The streets of New York have unequivocally been consumed. Presidential motorcades, diplomatic carpools, corporate leaders, nonprofit executives, and actor/actress missionaries flooded the Big Apple over the last three days for what could only be considered the greatest and perhaps most traffic-heavy convening of thought leaders in our lifetime. Capping off the historic Papal visit, and flooded with optimism, world leaders launched the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly by adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the visionary outcomes the development community must achieve by 2030 to keep our planet from imploding (seriously).
Photo from Social Good Summit, New York City
The SDGs are quite possibly the most important set of statements agreed to by World leaders in my lifetime given the almost insurmountable challenges we face environmentally, socially, economically and politically. In addition to the launch of the SDGs (which came with associated side meetings, convenings and leadership pow-wows) New York hosted the Annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting in Times Square (cue those of us who questioned why one of the largest global gatherings of development leaders would be scheduled in the busiest corner of our country at the same time all World leaders were just down the street. Good thing I had my walking shoes with me!) which drew nearly every influential non profit, corporate, and humanitarian leader into one hotel for three days to commit to solving our world’s problems (augmented by the newly minted SDGs against which organizations will measure success.)
One can only imagine the energy that buzzed throughout the city. Being a part of the madness these last few days was an unforgettable experience. I feed off of the anticipation and inspiration that comes from smart and creative people joining forces to solve insanely tough problems like climate change and world hunger. It was an honor to stand on the corner of 46th and 1st in front of the UN diplomatic entrance as I waited for the President’s motorcade to pass before I could attend my side session inside the UN offices. It was wonderful to run into friends and colleagues outside the Sheraton where CGI meetings ran through the day. It was invigorating to talk with corporate and non-profit leaders about how they will partner to manage the SDGs. I would not have traded this experience, even with the crazy traffic, hot temps and mad schedules. Yet I could not help but wonder about how to best capture this palpable energy, the resources and leverage of all of the amazing minds that filled the city over the last few days.
Imagine if we had taken every commitment made at CGI, and asked each participant at every other meeting held in New York over the last week to make a commitment, too. Imagine every organization leaving UN side meetings or the Social Good Summit (where we were told by famous faces like Victoria Beckham, Paul Polman, Charlize Theron and Helen Clark to #TellEveryone about the SDGs), or luncheons and breakfasts having made a commitment that they stand by, to deliver something tangible in relation to the SDGs. Would that not amplify the impact of all of us being together in one square mile over three days to solve the world's problems?
Discussions are rich, don’t get me wrong. I am inspired by each and everyone I met over the last few days and their willingness to listen, learn and engage on new levels of thinking. But I want to see more action - real movement that will solve our real problems.
As an example, after a side meeting I attended at the UN Monday, one corporate participant and I were discussing the outcome, and neither of us could articulate what we had spent the last hour and a half discussing. The attendees were some of the highest level thinkers on SDG #2 (ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture) and we discussed some ways that organizations are already addressing the challenge. But the result was simply a sharing of ideas. Sure one of the leading UN organizations suggested we all join forces and engage in their initiative but is that really enough to achieve the transformation we need?
This corporate colleague of mine said the patience to engage in these dialogues is waning. That companies want to move faster, more efficiently and with purpose. Each conversation had over the last three days during the most influential meetings on development we’ve seen in years could and should lead to action. I want every individual contributing their time, energy and thought leadership to effect change by making his or her own commitment today. Together we can act on those commitments with the passion I heard and saw at the UN and elsewhere this week. We can conclude that the last three days of passionate talking and sharing was for true purpose – to move the needle and advance the SDGs with fortitude.