Civil Society Leaders for the Global Goals

By Gabriel Risk Martins, GenUN Fellow – Western Region

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The Sustainable Development Goals were established in 2015 by 193 United Nations’ Member States as part of the Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As implied by the name, the 17 Goals were put in place to ensure prosperous and equitable sustainable development for all while protecting our planet and biosphere.

Even though Member States commit themselves to ensuring the progress and completion of the targets to their capacities, civil society still plays a large role in accelerating the process. In honor of our upcoming focus on the Global Goals for United Nations Day 2017, I wanted to feature five people who are helping to spur progress for the Global Goals. This UN Day, think about local leaders in your community who are making a small, tangible differences each day to advance the 2030 agenda and recognize them with UNA-USA’s UN Day toolkit.

1- Malala Yousafzai, Goals 4 and 5

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani student and education activist who began speaking out for girls’ education at the age of 11. After surviving an assassination attempt (shot in the head) by the Taliban at 15, she co-founded Malala Fund with her father Ziauddin and received the Nobel Peace Prize. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described her as "a brave and gentle advocate of peace who through the simple act of going to school became a global teacher.”. Through her Fund, Malala opened a school for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, that educates more than 200 girls from age 14 to 18. She started the movement #BooksNotBullets and continues to be an unparalleled advocate for education.

2- Leonardo DiCaprio, Goals 7, 13, 14, and 15.

Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General U.N. has stated, “Climate change is the single greatest threat to a sustainable future but, at the same time, addressing the climate challenge presents a golden opportunity to promote prosperity, security and a brighter future for all.”. Leonardo DiCaprio appears to echo this sentiment as he has been going all over the world, dedicating an immense amount of his time to fighting and creating awareness about against climate change, including presenting a $20 Million grant to aid the battle against global warming. In addition, DiCaprio created the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation to support projects around the world that build climate resiliency, protect vulnerable wildlife, and restore balance to threatened ecosystems and communities. The foundation has supported more than 200 projects in 50 countries, totaling more than $80 Million Dollars in donations. Thus, having a tremendous impact in helping us achieve the targets set by Goals 7, 11, 12, and 13.

3- Ertharin Cousin - Goal 2

Ertharin is the former Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme, the world’s largest aid agency fighting food insecurity and hunger, serving in the role from 2012-2017. She is one of the 100 most influential people in the world and ranked as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world. Prior to her job at the United Nations she was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture. Her goal is to eradicate world hunger during her lifetime. She has been working in the development of forecast-based financing models that can identify potential droughts and other climatic disasters before they occur, to be able to take more proactive measures, such as distributing drought-resistant seeds to farmers. This approach could allow countries to rise to the challenge before it becomes an emergency, saving money and lives. So far, the program has implemented in Guatemala, Niger, Sudan, the Philippines and Zimbabwe. In addition, during Hurricane Katrina, Ertharin was responsible for propelling the effort to provide more than 62 million lbs. of food to needy families in the Gulf Coast Region.

4- Dolores Huerta, Goals 1, 2, 8, and 10

Dolores Huerta founded the American Farm Workers Association and is a champion for laborers and civil rights. Her civil rights’ fight continues to earn her awards. She was the first Latina inducted to the National Women’s Hall of Fame and was awarded the Eugene V. Debs Foundation Outstanding American Award, the United States Presidential Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights and even the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Huertas coined the phrase “Si se puede!” During the darkest days of the labor movement, it was a common belief of the Latino leaders in the United States to say that the government was too powerful and that no matter how hard they fought, farm workers would never receive better working conditions. Huerta, alongside Cesar Chavez often heard “No, no se puede!” which means “No, no it can’t be done.” On one occasion, Huerta responded, “Si, si se puede!” or “Yes, yes it can be done.” Her words quickly became the rallying cry for farm workers everywhere, helping to yield many benefits in working and living conditions. Huerta continues to advocate on behalf of the poor and marginalized’ right to an equitable and safe environment.

5- Janet Mock, Goals 5 and 10

Janet Mock is a transgender civil rights activist and writer focused on civil rights, especially the rights of women and girls and the rights of the LGBTQI community. Janet Mock has founded #GirlsLikeUs and #TransBookDrive. She has went around the world to advocate for the rights of all people. She took the stage at the Women’s March on Washington, where she urged for an intersectional and inclusive movement that included all women: trans women, undocumented people, sex workers and disabled folk. She stated,“I stand here today, most of all, because I am my sister’s keeper…Our approach to freedom need not be identical, but it must be intersectional and inclusive.” Janet continues her fight by creating awareness through her books and advocacy efforts, continuing to change mainstream perceptions in order to create a society with less existential inequality where historically marginalized communities can feel safe and empowered. 

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