Reaching the Summit – a celebration, and a massive to do list – Part 1

by 28th Sep 2015
UNGA 2015 UNGA 2015 UN Photo/ Loey Filipe

So we did it. On Friday the world gathered in New York, flags were raised for 193 countries including Palestine and the Vatican for the first time, and to universal acclamation the new Sustainable Development Goals were gavelled into existence. What had taken three years of hard negotiation, impassioned argument and long technical nit-picking were suddenly a reality.

Sitting opposite the building in CARE’s office, taking photos and being stared at by snipers, this is how I reported the moment. 



But what were the other highlights of the SDG summit and the launch of the 2030 agenda?



There was the Light The Way worldwide moment on the eve of the SDGs, that spanned New Zealand to Nairobi to New York.



Although turnout was quite small, there were genuine moments of feeling when social rights activists from New York took the stage and made the universal goals feel incredibly local and relevant to their #blacklivesmatter and minimum wage campaigns.



This showed the potential for how this new universal agenda will break down the old North vs South dichotomy to empower rights activists to challenge power holders in their local communities everywhere.


Earlier that day the #FemForum had gathered leading feminists to reaffirm the women’s rights and gender dimensions of the new goals. It was both a celebration and also a rallying call for further action.



@tomsessionsreported from the B Team event:





Then came the start of the summit proper on Friday. There was this ‘We The People’ video:



Ban Ki Moon declared it a “Defining Moment in Human History”.

We were reminded of where we were 15 years ago:



Malalah stood with 193 youth to make a powerful call for change and a focus on education as the change:



And of course, in another remarkable moment, Pope Francis called for action on climate change, equating harm to the environment as harm to humanity. Too much talking? Then perhaps you’ll prefer Shakira channelling her inner John Lennon.



For CARE, Friday was all about three key side events we’d spent the last two months preparing for. Both different but emphasising two of our strategic priority areas, they were part of the 200 plus side events that turn the UN General Assembly and this year’s SDG summit into the Edinburgh Festival of international development.


First came a signing and formal handing over of our Savings Charter to the UNCDF supporting the continued campaign for financial inclusion for the last 2 billion without formal access to bank accounts.



Next came the Transforming Economies: Empowering Women event, hosted by Justine Greening of DFID and UN Women and moderated by Nick Kristof.


CARE’s Michelle Nunn announced our aim of massively scaling up our economic empowerment work and influencing others to do the same and CARE partner JITA’s CEO Saif Rashid planned to double their rural sales force of women in Bangladesh to 6,000 workers in the next year.




Ten other CEOs and governments made powerful commitments to take the SDGs forward as a movement encompassing business, civil society and states. As Justine Greening put it, if we’re not winning the battle on gender equality we’re losing. There is no stopping. For more on the event check out @christinesvarer who was in the second row and caught all the action.


Later, on a rooftop terrace underneath the lights of the Empire State building.



Citizen 2.0 explored how we should be using data from ordinary people to truly judge the progress of the next 15 years, rather than relying on official data.



With so many thinking about this issue, we brought together donors, civil society and tech companies to work out how to move forward. It also brought a useful counter to the complaint that the conversation on the SDGs was missing a discussion on power.


By bringing in citizen voice we have the chance to shame, provoke and incentivise power-holders into action, while also reinforcing the mobilisation of grassroots activism. Knowledge is after all power.



Livestreamed on  


Paul-André Wilton

Paul-André was formerly Senior Policy Advisor (Conflict and Humanitarian) for CARE International UK. He led CARE International UK’s policy analysis and advocacy around resilient markets, livelihoods and jobs within the overall humanitarian advocacy area. He also shared responsibility for delivering gender, peace and security humanitarian advocacy on emergencies.

Before CARE he worked for peacebuilding and democratisation organisations, and lived in West and East Africa. Previously he worked in the education sector teaching English for five years to students of all ages in Spain and the UK. He holds an Msc in Global Politics from Birkbeck, University of London.

One good thing I’ve read

I really enjoyed Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson for the fascinating discussion and examples of how fragility and institutions interact over time. I would also recommend The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith as an excellent and necessary sweep through the history since decolonisation and independence on the continent. In one of my first jobs we used to give it to each intern on their departure, as invariably it filled huge gaps in their knowledge, as it had done for me

Twitter: @PA_Wilton