? What role do I play in my local community? Am I enough of an advocate to institute changes? Are we, collectively, “enough” to institute change? With 70 million displace individuals around the world, 342 million living in extreme poverty – 85 million more who will be malnourished and 85% of people with disabilities living in poverty, where do we start? How do we formulate a plan, through an alliance that reaches 60 million people a year, to effect change? The answer comes easily: the same way we have been doing it for 175 years!
The cost of implementing SDG plans for a country are staggering, literally in the billions of dollars and literally unaffordable for many. This is one reason, amongst many, of why dozens of individuals stated that progress on Agenda 2030 is severely behind and will probably not be achieved in time. Poverty will rise, climate change will persist and those farthest behind now will be even further behind. The fast pace of technology and climate change will add an additional layer for those who live in impoverished or marginalized communities to navigate. Resources are scarce, education is neither accessible nor equitable and those who need to be at the table simply are not invited.
We must be better than this. We need to remember that the micro and the macro are mirror images. Internal and external work is critical. In the great words of Albert Einstein, remember “you cannot solve a problem from the consciousness that created it.” Change is necessary.
Inspiration comes easily when you meet individuals like Emem J. Okon, Executive Director of the Kebetkache Women Development & Resource Center in Nigeria, or three time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Scilla Elworthy. Two powerful women, one focused on Gender Training and the other on preventing war and creating communities of peace that is, stopping the cycle of violence in its tracks. Take the time to look both of them up; research their work and see the impact they are making, across sectors, communities and continents.
Take inventory of the 17 Sustainable Development goals. Chose one that incites your passion and then start taking action to eradicate the problem and elevate solutions!
Rachael Rinaldo, Senior Director for Global Partnerships and New Americans Initiative (YMCA of Greater New York)
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the official position of the World YMCA.