The 'great and the good' meet to promote UN Global Goals

A diverse coalition of figures from the movie and music industries to fantastically wealthy philanthropists, human rights leaders, politicians, and diplomats are pushing an internationalist agenda to solve some of the world’s most deep-seated problems despite the rise of nativism and populism.

While critics and commentators more on the right of politics may see the Goalkeepers as what the British call a collection of the “great and good”  – “woolly liberals” others may say  –  the coalition has the backing of the United Nations in its efforts to draw attention to its Global Goals.

The 17 goals, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals, replaced the eight Millennium Development Goals devised in 2000 , a plan that the UN said resulted in “the most successful anti-poverty movement in history.” The targets promote improvements on big issues of poverty, public health and security.

The UN Global Goals (Image: United Nations)

After the rise of populism reflected in the election of President Donald J. Trump, the “Brexit” vote to take Britain out of the European Union, and the associated rejection of multilateral approaches to tackling inequity and human rights, the Goalkeepers are determined to show that there’s still power in cooperative action under the banner of the United Nations.

New Zealand-born British filmmaker Richard Curtis, one of those behind the Goalkeepers, told WikiTribune in a telephone interview that bringing together such a diverse group is a sign of strength, not impotence.

“I do feel there’s a really interesting young upcoming generation that is being inspired to take up action and justice,” he said.

This is for everyone

Curtis founded Project Everyone, a charity with the mission to promote the Global Goals. He told WikiTribune ahead of the event in New York that he has concerns about progress on major world issues in an era when Trump was elected on a populist platform, Britain broke with the European Union and when the news can seem to be dominated by a nuclear crisis in North Korea and terrorism. “But that should just increase our determination, imagination, resourcefulness,” he said.

Pakistani girls’ and women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai will speak as will British entertainer Stephen Fry. Bill and Melinda Gates are hosting the event. It is running alongside the General Assembly ,  the annual pinnacle of global diplomacy and the first to be addressed by President Trump.

His predecessor, President Barack Obama, leads the list of international figures from politics, industry, philanthropy, and entertainment at Global Goals, one of his first keynote speeches since leaving office.

Former President Obama giving a speech at Goalkeepers 2017
Former President Barack Obama addresses the Goalkeepers crowd in Manhattan (Photo: Lydia Morrish)

Some have questioned the principle of the goals and suggested there’s a lack of analysis and justification that will make it hard to measure the achievements against organic development. One common critique is that progress was underway anyway. For example, a 2015 Financial Times editorial (paywall) likened the Millennium Development Goals to “bureaucratic accounting exercises with scant impact on reality” and said the new Sustainable Development Goals are “likely to contribute little but confusion.”

However, a study by U.S.-based think-tank The Brookings Institution found at least 21 million lives were saved due to accelerated progress. Yet advances in water supply and combatting undernourishment in some countries were outweighed by a slowdown in more populous countries. For example, China and India are large developing countries that are considered to be independent of multilateral system efforts related to the goals.

A global call to action

There are three core initiatives: to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030. The goals include: quality education, zero hunger, gender equality, clean water, affordable and clean energy, and climate action.

Curtis is determined that his Project Everyone team works on “all sorts of mediums” to promote an understanding of the problems the new goals are trying to address and the progress already made.

“On the radio, on TV, online, using popular music, using simple and strong design. We’re trying to make things fun, simple, passionate  – and for mass consumption and inspiration,” he told WikiTribune.

“Our first job has been to make the goals themselves have a visual identity, so they become something that people recognize, know about, can see movements and businesses and charities and initiatives are aligned to. Then, it’s the normal business of trying to make films that make people passionate and drive them towards action.”

Curtis was formally appointed as a UN Sustainable Development Goals Advocate.

Philanthropy is big business

We asked him whether he was concerned that as philanthropy by the immensely wealthy overtakes government spending in some areas, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation arguably has in some areas health care in Africa, governmental efforts will be replaced or displaced.

“I hope that when properly applied it does the opposite,” Curtis said. “It discovers new things, new information, new answers to pass on to governments and work with governments on. I think the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is an excellent example of the benign influence and pressure on governments to focus on the goals.”

On top of the goals themselves, Curtis said what is also imperative to achieve them is “leadership, courage, risk, passion, technology, money, bravery  –  from a huge number of people.”

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