We are the future

We are the future: an event on innovative partnerships for achieving the SDGs

Since the historical endorsement in 2015 of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Global Goals week is organized in New York as world leaders gather for the yearly UN General Assembly opening. The week brings together actors from all parts of society: engaged individuals, governments, businesses, international organizations, NGOs and others, to explore and promote ideas, solutions and partnerships aimed at the achievement of the SDGs.

This year, the United Nations Foundation and the Skoll Foundation organized the event We the Future: Accelerating Sustainable Development Solutions as part of this week of inspiration and mobilization. The event emerged from the conviction that incremental change will not be enough if we are to achieve the ambitious and integrated SDGs by 2030. Profound, systemic change is needed and innovation and partnerships must be the key drivers. Bold models of systemic change used on local, regional, and global levels were discussed in a variety of sessions, all live streamed and now available as recordings on Facebook.

We have delved into three of these sessions, paying particular attention to how ICTs and their relation to development and partnerships were discussed. Enjoy!

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1) The session Moonshots: How Transformative Change is Made, included an interview by Julie Hanna (Kiva Mozilla) of entrepreneur Astro Teller (Moonshots, Google X). The interview revolved around Teller’s “Moonshots” philosophy: creating totally new ideas able to bring radical solutions to the world’s greatest problems. Teller confirmed that in most cases “there has to be a hard technology core to it” in order to achieve such radical solutions.

However, the talk did not turn into technicalities, but rather focused on the morality, passion and motivation behind X projects. “Dreams aren’t just a vision, they are also action…”, “Being passionate is inspiring…”, but also “be passionately dispassionate”, that is, to be bold about the unfeasibility of an idea, and be able to keep that passion for long term are some of the striking thoughts shared by both Teller and Hanna.

“Silicon Valley is guilty of many sins, but lack of ambition is not one of them”, as E. Morozov stated in his book To Save Everything, Click Here. X’s Project Loon, briefly explained by Teller during the conversation, is a very good example not only of ambition, but also of feasibility as it recently provided crucial data to affected people by the floods in Peru, for instance.

As Morozov points out: “These, after all, are the same people who are planning to scan all the world’s books and mine asteroids. Ten years ago, both ideas would have seemed completely crazy; today, only one of them does”.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/TeXrY4YCzpQ[/youtube]

 

2) The session  Model for Change: Unlocking Capital Flows focused on how to finance the SDGs. The challenges that have to be overcome to achieve the goals are discussed together with what type of partnerships that are emerging. The panel states that it is not enough with private and governmental funding. Therefore private investors need to be mobilized into impact engagement, so called impact investing, where an input of funding becomes an outcome even for profit-making companies.

Examples of impact investing companies are Align17 and The Rise Fund and one example of a NGO that are collaborating with impact investing companies is educate girls. All three are represented in this session, where they discuss profit-making companies’ potential and readiness to invest in aid and development and how impact investing organizations can help companies to missionize their funding, so it becomes an outcome that fits with the company’s profile.

One challenge that was discussed is the ability to measure and communicate the outcomes for them to be digestible by the audience. Track records are needed to make it understandable and to show the real benefits. The importance of collecting data and transforming it into social value is also mentioned. Today there are already some computer systems that are used to measure over time how private investments make impact and what the investors can expect to get in return, and this needs to be developed further to encourage increased private funding.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/-sA7VI-h8Go[/youtube]

 

3) The session Data-driven Approaches centered around how data is an important and valuable element for reaching the SDGs, and established that data inputs should be from everyone in order to provide solutions for everyone. Activist and data experts agreed that there is a need to look carefully at the type of data we collect and the source of these data in order to gain beneficial outputs.

The speakers stress the idea of “Participation and inclusion” as two major principles to reach the SDGs. Thus the need to work through a more comprehensive approach that bring resources, knowledge, and ICT solutions together is a key factor to cover existing gaps and respond to global problems.

Data is important for everyone; it enables us to make good decisions in all life aspects such as health, economy, educations, safety, and policies. The quality of the data we collect determine the quality of our possible solutions.

Data equality can help to achieve gender equality, which, together with fighting corruption, are two examples of how good data can work to facilitate good decisions and fill existing gaps. Also consumers’ data has the potential to tell new things and help to make the world a better place, if used in a way that promotes social equity.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/M4Go06Vsgbc[/youtube]

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As most other big and resource-intense events today, We the Future relied heavily on ICTs for publicity. It has a dedicated website and used social media, including tags and hash-tags, to reach out beyond the on-site audience. As noted, all sessions were live-streamed and recorded.

The physical event took place at the TED Theater in New York, and many of the sessions actually resembled the dynamic and direct TED-talk advocacy style. The paper TED Talks on International Development: Trans-Hegemonic Promise and Ritualistic Constraints questions whether the TED format is conductive of social change and suggests that it is actually more of a traditional information dissemination format, rather than the interactive and progressive communication tool it is sometimes claimed to be.

We were a bit surprised that the We the Future panelists didn’t attempt to interact more with their online audience, considering the important digital outreach strategy applied. In the sessions we watched, questions were only collected from the floor. To us, the strength of this event lies mainly in the interesting mix of panelists from a bread spectrum of sectors and fields, as well as its availability also to a distance audience. However, in order to fuel real exchange of experiences and challenges ahead, a truly interactive format would probably have been more effective.

 

By: Ali, Clara, Pau and Sara

 

Reading used for this article:

Morozov, E. 2013: To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, New York, NY: Public Affairs.