At General Assembly summit, civil society given prominent voice

October 7, 2019

At a first-of-its-kind meeting at the UN, civil society organizations participated in a high-level discussion on the status of the Sustainable Development Goals.

BIC NEW YORK — At a first-of-its-kind meeting at the United Nations, non-governmental organizations deliberated, alongside senior government and UN officials, on the status of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Civil Society Forum, attended by over 500 individuals, was held for the first time during the General Assembly’s High Level Week, a space typically reserved for world leaders.

Delivering the forum’s opening remarks and co-moderating the discussion, Baha’i International Community representative Daniel Perell remarked that humanity is “standing at the precipice collectively” and that the condition of the world calls for “decisive, constructive steps.” The barrier to action, however, is not ignorance, noted Mr. Perell. “The gap is in commitment, in creativity and, most of all, in courage.”

“The systems and structures in place are a patchwork of treaties and institutions, a far cry from the organic wholeness of humanity and the earth.” Mr. Perell stated that today’s historic imperative is “to rethink the narratives, habits, and systems which have brought humanity to this point.”

Daniel Perell, a representative of the Baha’i International Community, addresses attendees at the Civil Society Forum during the SDG Summit. (Credit: IISD) Slideshow
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Daniel Perell, a representative of the Baha’i International Community, addresses attendees at the Civil Society Forum during the SDG Summit. (Credit: IISD)

Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, an assistant secretary-general at the United Nations, stated: “It is clear that the SDGs will be reached with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders, and all people,” and that this Forum is a reflection that action by a diverse array of actors “is the only way to navigate the complex challenges we are facing today.”

Many insights emerged from the discussion. Speakers underscored the importance of working toward the SDGs as an entire system, with countries, NGOs and others engaged in a common effort. Others underscored the significant role civil society organizations have in helping to solve global problems, working alongside governments and the UN.

“Though many are skeptical of the utility of another United Nations forum, spaces such as these could also be seen as a step toward bringing the lived experiences of those impacted by policies into the halls of decision-making” said Mr. Perell reflecting on the forum.

“We are hopeful that the report from this meeting will contribute substantively to future deliberations at the United Nations,” Mr. Perell added. “This precedent for more inclusive processes is a victory.”

The SDGs are the UN’s blueprint for social and economic development. One of their most significant features has been the opening of new avenues for participation to more segments of society.

Watch the video of the full session here, and Mr. Perell's remarks here.