Blog Archives

Finding Optimism After Rio+20

Although more than 50,000 participants have left Rio de Janeiro, the buzz surrounding Rio+20 remains. The conference, which marked the 20th anniversary of the UN’s Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, concluded on June 22, with responses already hitting the internet before the jets left the tarmac.

20 years ago in Rio delegates adopted Agenda 21 and this year hopes were that through a combination of high-level proceedings and hundreds of smaller side events inspiration would be ignited and commitment to action would follow. Unfortunately, some are disappointed with the outcome of Rio+20, particularly from formal meetings. However, many are finding perspective in writing about the conference and are encouraging bloggers and reporters not to jump to conclusions. In fact, one particularly poignant point of reflection is how Rio’s predecessor in 1992 was initially met with criticism but is now lauded for its achievements in bringing the world together to have an important conversation.

Bob Skinner of the UN Foundation’s New York office urges that we should continue to see this as a step forward, saying that nations did indeed come together to create a document and that in itself is a starting point which can begin to give direction to move forward. Fiona Macleod of South Africa’s Mail & Guardian wrote, “The Rio+20 conference may not have produced an Earth-saving global deal but it succeeded in keeping global development at the top of the agenda of the world’s leaders.”

Furthermore,  Macleod opines that Rio+20 was not expected to generate the same landmark decisions we saw in 1992 but rather that the focus this year was on bringing together participants from every corner of the globe and from various sectors to engage in dialogue about the environment’s most pressing issues. This was certainly achieved: decision-makers from every sector (as well as global citizens who were more active than ever on social media platforms!) all came together in an impressive, unprecedented way.

A breakdown of Rio’s “The Future We Want” document.

In addition to high-level meetings and roundtables, 500+ side events at Rio+20 offered a promise of real progress. Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated in an opinion piece for CNN that a “lack of political leadership was countered by the incredible vitality, determination, and commitment of civil society.” Outside of the scope of governing bodies, corporations, NGOs, and non-profits, identified action-steps to take in order to address environmental crises. Microsoft, for example, proposed an internal carbon fee on its operations in more than 100 countries; they hope to achieve carbon neutrality by the end of 2013.

Seeing actors from all sectors, public, private, not-for-profit, and civil society, work together and represent the next generation of environmental leaders is a positive note of the conference. It shows that key players acknowledge the importance of the multilateral, multinational cooperation that needs to take place in order to catalyze real change. Mary Robinson writes, “the legacy of Rio+20 will not just be the text of the Declaration.  Hopefully it will be the mobilization of people to build the future they desire.”

This brings us back to our original question and the theme of Rio+20, “The Future We Want”. In light of dissatisfaction from many concerning the Earth Summit, now is the time to voice our opinions and act locally to show our commitment as global citizens! We have been asked about the future we want and it is our duty to answer.

So, what can you do?!

Take social media by storm, express your opinions online or in your local newspaper, write to editors or government officials! Spread the good word – check out The Guardian’s article on 5 Reasons to Be Cheery About Rio+20 and pass it on!  And make some easy changes to your lifestyle that can benefit our environment. These are just a few suggestions that can make a big impact.

-Jessica P

Rio+20 images were used from The Interdependent’s photo diary.

6,994,726,950 and counting: Jane Roberts on “Women, Population, and the MDGs.”

Since the human race began, women have delivered for society.  It is time now for the world to deliver for women.” -The Lancet

With the world’s population set to hit 7 billion by the end of this month (6,994,726,950   was the most recent population count at the time of this posting – check out the current world’s population counter here) our Women’s Forum event “Women, Population, and the MDGs” , was a conversation that is more timely than ever!  The luncheon roundtable event featuring Jane Roberts was held on October 6th to a packed room of 60 attendees during a weekday noon.

Jane Roberts captivating the audience.

Jane Roberts is a grassroots advocate who exemplifies the power of taking a single action and making a huge difference. She is the co-founder, with Lois Abraham, of the 34 Million Friends of the UNFPA project. Her contributions in the fields of population, development, the environment, and the human rights of women and girls have led to her recognition in 2003 by Ms. Magazine as one of their Women of the Year. In 2004, Women’s eNews selected her as one of the 21 Leaders for the 21st Century. Along with Lois Abraham, Ms. Roberts was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the 1000 Peace Women Project under the patronage of UNESCO in 2005. In the same year, she published her first book 34 Million Friends of the Women of the World.

Ms. Roberts has traveled widely, and given public talks around the country in addition to extensive TV and radio interviews. In 2008, Ms. Roberts was named a Purpose Prize Fellow by Civic Ventures. She received the Global Citizenship Award from the United Nations Association of Southern California in 2009. In the same year, Jane Roberts and her 34 Million Friends of the UNFPA project were featured in the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

Jane finished her speech with her radical grassroots proposal,

Jane Roberts (center) with UNA-GB, JSI, and Pathfinder International staff.

When the world takes care of women, women take care of the world,”

leaving just enough time for our engaged audience to ask a few questions, focused on how to change the culture on the ground, how to engage men in the conversation, and what we can do to get engaged.

One direct way to get involved is to become one of Jane Robert’s 34 Million Friends of the women of the world. Visit her site, and do your part today!

The call to action also included ways you can support UNA-GB’s work, including our current 66 for 66 campaign that is geared towards educating the next generation of global leaders to tackle the pervasive problem of gender inequality.  Find out more here: http://www.crowdrise.com/unday2011/fundraiser/unitednationsassocia1
On October 24, 100 Boston area middle and high school youth will convene at the State House, stepping into the shoes of ambassadors from countries as diverse as Afghanistan, South Korea and Mali to debate solutions to the question: Why do global inequalities for women in education and employment persist and what can be done about it?
Help us provide this opportunity FREE OF COST to all the youth and donate now here: http://www.crowdrise.com/unday2011/fundraiser/unitednationsassocia1

Many Thanks as well to our two fabulous co-sponsors, JSI and Pathfinder International!

John Snow, Inc., and its nonprofit affiliate JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc., are public health research and consulting firms dedicated to improving the health of individuals and communities throughout the world. JSI builds local capacity to address critical health problems, collaborating with local partners to assist countries, governments, communities, families, and individuals to develop their skills and identify solutions that meet their public health needs. JSI has implemented projects in 104 countries, and currently operates from eight U.S. and 81 international offices, with more than 500 U.S.-based staff, and 1,500 host country national field-based staff.  Learn more here!  

Pathfinder International’s mission is to ensure that people everywhere have the right and opportunity to live a healthy sexual and reproductive life. In more than 25 countries, Pathfinder provides women, men, and adolescents with a range of quality health services—from contraception and maternal care to HIV prevention and AIDS care and treatment. Pathfinder strives to strengthen access to family planning, ensure availability of safe abortion services, advocate for sound reproductive health policies, and, through all of our work, improve the rights and lives of the people we serve.  Learn more here!

-Jen J

Help Starts Young

Here’s another post for our Get Educated, One Topic At A Time blog series! This week you can learn about Child Poverty throughout the world and the efforts being made to help the fight against child poverty and child labor so that future generations can develop. You can also check out our past blog posts to learn about more global topics: “A Historical Moment For Genocide”, “Two Sides To Invest”, “An Undefined Grasp Of Failure”, “A Necessary Priority”, “A Reform For The World” and “The Rural Challenge”. Check back next Monday for another blog post!

About 45 % of children in Latin America and the Caribbean live in a state of poverty.

his means that child poverty affects nearly 81 million children and adolescents in these regions of the world! As defined by the UN General Assembly in 2007, child poverty is “the deprivation of nutrition, water and sanitation facilities, access to basic health-care services, shelter, education, participation, and protection”. Nutrition is immensely important in a child’s life for lack of it can cause damage in early childhood and have harmful long-term effects on the child’s health. Despite this, about 30 million children are born each year with impaired growth due to poor nutrition. Possible solutions to unhealthy diets include proper education on healthy eating habits and income support (healthy food tends to cost more than unhealthy substitutes).

Education, including that learned in school and from one’s social interactions and environment, can be a means of escaping poverty because it improves the chances that the child will have a good income and be able to afford the necessities denied him/her by poverty. Unfortunately, a child’s ability to receive a quality education is largely based on the family’s finances, seeing as how an education costs money. Sadly, a family’s low financial status increases the chances of the child being forced into child labor so as to help support the family and himself/herself. While working as a child can make school for the individual possible (working for the money that will fund their education), child labor can also be a means of a child getting stuck in poverty by hurting the child’s health or keeping him/her tied down by low-skilled work. However, child labor that offers the child the ability of a formal education or out of poverty and is not dangerous to the child is not the worst option. As a country, it is important to determine the nature of the child labor before completely banning what may, in fact, be helping.

A range of factors contributes to child poverty. An example of such are the natural disasters that constantly plague the Caribbean, leaving the countries in disrepair and economic strife. The fact that children are not represented in policies to the same extent as adults also allows child poverty to prevail because they are not being protected by laws or governments. Despite the various contributors to child poverty, one theory remains quite evident: the failure to effectively end child poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean produces a cycle of hardship that passes on to generations while further limiting the future opportunities for these children.

United Nations milestones such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted in 1989) and the establishment of the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 1946 have made great strides to dealing with and eventually ending child poverty. Defined by UNICEF, the Convention is “an international treaty that recognizes the human rights of children, defined as persons up to the age of 18 years old”. The Committee on the Rights of the Child ensures that countries are working towards “ensuring that all children have access to education and healthcare, the ability to reach their potential and abilities, grow up in a positive environment of love and happiness, and benefit from protection and assistance”. UNICEF has participated in much humanitarian work aimed at child poverty and works through TACRO (UNICEF’s regional office for the Americas and the Caribbean) to support and work with other organizations like the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization in order to advocate for good nutrition practices in Latin America and the Caribbean. Overall, although child poverty remains an issue of international affairs, the UN and its organizations continue to work towards the cease of this epidemic.

-Amanda

The Rural Challenge

Another week has just begun and today we have our weekly blog post from our Get Educated, One Topic At A Time blog series. This week learn about rural development in today’s world, including the benefits and challenges it introduces to areas around the world in rural areas with the need for development for a brighter future. Check out our other blog posts in the series, including: “Creating A Road To Democracy”, “A Historical Moment For Genocide”, “Two Sides To Invest”, “An Undefined Grasp Of Failure”, “A Necessary Priority” and “A Reform For The World”.  Check back next Monday for a new post on a whole new topic to ‘get educated’ on!

Approximately 1.7 billion people live in absolute poverty today. According to the World Bank, about 75% of the world’s poorest live in rural areas. Rural development is an important international step, not only to reduce poverty, but also to ensure food security and foster agricultural growth worldwide.

The World Bank defines rural development as “improving the living standards of the low-income population residing in rural areas and making the process of their development self-sustaining.” This definition is driven by concerns over the increasing of rural poverty and the increased focus on improving the socioeconomic well-being of the poor through sustainable improvements. However, rural development faces structural problems such as proper transportation of food, lack of physical and social infrastructure, and underemployment in the rural workforce. This impedes growth, development, and poverty reduction in rural areas.

In 1990, the World Bank adopted an economic strategy of “poverty reducing growth” that created opportunities to earn income and improve services for the poor. This leads to a diversity of local services that will in turn lead to “balanced and sustainable rural economic growth and food security.” There is also a need to promote equal opportunity for competition, by favoring small enterprise over large, urban-based enterprise and to concentrate on rural communities.

Rural women in many countries, like in Kenya, play a central role in managing natural resources.

Rural women and children are significantly affected by poverty. In developing countries, women make up about 43% of the agriculture labour force. They work as wage labourers, sell produce, and participate in small-scale trading. In developing countries such as Africa, Asia and the Pacific, women work an average of 12 more hours each week than men. However, women are held back by low education, unequal property right laws and limited access to resources. Rural children are affected by child labour. 70% of all child labour in the world, which is equal to about 150 million children, takes place in agriculture. Child labour is often difficult to track or underreported and there is no clear defined difference between child labour and children working to help their families. It is also difficult to directly challenge and eliminate when children make up about one-third of the agriculture work force. Thus, policies attempt to improve overall working conditions and reduce safety hazards, as well as improve access to education for children. Nevertheless, the main root of child labour lies in rural poverty.

Currently, changes in agricultural markets are providing new opportunities for smallholder farmers to improve their productivity, especially in developing countries. But, the 2011 Rural Poverty Report of the IFAD says that there still remains “an urgent need…to invest more and better in agriculture and rural areas.” International actions by the World Bank, the International Labour Organization and the UN Millennium Development Goals stress the challenges in rural development, but also provide frameworks to increase rural employment and smallholder agriculture and reiterate the goal of halving the number of people suffering from extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

-Yun-Hee

Around the World by Book

Summer is in full swing, with the long hot days, outdoor excursions, and the potential of relaxation beyond the weekends.   During the summer months, people often ask for reading recommendations for their vacation time whether it be on the beach, in the woods, or on the road.  We thought it would be fun to compile a list of suggested books with an international/global theme from those in our UNA-GB networks, including staff, interns, and our Board and Advisory Council members.  Check out our list below and also feel free to share what novels/memoirs/non-fiction books have captivated you lately!:

During a daytime when it is humid and sunny outside, I enjoy staying indoors and reading my favorite books.  One such book is  “A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice” by Malalai Joya. I had read this book while traveling, and it enlightened my tedious commute. There have been many books written by scholars and other experts about Afghanistan, but someone who is a native Afghan and has lived most of her life there, wrote this book. The book is not only about the country, it is also about a strong and inspiring female activist who is forced to live apart from her family and children and changes her home everyday because she has chosen to speak out against the violence and corruption. She has been describes as the “bravest woman in Afghanistan” by BBC.  I think everyone who is interested in world affairs and world issues should read this book.
-Muzhgan Rasul, UNA-GB Program Intern

When will be The End of Poverty? Dr. Jeffrey Sachs gives a new meaning to his PhD, taking up the role of the doctor to impoverished regions and coining the term “clinical economics”, to “cure” the world of extreme poverty. With only four more years left until the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals, this book is undoubtedly influential to the decisions and policies that will one day eliminate poverty. Dr. Sachs provides a detailed diagnosis of the issues faced by the world’s poorest and weaves in, along the way, vivid anecdotes from his first-hand experience in the rural regions of China, Kenya, Bolivia and other less economically developed countries. Combining all of his research, Dr. Sachs presents a prescription for poverty that calls for international cooperation and action in various domains from infrastructural reforms to increased official development assistance from developed countries. Has Dr. Sachs found the panacea for poverty? Probably not, but The End of Poverty remains a significant contribution to the study of development economics and must be read by anyone who believes in a future without hunger and disease and in a better world for all.  -Wing Miriam Wong, Education Intern

I recently read Arab Voices: What they are Saying to us and why it Matters by James Zogby.  Mr. Zogby is the head of the Arab American Institute, and the book covers everything from the way that Arab Americans feel here at home to extensive surveys on the opinions of Arabs and other Middle Easterners about the US and its policies.  It is a must read for anyone who has an interest in the modern Middle East and the United States’ relationship with the people there or any American who wants to have a fuller understanding of his or her country and the people who make up its rich and diverse society. -Christopher Asmar, Education Intern

“Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World” by David L. Bosco. This book is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the United Nations and/or international affairs. While many books on the subject are stuffy and academic, Bosco’s account of the formation and history of the Security Council is as accessible as it is interesting. Bosco was formerly a senior editor at Foreign Policy, an international lawyer, and deputy director of a joint UN/NATO refugee repatriation project in Sarajevo. He’s currently assistant professor of International Politics at American University. Also, check out his blog.
-Nick Blake, Education Intern

I would recommend “Paris: 1919” by the great Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan. It regards the negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles in Paris with all of the backdoor dealings following the First World War. MacMillan uses a critical analysis to persuasively argue against many of the accepted beliefs about the Paris peace process. It is a fascinating read and is presented in a very accessible manner, highly recommended for the amateur historian. The book has received a great deal of renown since it has been published and provides a vital backdrop to modern day world politics.
-James Fargher, Education Intern

Dani Rodrik’s The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy is a well argued brief that democracy is necessary to temper the the idealistic notion that globalized markets are self regulating. He dives into fascinating case studies of the world economy and how the most successful and highly developed economies protected their domestic interests from the forces of globalization while simultaneously investing in health care and education which allowed domestic labor markets to take advantage of opportunities as they arose.
– Jennifer Irizarry, UNA-GB Education Coordinator

The Blue Sweater is the inspiring personal memoir of Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder of the Acumen Fund and a dynamic leader committed to combating global poverty in innovative new ways.  The book’s title comes from one of Novogratz’ first experiences with globalization -a decade after she had donated a unique handmade sweater she wore as a child to Goodwill, she came across the exact same sweater on a young boy in Rwanda.  Her story spans the difficulties of development, aid and poverty reduction, beginning from her firsthand experiences on the ground in Africa and follows her as she goes through business school, enters the workforce, and learns the power of philanthropy and finances.  Ultimately her focus becomes a forward form of philanthropic investing called “patient capital”, which is creating the potential to make people self-sufficient and change millions of lives.  As the website aptly describes, this book is “more than just an auto-biography or a how-to guide to tackling poverty; [it] challenges us to grant dignity to the poor and to rethink our engagement with the world.”  Just the challenge worth accepting over the summer!
-Kaitlin Hasseler, UNA-GB Program Manager

Additional suggested readings include: Gandhi: The True Man Behind Modern India by Jad Adams.
-Valerie Epps, UNA-GB Board Member.

The Lady and the Panda by Vicki Croke for an intriguing read. And, it has a local Boston angle to the story too.
-Kari Heistad, Board Member.

I enjoyed the Power of One by Bryce Courtenay and The Power of Gold by Peter L. Bernstein.
-Will Febbo, Board Member.

The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier, an incisive insight into the rampant poverty in the world’s midst of plenty.
-Ajmal Qureshi, Board Member.

Poor Economics by Banerjee and Duflo, 1491 by Charles C. Mann and The Great Bridge by David McCullogh.
-Clark Abt, Advisory Council Member.

Again, please share your suggestions with us as well so we can continue to educate one another on the many global challenges we have and are facing.

-Muzhgan