It is incredible how smile-inducing it can be. And connecting.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, excitedly, conversations spark: a stranger in an elevator wearing a national team jacket, a fellow passenger with the accent of the opposition, those all around with a desperate look of knowing as clearly distracted in their here & now because of something so exciting happening right then yet elsewhere, on the field…followed by complete looks at one another tinged with “Can you believe what just happened?”
Sport. It creates the opportunity for complete strangers to talk, to smile, to growl, to cry, to hug. That is the power of sport! And right here, right now, it’s all about the Rugby!
The 2019 Rugby World Cup – global rugby and competitive sport’s celebration of remarkable physical and psychological prowess – is in its last days. In less than a handful of sleeps the 2019 winners will be crowned following a month of matches where heroes were discovered, warriors fell, sure-wins lost, and who-would-have-thoughts rose closer and closer to the top. It is truly, intoxicatingly incredible how a global event like the rugby world cup can energise, unite and focus literally millions across the globe, dissolving boundaries, finding a common language, all because of the agnostic phenomena that is the collective spirit of sport.
That is the magic. What happens on the field is one thing. What happens off the field is another. Ultimately, through sport, people of different backgrounds, with different stories of different geographies, different ideologies, different religions and different races, share common ground. Ultimately, at the end of the day, everyone is focusing on the same field in the same field. And it feels really, really good.
It’s all about the agnostic, unfiltered, unedited, unexpected excitement that anything can happen, no matter what the scores were in the past, no matter what the performance stats have been to present, no matter what the hopes are for the future. It comes down to a moment of truth when two teams need to face off and find out who in the moment is going to be victorious.
This unifying energy pulls people together, and it does it in a way that goes so far beyond nationalities, so far beyond passports, and thankfully, so far beyond politics. Importantly, however, sustaining the energy rush, sense of unity, and pure spirit of blessing in being a part of it all is not just about the play on the field. Interestingly, and so often, it is the host country that eclipses all sportsmen and women to be the hero of the competition.
Such has been the case with RWC 2019. And the people of the host nation, JAPAN – each and every one a Brave Blossom in their own humble, dignified, deeply touching way.
The stats of RWC 2019 stand tall as the host nation has broken records in national and global participation. Official numbers tell a powerful story:
- More than 1.8 million tickets sold across all 48 matches
- More than 864,000 fans attend official Fanzones
not to mention:
- Brave Blossoms win hearts around the world
- Broadcast records smashed
- Close matches, unexpected results have characterised pool stage
- Monumental effort to get matches on at the weekend
Every mega-event is history-making, the team taking home the crown inscribed in sporting history books for time memorial. And yet what do people remember most with their hearts, not just their heads? It is the backstories – those impacting and impacted by the time and place of one of the greatest sports shows on Earth.
In 2019, of all characters to make a defining impression on the RWC, it was Mother Nature. What host nation in the world has had to build in contingency, emergency, and recovery plans for a Typhoon? Japan.
Midway through the competition, as storms started brewing between teams convinced they were destined for the final rounds, storms brewed off the coast of Japan with a gameplan for clear, concentrated attack on cities across the map, including RWC venue cities.Players and fans were warned to take cover, matches were re-configured to take cognisance of the importance of tournament momentum. And then Typhoon 19 hit.
After millions were implored to evacuate, and finally Typhoon Hagibis had moved on, over 60 lives were lost, and countless left homeless. Millions, millions were left speechless.Everyone, absolutely everyone linked to the RWC, grieved…tears becoming the glue to rebuild a heartbroken nation.
Without a doubt, this shared sense of loss is part of what RWC athletes and followers will take home once the tournament is over, whomever the winners. To state this is not purely romanticised rhetoric. The impact of the shared tragedy, and respect for host nation suffering the most profoundly, is visible in bowed heads, and audible in silence, with every match.
Case in point: the Semi-Finals.
On both occasions, once anthems were played, and as the electricity in the stadiums became overpowering, a pause occurred – the entire stadium hushed for a moment of prayer to make sure that no matter what the excitement in the moment, moments recently passed with Typhoon 19 do not become an overlooked, undervalued part of history. Instead, these moments become a shared prayer, a shared bond, unifying the sporting world with the people of Japan. That is sporting class at its best!
And now, finally, the Finals are upon us.
History is a mere matter of hours from being made, especially if the Springboks, with their first Black Captain, prove to be the world’s finest once more, a nation once again recalibrated through sport, champions once more.
And yet, as nations like South Africa know well, rugby victory is not simply about sporting prowess – it is about national prowess. Whatever the outcome, whatever the colours of the Kings of the competition, for all participating in the 2019 RWC – on and off field – it is the Brave Blossoms, as over-performing athletes on the RWC Field and over 126 million courageous people of Japan, who won our 2019 RWC hearts.
With a simple, childish smile, with hope in heart that the Finals prove to be a final, unifying force for the rainbow of nationals supporting the Springboks, one cannot but feel an instinctive, thoughtful, deeply grateful bow to the people of Japan – the enduring heroes of the 2019 RWC.
Loving, sincere arigatōgozaimashita.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2019
In my role as lead of Marketing at ANITA MENDIRATTA & Associates, I’m exposed to global diplomacy and high-level tourism development on a daily basis. Leaders leading, in different ways in different countries and contexts, with different levels of influence and impact, across the globe. The transition from working on the customer focused side of the tourism industry to now my current, more globally-orientated position, has been a learning curve. I’m slowly learning how to make words matter, and how to speak so that people listen. I can feel my perspective widening, AM&A’s trust in my instincts growing. All necessary components to any worthwhile journey. Thanks to the guidance of Anita, the gaps are being filled.
Anita asked me to write a piece on the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), particularly why it matters. If you’ve been following along with our Living the SDGs project, we’ve been looking at how individuals like you and I can contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and make a difference. The SDGs were a key talking point in this year’s UNGA, so our understanding of the purpose, function, and outputs of the General Assembly will aid our journey moving forward.
I never paid much attention to the UNGA in previous years beyond the major headlines. My closest encounter with the inner-workings of the UN was my stint as Australia and Côte d’Ivoire, respectively, with Model United Nations during University.
Coverage of this year’s UNGA seemed heightened. Possibly in part due to a spitfire Swedish teen, or possibly because of the growing awareness and importance of global issues amongst the general population. Either way, the 2019 General Assembly has now concluded. But what happens when the world leaders come together and why does it matter?
What is the United Nations General Assembly?
The General Assembly of the United Nations meets together in New York City annually, 2019’s meeting marked the 74th session since the UN was founded in 1945. With 193 member states represented, as well as ‘non-member observer states’ such as the Vatican and European Union, it is a time for small and large nations alike to come together and be heard. Unlike the UN Security Council, which is made up of the US, China, the UK, France and Russia, members of the General Assembly do not pass binding resolutions.
As the world’s most prominent diplomatic stage, the General Assembly offers world leaders a forum to debate the biggest global issues, domestic threats and concerns, and international peace and security. From climate change to humanitarian crises to territorial disputes – everything finds its way to the ‘table’. And leaders seek to secure a seat at the table where they feel an impact can be made, and felt.
While the UNGA may not pass actionable laws, many of the resolutions that have come out of it have made a major impact. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, that set the first global standard for human rights. The Millenium Declaration in 2000 that set actionable targets to reduce poverty and improve access to education amongst other goals. (Read more about the Millenium Goals here.) And, of course, the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, that gave us the 17 SDGs to work towards until 2030.
The General Debate
The main component of the UNGA is called the General Debate. This year’s theme was “Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion”.
Each member state is given 15 minutes to address the UNGA, although the recommended time is rarely adhered to. (Fun fact: Indian defense minister V.K. Krishna Menon holds the record for longest UN speech ever, he spoke for 7 hours 48 minutes in 1957.)
Brazil is first to take the stage, a tradition earned in the early days of the UN General Assembly when the nation always volunteered to speak first. Brazil is followed by the United States as host country, and then the remaining member states who all have their turn based on “ level of representation, preference and other criteria such as geographic balance.”
Although it’s called the General Debate, there isn’t actually much debating. Speakers can discuss any topic of importance to their government, although they generally align their speeches with the overall theme for that year.
What was new in 2019?
The priority this year was Climate Action, and heads of state and government came together for the Climate Action Summit. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres requested that countries who wished to speak during the summit only did so if they have “concrete and transformative plans” to halt rising global temperatures, achieve carbon neutrality and cut carbon emissions by 45 percent. And even then, they only had three minutes.
Much like the Sustainable Development Goals, climate action can not be solved by the UN body alone or any of the member states who have made it a top priority. All members must come together, pressuring those who take the state of the planet less seriously, to collectively strategise ways to fight global warming and cut carbon emissions within their own respective countries.
According to researchers, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, the world needs to cut greenhouse emissions in half by 2030. The goal is massive, particularly because most current climate action commitments don’t come close to meeting the goal. This year, 65 countries pledged to increase their climate targets. While a positive step, the new commitments only limit global warming to between 2.7 and 3.7 degrees celsius – far above the goal’s threshold. The UN has two upcoming climate conferences, one later this year and one in 2020, which will give members another opportunity to increase their commitments. As individuals, we can contribute to climate action in our day to day lives alongside world leaders, read more about Goal 13: Climate Action here.
Here are some of the highlights from the Climate Action Summit.
- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that he would more than double the target for his country’s renewable energy to a goal of 450 gigawatts. As one of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, this was a positive step.
- Members of the Green Climate Fund, money that helps developing nations with their climate efforts, pledged to double their current contributions – bringing the fund to $7 billion.
- 32 members, 25 subnational governments, and 34 businesses committed to opening no more coal plants after 2020.
And then there was ‘that speech’ that made all the difference….
Why was this year different?
The Greta factor. The 15 year old Swedish student who began protesting for climate justice by herself outside the Swedish parliament just over one year ago, is now a familiar face in the headlines.
She arrived in New York for the GA in novel style, opting to spend two weeks travelling by a zero-emissions boat rather than taking an airplane. Since landing in the US, she’s been on every talk show, met with President Obama, and even addressed the U.S. Senate. Her address at the UN went viral, as she urged world leaders to take climate action more seriously.
While Greta has undoubtedly elevated the urgency of climate action, it is the world’s youth who have taken her message and demonstrated a level of activism unprecedented in recent history. Millions of people took to the streets all over the world ahead of the GA, and the following week, to strike against climate change. The protests took place in an estimated 185 countries, and even included a small showing of scientists in Antarctica. Youth, those under 18, have championed the cause. Striking, and missing school, to call on world leaders to protect their planet and future.
“Yesterday millions of people across the globe marched and demanded real climate action, especially young people. We showed that we are united and we young people are unstoppable.” – Greta Thunberg
Watch Greta’s ‘How Dare You?’ speech below.
I went with my own daughter to the Climate Strike in London, and even though I’ve been to my fair share of protests through the years, I was surprised by the energy, passion and anger of the younger generations. When you see a 12 year old girl with pigtails calling for justice, you know that change is coming.
The SDG Summit took centre stage during the first two days of the General Debate. This involved present heads of state and government following up and reviewing their implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The SDG Summit was the first official event dedicated to the SDGs since the agenda was adopted in 2015, four years ago.
The GA took a look at data and trends from within some of the specific goals such as extreme poverty, child mortality rates, and water and electricity access in rural areas. This gave members a chance to step back and see where progress has been made, but also look at where there are still major shortcomings. The biggest message to come out of the summit was that all members are off track to meet the goals by 2030 – but that there is still time.
The political declaration, “Gearing up for a Decade of Action and Delivery for Sustainable Development”, set a clear message for the next decade: planning time is over, now we need action. Several actions or commitments were made by member states in response.
- Finland pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035.
- Mexico pledged to deliver internet access to all citizens, including vulnerable communities.
- President Salih of Iraq spoke about using the SDGs as a framework for rebuilding his country after years of conflict. Creating jobs for youth, good governance for all citizens, and combating corruption were mentioned as priorities.
Collaboration between the public and private sector is paramount for progress, achieving the SDGs without ‘partnerships for the goals’ is not possible. “Private sector companies hold the key,” remarked Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the summit. The private sector played a key role during the summit, these are some of the highlights.
- The UN Global Compact, a corporate sustainability group, released a report calling on the private sector to do their part.
- Mastercard reiterated their commitment to the SDGs, with plans in progress to bring nearly 500 million people in deeply impoverished regions into the banking system.
- Danone, along with 19 other companies such as Kellogg and Nestlé, launched an initiative to protect biodiversity. Particularly: eliminate deforestation, protect natural ecosystems, boost regenerative farming, and become less reliant on overused crops.
With only a decade left, UN Secretary General António Gutteres’s opening words said it best. “We are far from where we need to be…We are off track.” But with new commitments, and a much needed refocus, there is still time to achieve the goals if words turn to action.
So, why does the UN General Assembly matter?
Of everything I’ve learned from the Sustainable Development Goals thus far, the importance of working together to create change is without a doubt the number one takeaway. One committed nation can’t stop global poverty. One advocate for climate change can’t stop the rising temperatures. One leader can’t deliver world peace.
The UN General Assembly matters because of the opportunity it gives the world to work together, to learn from one another, and to organise for the betterment of humanity. Multilaterism is defined as multiple countries working together to pursue a common goal, and this is the purpose of the UN GA at its core. Countries can disagree with one another for most of the year, but when they come together at the GA it gives everyone an opportunity to step back, if even for a day, and mobilise around issues in which they find common ground.
UN General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad‑Bande of Nigeria concluded this year’s session with the following:
“In a highly polarized world, multilateralism is the only guarantee of peace, security and sustainable development. The world will not survive for long unless we cultivate the give-and-take spirit, which is a distinct and defining attribute of multilateralism.”
It isn’t perfect. Commitments don’t always turn into actions and not everyone will get along. But in a world with increasing threats to security and stability, a growing refugee crisis, trade wars and political uncertainty, any event that brings us all together – particularly to make that world a better and safer place – matters.
Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
As I began getting into each of the 17 SDGS, I found myself struggling with the sheer weight of some of the goals – particularly this very first one. So, I spoke with my team at ANITA MENDIRATTA & Associates. Anita, President and Founder of AM&A, told me to be honest (as I was in the intro piece) – I should share my struggles, share my revelations, and don’t be afraid to admit when I just have no idea what to do. I found that this released me in a way, and allowed me to approach the goals in both naivety and an eagerness to learn and understand.
I suspect I am not the only one that looks at some of the SDGs and wonders “how can I, as one person, possibly make a difference?” Which is why, as we continue this journey together, I hope you’ll find patience in my own learning evolution, enabling you too to learn lessons from the supportive voices at AM&A.
The first goal of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals is No Poverty. What a colossal goal to start our Living the SDGs journey. It being #1 is, however, not by chance. According to the United Nations, as of 2019 there are over 700 million people worldwide living in extreme poverty – that’s 1 out of 10 of us and 1 out of 5 children. How, in our ever-advancing world, can this be? And how do you even begin to make actionable changes to lift 700 million people out of poverty?
When I first began thinking about Goal 1, and what it instinctively means to me, I found that I clearly associated the word ‘poverty’ with someone who is ‘poor’. It’s an easy association to make, especially when you read that those living in extreme poverty survive on less than $1.90 a day. That’s less than $60 a month, about the same amount I spent at the grocery store yesterday for food – some we didn’t even need.
But, poverty isn’t as simple as a distinction between people who have money and people who don’t. Technically speaking, and according to The World Bank Group, it is described in this way:
“Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time.”
Importantly, poverty can exist simply because you were born in a certain area of the world or because you don’t have access to clean water. Poverty can happen as a result of social or gender inequality or even a lack of healthcare access. Most of the families living in poverty are employed, and work arduously long hours, and still barely survive. It may surprise you that 8% of employed workers and their families live in extreme poverty. That means over 80% of people in this situation spend their every waking hour trying to get out of it – to no avail.
How do you measure poverty?
I read articles all the time about people in the US or UK who are living in poverty, and I’ve seen it first-hand in London, but the stories we read are still a far cry from those in developing countries where there is mass starvation, no access to education, no sanitation, ect. (Not saying one is more worthy than the other, poverty and the inequalities closer to home are still extremely important to address.) How is poverty measured?
In 1995, the United Nations adopted two definitions of poverty.
Absolute poverty is defined as : a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services.
Absolute poverty often comes with starvation, suffering, and premature death and is an urgent call to action.
Overall poverty is defined more broadly: lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods; hunger and malnutrition; ill health; limited or lack of access to education and other basic services; increased morbidity and mortality from illness; homelessness and inadequate housing; unsafe environments and social discrimination and exclusion. It is also characterised by lack of participation in decision making and in civil, social and cultural life. It occurs in all countries: as mass poverty in many developing countries, pockets of poverty amid wealth in developed countries, loss of livelihoods as a result of economic recession, sudden poverty as a result of disaster or conflict, the poverty of low-wage workers, and the utter destitution of people who fall outside family support systems, social institutions and safety nets.
Otherwise, those who are not living in the minimum acceptable standards within the society they live.
How would you eliminate poverty?
So, this brings back to my core question: how can I, as one person, help achieve SDG #1 – No Poverty?
I’ve been reaching out to my friends in the travel community, asking them a very simple question. If you were in charge and had the power to eliminate poverty, what steps would you take? What initiatives would you start? How would you make ‘no poverty’ a reality?
As you might expect, I had a variety of responses – from blank stares to laughter, but for some of those I asked – the question was heavy. I could see the cogs turning, the creative juices flowing, and these participants in my social survey came out with some truly inspiring ideas.
The truth is, it’s really a complicated question. You can’t just decide to lift up one group of people without considering the others. Many people responded with ‘provide women in poverty with skills and education’, which I find entirely logical. That was until a friend who lives in Morocco shared with me that women empowerment initiatives were gaining steam in her country, but nobody was working on encouraging the local boys to support them as well. When girls from the programs got married, they didn’t have the same support system in place that was being pushed elsewhere and the problem wasn’t being solved.
Not so simple after all.
Actionable Ways for Individuals to End Poverty
My social survey came up with some interesting ideas for eradicating poverty, some more far-fetched than others. Abolish all borders, provide equal access to education, buy local, add more libraries, create a course for any would-be travellers to help them understand that we are all the same – only our cultures and customs differ.
Some took it even further with suggestions such as simplifying setup of and reducing tariffs for local business registration. Making it easier, and encouraging, for locals to get involved with increased tourism. Or adding a tourism sustainability metric to websites like Tripadvisor, so tourists can make more informed travel decisions and make sure their purchases and travels support the local economies they visit. (A brilliant idea actually!)
While my q&a with my peers didn’t provide me with the secret answer to eliminating poverty to pass on to you, it did teach me a couple things:
First, so many more people care than you’d think. They may not even realise it themselves. Some of those I asked looked at me like I had asked how I could get to the moon on the city bus.This was almost always followed by careful consideration and a very thoughtful answer.
Secondly, we don’t often walk around asking big questions as conversation starters. But maybe we should. After the initial discomfort, I had some truly inspiring conversations with people. Others loved it from the word go, and were excited to stop the small talk and discuss global issues that matter – hypothetical or otherwise.
1. Let’s talk about poverty (and everything else!)
Have the ‘weird’ conversations. Don’t be afraid to ask people their opinions on topics that matter to you. They may have insight into something you had never considered, and you can take the opportunity to educate others.
The more I get into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the more I feel the stats heavy on my soul. I say that as lightly and honest as I can, but the truth is I take this project very seriously and that means taking on the responsibility of my words. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die EVERY DAY due to poverty. Just let that sink in for a minute. I can’t save 22,000 children from dying every single day on my own, trust me,I’ve mulled over the possibilities. But I can have the conversation.
I can hear you saying “poverty is not the best networking topic”, but why not? I’ve done the legwork for you – it works. Sure, not every person, particularly those you’ve never met before, will meet you half-way. Most will. If you don’t want to discuss global issues in a socially constrained scenario, talk to your friends and your family. Give others the benefit of the doubt, take the leap, most of us want the world to be a better place. Let’s bring our voices together. Let’s talk about diversity, accessibility, privilege, and using our travels to make a difference.
Every conversation plants a seed, and those seeds can grow into action.
2. Empower local communities when you travel
How many trips do you take a year? Working within the travel industry, I probably have a slightly skewed view of the average. But let’s say you take one trip abroad every year. How do make sure every dollar you spend supports locals in that economy?
We need to ask the questions:
- How do you ensure that those souvenirs at the market are supporting local craftsmen and were not imported from elsewhere?
- How do you know whether that village a tour group is taking you to is empowering the people or suffocating them?
These aren’t trick questions. As we become more and more conscious of travelling responsibly, we need to do our research. It can be done, and it can make a big difference.
Ensuring our holiday money supports those wages, especially as a collective group of global citizens on a mission for change, could be life-changing. According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), a 10 per cent increase in a country’s average income will reduce the poverty rate by between 20 and 30 per cent.
Here are some easy tips for empowering local communities when we travel:
- Most big companies should have a responsible tourism policy. Look it up. If you can’t find it, ask before you book.
- Do your research. Take the time to read up on different cultures and activities in the region, particularly if you are visiting indigenous tribes or impoverished areas. Don’t wait until you’ve already paid and visited to realise you’ve made an unethical choice.
- Hire local guides and tour companies. Read reviews online, email ahead of time to ask how they use the money/support the communities you’ll be visiting.
- Purchasing souvenirs should be stimulating for the economy, respectful of locals and leave a neutral impact. (ie don’t buy rare collectibles important to the nation’s heritage, animal/natural products that shouldn’t leave.) Many destinations have local cooperatives or artisan workshops where you can buy directly from the person who made it. If you can’t find these, ask questions.
3. Don’t forget local poverty
When discussing global poverty, it is typically the ‘absolute poverty’ we imagine. Emotive charity advertising has ingrained imagery of starving children living in faraway places in the minds of anyone with a television. Those commercials are often our first exposure to poverty in the west. But consider these stats.
- 12.7% of Americans live in poverty, approximately 40.6 million people (The metrics for measuring poverty in this case are based on income.)
- More than 4 million people in the UK live in deep poverty, with an income level 50% or more below the poverty line threshold.
These families may attend the same schools as your children and live in the same community, but they are struggling.
I always find travelling in developing countries incredibly humbling. You quickly appreciate your ability to buy food just because you want to try it, to have hot running water in your hotel room every evening, and your freedom to go back to the ‘luxuries’ of home.
But, it’s important to remember that not everyone around you has the same access. The battle against poverty can be happening right next door, literally.
In London (I use this example as it’s my home), many families struggle to feed their children during the summer holidays. Typically children get free meals during school time and when they aren’t going to school, they aren’t getting food. Last year alone, the UK’s biggest food bank gave away 1.6 million packs of food supplies – a 19% annual increase from 2017. There are next to no affordable childcare provisions for children above nursery age, putting an even bigger strain on working parents. When there is no childcare available, parents are forced to leave their kids at home which can lead to gangs or crime, leaving early from education, and cyclical poverty over generations.
My point of all this is that we don’t need to travel in order to end poverty. There’s work we can do close to home as well. So, what action can we take?
- Don’t waste food. One-third of food produced around the world goes to waste. I am so guilty of this and it’s an area I need to work on. If you have food in your kitchen that you know you aren’t going to eat, there are dozens of food waste apps now that connect you with local people who want it. Also, food waste is also responsible for 6-10% of greenhouse gases. Be more mindful of the food you buy and consume it responsibly. For those who spent their day choosing between paying to keep the electricity on or buying breakfast for their family, every bite matters.
- Support local charities. Whether by volunteering your time or donating money, support the charities in your local community who work with those living in poverty. Programs that support education and training, provide after-school care, help with housing, or provide food are all great choices. Most organisations are overjoyed to have support in anyway that you can provide it.
- Freecycle your stuff. I’ve been trying to walk the walk in my own life, slowly making small changes that I hope will contribute the SDGs. A few weeks ago instead of selling off things one by one for pocket change, I gave away an almost-new crib, two years worth of baby clothes, and buckets of toys on a local Facebook group. It all went to a young mother who was almost due but had no means to buy the ‘extras’ for her child. It cost me nothing and was all items that I was no longer using. For her it was priceless and it gave her one less thing to worry about.
Is ending poverty too BIG?
There is hope. 36% of the world’s population lived in poverty in 1990. As of 2019, The United Nations estimates that it is now closer to 8.6%. That is undeniable progress, which happened through cooperation and action over the last few decades. (Read about the history of the SDGs here to understand the legacy.)
One child starving to death today is one too many. One woman forced to walk five miles for a clean bucket of water is too many.There are still too many people dying, too many people struggling, in a world of shocking inequality.
I’m under no illusion that I’ll solve poverty by wasting less food, travelling more responsibly, or talking about important global issues with my friends. But just as the SDGs cannot work alone, neither can we. If we all begin making these micro changes, amplifying our voices, and joining together in purpose – the poverty scale will begin to shift.
Ending poverty is big, but it isn’t too big. We are bigger. And we can do better. We outnumber poverty 9 to 1. It’s time to bring to life, and lives, the real difference just one person – you – can make.
Please comment below and share actionable ways that YOU think we can use to end poverty.
I’d like to invite you to take this journey with me, and AM&A, as I explore the 17 sustainable development goals. Each month we’ll focus on one goal and explore actionable ways that we as individuals can change the world.
There’s something very different about an attraction versus a place of pilgrimage.
Yes, both can be icons immediately identifying a place, a people.
Yes, both attract visitors, often numbering in their millions.
Yes, both require preplanning, often involving tour guides and groups to be able to gain access, to get around.
Yes, both have the potential to be powerful source of valuable tourist dollars, or pounds, or rupees, or rubles, or any other currency.
And yes, both have the ability to offer visitors invaluable insights through rich storytelling – their reason for being, their well disguised yet profoundly important details, their role in the greater scheme of things.
Which is why as a traveller it is so easy to get busy booking a visit to an attraction, the thought of logistics distracting from what is lingering so close below the surface – its power as a sacred place. Until one comes face to face with one of these places. The number in the world is few, yet when seen, when felt, there is no question about its unique classification.
Case in point: the DMZ – the still active, 38th parallel, 200km long and 2km wide demilitarised zone between North and South Korea – the world’s last remnant of the Cold War, and front line of enduring threat of conflict yet prayers for peace.
Less than a two hour drive from the Republic of Korea’s capital city, the significance and seriousness of a visit to the DMZ begins to set in before leaving Seoul. The list of ‘must’ s and ‘must not’s is short, but clear: passports are a must, respectable clothing is a must, signing off a waiver in case of unexpected cross-border hostilities or contact with mines is a must, restrained communication is a must, photos in military zones are a must not unless given the all-clear. Careless, politically associated hand gestures and comments are a must not. Wandering off is a must not. Taking the direction of Security Escorts is a must. These are not tour guides, they are UN-assigned, conflict trained, armed officers. Respect is a must.
Suddenly, visibly and audibly, the chemistry of the group changes. Driving into the DMZ, passing through well reinforced security gates manned by well-armed officers, only the sound of the official UN bus engine can be heard. The quiet is broken only by injections of information by the Security Escort: how far we are from the border of North Korea, how many people work in the DMZ, how many pre-war descendant families live in the DMZ, how many hectares of rice fields farmers are given if they live in the DMZ compared to those outside (17 vs 2), how many mines still lay hidden in the deep grasses around us (thousands).
And then we arrive. Ground zero: JSA – the Joint Security Area.
Sacred has a colour: Hex #5b92e5, also known as UN Blue.
Sacred stirs a reaction, an almost primal reaction. Hussssssshhhhhhh.
Suddenly the spirit of entitlement that tourists often have having paid for the right to control the where, what, when and how of travel evaporates. The ‘here & now’ transcends all else. There is nothing else that matters.
Because here it is, here, right in front of us – the line that marks separation between the two Koreas. The place where, 66 years ago, where the UN overlooked an armistice signed by North and South Korea which ended the Korean War. The place where, months ago, the leaders of the two Koreas shook hands in hopes of denuclearisation and unification. The place where the sight of UN Blue symbolises enduring hope that the history books may one day, hopefully one day, write a final chapter of peace, unity and forgiveness.
To see the place seen so many times before on a television or mobile screen, to reflect on its detail, is one thing. To feel it, however, is quite another. To try to describe it is to realise one has lost their ability to speak. There are no words – only sounds, only tears.
Humility mutes all conversation. It’s haunting. And it’s disturbing, in a really good way. Here is where history was, and continues to be, made. Here is where horror and hurt, hardship and hunger, healing and hope all collide. Here is where we are reminded, vividly and voicelessly, the blessing that we have of being able to see completely different world that reveals to us, raw and real-time, the gift of peace.
This is what separates an attraction from a place of pilgrimage.
The intensity of the meaning of this place of pilgrimage is made clear by the fact that, in these times of selfies and see-me-here, photographs actually don’t matter. Vivid captures are embossed in mind and heart while standing still in silence, knowing that you can’t actually capture what you’re seeing and feeling with a simple frame.
It’s about standing in the sun on a dry wooden blue bridge the one that connects North and South Korea shutting your eyes and just listening to the sound of crickets somewhere nearby. It’s about feeling the warmth of the Fall sun showering down, noticing tiny little droplets of water on overgrown grasses that once, only 50 years ago, hid soldiers still in their teens, ready to die for love of country. It’s the smell of pine trees. Here is where learning rises above leverage, where respect rises above rights, where silence rises above soundbytes and selfies.
The same is felt standing at the door of cell 46664 on Robben Island. The same is felt at the `Door of No Return’ in Ghana. The same is felt in but a handful of locations across the globe – places where meaning means more than holiday memories.
These are the moments when tourism becomes sacred, and when sustainability is about protecting and sustaining the spiritual value of a place, not just its economic, social, cultural, or environmental.
Because while one can put tourism infrastructure and policies in place to maximise the commercial opportunity of attractions, there are some places where commerce has no place.
Their power, their richness, is in the husssssshhhhhhhhh.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2019
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) takes place each year in September in New York City. Uniting 193 Member States, the UNGA is, as stated by the UN, a “unique forum to discuss and work together on a wide array of international issues covered by the UN Charter, such as development, peace and security, international law, etc.”
For just under 10 days, this coming together of international leaders puts at the forefront the critical issues that we are facing in our shared world today – issues that are going to either accelerate, or challenge, our ability is one shared global community to move forward, lifting up the baseline so that all can feel a valued, contributing part of a world in which we are all working towards ensuring longterm social, economic, environmental and spiritual growth and development.
Ultimately, we need to look at the UNGA as a way of mobilising an annual global call to action.
Interestingly, and often, an individual takes the face of the UNGA, becoming the primary messenger of the UNGA’s central message. In 2019 there’s no question about who this individual will be. Her identity, and impact, is already well known across the world: Sweden’s young Greta Thunberg who has, with great courage, great conviction, and yet remarkable youth stood up and mobilized an entire generation, the next generation to moving forward as regards climate action.
Greta has become an iconic, invaluable figure for the world in terms of recognising that now, right now, decision makers must make sure that we recalibrate our actions, taking responsibility for decisions that need to be made today that will have a direct impact on our world tomorrow, especially the future of the young people who are increasingly sensitised to the fact that failure to do so will unleash untold damage to their future and the world around them.
Young Greta, making her way to the UNGA across the Atlantic, arrived into the US just a handful of days ago. Rather than flying from her homeland of Sweden to the US, following 15 days at sea she arrived in on a solar-powered sailboat, sailing into the immense sights and crowds of New York. In doing so, she carries a very important message about climate action that indeed we must all start acting. Now.
That message, however, has the risk of being oversimplified by looking at it simply as her having not taken an aircraft. Climate Action, her core message, goes beyond a form of transport. However, her activism risks drawing attention to hooks able to draw in attention and amplification, as sadly demonstrated by The Wall Street Journal, messaging out to the world that “as the 16-year-old poster child for younger generations’ climate angst, also making its way to the New World, as evidenced in the coverage of her carbon-neutral trip, was a concept that in just a few years has swept Europe: flight shame, often hashtagged in the original Swedish, #flygskam.”
The holistic message of Greta is critical: Climate Action (SDG13) needs to start now. Impact of it positively needs to happen now.
However, in today’s day and age of of social media, of hashtag activism, the heart of her wider message is being translated into a hurtful economic, social and environmental one with significant, negative consequences on the global community’s quest for sustainable global development. This, one cannot believe, was her intention, It may, however, result in its effect
The hashtag that many are applying to her and to her cause is #flightshame.
Yes, aviation is the source of carbon emissions, 2% of global emissions, that are indeed having a negative impact on the environment. This truth is not, however, one being lazily accepted by the global aviation community. Quite the opposite. For several years by the global aviation community has been investing exponential amounts of funding and intellect towards finding solutions to reduce and eliminate emissions to ensure that the growth of aviation occurs in a way that is responsible, and sustainable.
Critically, it must be understood: Aviation it not the problem – emissions are.
For this reason, formal, binding commitments have been made by nations and across the entire aviation value chain. Central to this is airlines.
Championed by IATA, the global trade association for 290 of the world’s airlines with membership representing 82% of total air traffic, aviation leaders are acutely aware of the need to take action, now, on the global challenge of climate change. For this reason they have “adopted a set of ambitious targets to mitigate CO2 emissions from air transport:
- An average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% per year from 2009 to 2020
- A cap on net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020 (carbon-neutral growth)
- A reduction in net aviation CO2 emissions of 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels
A multi-faceted approach: the four-pillar strategy
IATA is determined to be part of the solution but insists that, in order to achieve these targets, a strong commitment is required from all stakeholders working together through the four pillars of the aviation industry strategy:
- Improved technology, including the deployment of sustainable low-carbon fuels
- More efficient aircraft operations
- Infrastructure improvements, including modernized air traffic management systems
- A single global market-based measure, to fill the remaining emissions gap”
Aviation is actively, collectively and measurably making sure that it is uplifting the global impact of its overall economic drive in a way that is not doing any environmental damage.
Again, it must be understood: Aviation it not the problem – emissions are.
Our world needs aviation.
Why? Because global travel, trade and tourism rely on opportunity creation delivered through global skies.
We must must never forget that 65 million people around the world are employed through aviation. Every single day 120,000 flights take off carrying 12 million passengers and unlocking 18.8 billion and global trade.
And then there is tourism – a sector that inspired over 1.4 billion people each year to cross international borders to learn, explore, discover. In so doing, greater understanding is established, central to embedding respect and peace across people and places, across faiths, cultures, generations and ideologies. With this Travel & Tourism supports one in 10 jobs (319 million) worldwide, unlocking 10.4% (US$8.8 trillion) of world GDP.
These metrics are vital to global growth and development, creating a strong global community in which all can participate indirectly and directly, indirectly through what tourism and trade generate across the world in terms of jobs, in terms of inclusivity and in terms of creating a stronger future. To simply hashtag and encourage people to stop flying is overtly encouraging people to stop the growth of aviation. This in turn stops the growth of the global economy, global society and its ability to positively impact the global environment through solutions for the benefit of all.
We live in a time today in which it’s very easy to pass judgment, whether it’s through flight shaming, whether making it clear that one would rather eat a veggie burger than having real beef, or making a fuss over a reusable alternative to plastic.
It’s very easy to turn these personal beliefs and behaviours into finger-pointing around those of others. We cannot live in a society in which our approach to global development is increasingly becoming about turning to the person next to us, looking at what they are doing, and then telling them what they are doing is wrong. This cannot be right.
Everything we do, every day, has a ripple effect – positive and negative. Are changes needed to many of today’s actions to accelerate climate action? Yes, but through inspiration, not accusation.
That is why the global community is focused on, specifically, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to look at the 17 avenues through which we – governments, industries, individuals – can promote development of our global community socially, economically, environmentally, culturally and spiritually. We need to look at these avenues as ways of improving the way in which we live together. https://anitamendiratta.com/blog/sdgs/ We cannot look at the SDGs as 17 as ways of pointing figure fingers and telling people that what they are doing is wrong.
Please, please please ensure that when we look at what how the world is responding to young heroes like Greta (and often unsung heroes that are doing significant things to create significant change, including industries like Aviation working to create positive change), we recognise their efforts to be part of the solution. Firm focus forward on how we can all become part of the solution is needed, not overzealous blame of others for the problem.
The 2019 UNGA is our opportunity to first understand the bigger picture of the world’s workplan – the UN SDGs) – and then identify and commit to how all of our actions, even the smallest, can ensure that we are working towards creating a better world for all.
No one should be left to feel judged or in jeopardy of job loss, in this or future generations. No one can be left behind. x
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2019
London, United Kingdom – 9th August, 2019
Tourism Cares, a leading US-based philanthropic body of the travel and tourism sector with over 15yrs of proven global experience leveraging the power of the industry to activate social impact programmes in tourism-based communities worldwide – has announced that Anita Mendiratta, Founder and President of ANITA MENDIRATTA & Associates, has joined its Board of Directors.
A trusted strategist in Tourism, Aviation and Development working closely with leaders in governments, businesses, and international organisations, Anita is also Special Advisor to UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili. Her expertise in the areas of national growth, development, and recovery is expected to contribute significantly to Tourism Care’s social impact strategy and activations, including alignment to the UN SDGs.
In announcing Anita’s appointment, Chairperson of the Board Carolyn Cauceglia (VP Strategic Sales & Account Management at technology solutions firm Amadeus) stated: “We are delighted to share that Anita Mendiratta has joined the Board of Directors of Tourism Cares. Anita’s talent, energy and passion for our industry is contagious. Her deep knowledge of international business, governments, global tourism, sustainability, strategy and leadership coupled with a unique ability to bridge and break through compliments our vision of mobilizing travel and tourism companies’ collective power to ensure lasting impact for destinations in need.“
An active advocate of Tourism Cares for several years, Anita believes firmly in its value as a powerful vehicle for industry to work more closely with local communities to embed the principles and practices central to the development of their tourism as a vehicle for responsible, equitable growth and development.
“Increasingly, both travellers and the tourism community are looking for ways to make a direct, positive impact on the world we are blessed to discover through our travels. Tourism Cares has invaluable experience in educating, inspiring and mobilising the travel industry in how to connect its people, its sense of purpose and its resources to social impact programmes that are meaningful and measurable. To be a part of the Tourism Cares Board is not only a huge honour, it is a responsibility I take very personally.“
WHAT EXACTLY ARE THE SDGs? GOING BACK TO THE BEGINNING.
“Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the earth.” Archimedes
ANITA MENDIRATTA & Associates, the Tourism & Development firm where I work in marketing and digital media, has embarked on an exciting project that I am incredibly excited to lead.
As I mentioned in my introductory post, the ‘Living the SDGs’ journey is all about taking the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and translating them into actionable ways that we, as individuals, can contribute to making the world a better place. Especially as we travel.
Before we get started talking about the specific SDGs and how we can apply them to everyday life, and everywhere travels, I thought it would be beneficial to look at the goals as a whole. The most important reason being that they must work together. Therefore we must understand the SDGs as collective before we begin breaking them down.
So, let’s get started.
what are the sustainable development goals (SDGs)?
To look forward we actually need to look back. Trust me – it will be worth the reading.
While there are a number of UN initiatives that work to connect the world around how we can all grow, and develop, for good for the long-term I am going to focus on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were established in 2000 – eight global goals that seek to shift the needle worldwide on critical development issues from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, not to mention providing universal primary education…all by 2015. In September 2015 when the UN reached the deadline of the MDGs a new target for global wellbeing was set: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This was adopted after two years of research to establish what was needed to create the ‘Future We Want’ in terms of health, safety, security, unity, environmental protection and elimination of poverty. After much dialogue, debate and really drilling down, 17 Sustainable Development Goals became the core of the agenda, with their 169 supporting targets that help define how each goal can be implemented.
The SDGs are a master-plan, a to-do list, an urgent call-to-action, for the world. There are 17 Global Goals (see all of them here) that work hand-in-hand to create a peaceful, inclusive, responsible and prosperous present and future for everyone on the planet. ‘Everyone’ is an important part of these grand ambitions. More on this later.
Why were the SDGs created?
Technically speaking, the seeds of the SDGs go back to what is called ‘Agenda 21’, adopted in 1992 to improve lives and protect the environment.
The second big initiative was the Millenium Declaration, adopted in 2000. The MDGs (mentioned earlier) were hugely successful and proved that such initiatives could create change, but they were driven mainly by high-income countries and large donor agencies.
Some of the biggest achievements to come from the MDGs included reducing global extreme poverty by half, 2.6 billion people gained access to improved drinking water, and two-thirds of developing countries achieved gender parity in primary education. The UN said that the MDGs were “the most successful anti-poverty movement in history.”
While the MDGs were proof that working together to achieve a set of priorities could create change, the SDGs were created to build on their success and expand their vision.
Importantly, the SDGs are much more universal than the predecessors. They apply to low-income countries as much as they do high-income countries. The goals focus on all key components of a sustainable future, rather than just on one core issue. Human rights, inclusivity and equality are at the forefront, ensuring nobody gets left behind.
Perhaps the biggest change is that the SDGs call on all global citizens – me and you – to join in and start thinking of ways that we can do something too.
What an incredible idea! What I do every day is just as important to the future of this planet as the people of Germany or businesses like Amazon or icons like Sir Richard Branson. My efforts, your efforts, can and do make an impact. For the first time, everyone is asked to join the call to make sure that our impact is for a greater good.
The SDGs call on us all – young and old, near and far. They call on businesses to create strategies that commit to sustainability, strive to advance the SDGs, and encourage their employees to volunteer within the community.
“The future of humanity and of our planet lies in our hands. It lies also in the hands of today’s younger generation who will pass the torch to future generations. We have mapped the road to sustainable development; it will be for all of us to ensure that the journey is successful and its gains irreversible.”
Paragraph 53, The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UN
The universality of the goals means they also apply to all levels of government. From the UN Member States to city councils and school boards. For the former, their efforts are being measured and checked, and a SDG report is published annually on progress to date and areas where more action must be taken.
And then there is us – the world’s travellers. In order for the SDGs to be a success, we all must come together, owning the impact we have.
This belief goes to the highest levels in Tourism. As expressed by the Amb. Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the UN’s specialised agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism:
“The SDGs are a powerful way of ensuring all people, including you and me, are working together to create a safe, inclusive, sustainable world for all. As travellers, our impact goes far and wide. I am happy to take this journey with AM&A on this special project as they travel through the SDGs”
-Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary General of the UNWTO
As the Secretary General says, we need to make sure this is a positive, sustainable, personal impact that we can be proud of. This starts by seeing how each and every one of the 17 SDGs is actually impacted by Tourism.
Goals are important for a reason. Think about it – we create goals all the time. We may not always accomplish them, but they set the focus.
The SDGs have given everyone, literally everyone, a plan of action, a focus, that can change the world as we know it for the better, and for us all. If enough of the UN Member States, private businesses and individuals like us are taking actions to achieve the goals, it will inspire more to do the same.
Importantly, goals are also contagious, and personally motivating. When someone we know goes from couch potato to marathon runner, we wonder if we should also exercise more. When a friend gets their Master’s Degree, we may think about whether pursuing further education would be beneficial to us as well. When that Facebook friend you haven’t spoken to in ten years is posting pictures from the front of their mini-mansion, we may wonder if we could be doing something to get one too.
The SDGs by themselves can feel like just a nice list of ideals. But when we take those goals, and set our focus on achieving them, personally, through the power of one times billions, so much is possible.
The SDGs provide hope in a world of conflict, inequalities, and uncertainty. Tomorrow may be too late, but today we can join together and work towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to protect our future. We can’t wait any longer to take action.
When I joined ANITA MENDIRATTA & Associates and really began to understand how I, and my travels, could make a global difference through the SDGs, they really began to matter. I truly believe that maybe, just maybe, I can make a difference. Which is why I’m pledging to do my part, along with ANITA MENDIRATTA & Associates, by sharing and implementing actionable ways that we can be a part of the solution.
Join me. Together we can make a world of difference, we can #MakeTravelMatter
I’d like to invite you to take this journey with me, and AM&A, as I explore the 17 sustainable development goals. Each month we’ll focus on one goal and explore actionable ways that we as individuals can change the world.
11:00am, London time. 24 07 2019.
To look at any global news television screen at this precise moment one will see aerial coverage of Prime Minister Theresa May performing her final responsibilities in office:
- final PMQ in Parliament
- final address from 10 Downing Street
- final visit to Buckingham Palace to see Her Majesty the Queen to submit her resignation
- final wave to the cameras
all, no doubt, with a heavy heart. She did her best. Her work is done.
In parallel, an excited, freshly suited, soon to be appointed Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, waits with, no doubt, a strongly beating heart, all set to take on the role which millions across the UK and world have known he has longed for for all of his professional political life. His work is about to begin.
A generation ago, such moments of changing of the guard felt to unfold more slowly, more gently, more honourably. Saying goodbye to one leader prompted a toast, not a roast. Yet today, literally and figuratively, it can feel as though the revolving doors of leadership around the world are only too excited to feel the winds of change as the doors spins one out, one in. An idealistic assumption of times past which may in fact have been as aggressive as present? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Whatever the case, so the analysis begins, or rather, continues…
Four hours on, the process of change complete as the Royal Standard blows in the wind high over Buckingham Palace signifying Her Majesty is in residences, and having received the outgoing and incoming Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, the shift is felt. Leadership has changed.
A new chapter of the nation’s history is being written, Prime Minister Johnson is poised with pen firmly in hand, ready to start writing the story of the United Kingdom with his choice of instrument and prose. Unsurprisingly and understandably, in his creatively flowing mind, his first word will be “Finally!” His promise to the nation, clearly, confidently, with conviction, was first called out on the eve of his taking office in a self-declared campaign acronym rather overtly reflecting the ‘everyman working for everyman’, the ‘dude’, he enjoys being seen as: Deliver, Unite, Defeat, Energise. Message delivered. Acronym embedded: DUDE.
Clearly (even if ever so subtly), at times like these detail matters. Carefully, thoughtfully, often poetically and even cunningly, meaning goes beyond overtly spoken messages. Nuance can, in fact, speak louder than scripted words.
For Prime Minister May, now former Prime Minister May, she knew too well that her final words as the leader of the nation would be inscribed in the history books, her final speech her parting wish and prayer to the people who entrusted her to lead the nation through one of its most challenging times – challenges not only in politics, policies and personalities, but challenges in unity, harmony, decency and identity. Standing in front of 10 Downing Street, saying her farewell, her address would be the start of endless commentary, and criticism, of how she was able to perform in the land’s highest office. How will history judge her as a Conservative leader? As a Brexit leader? As a female leader? From whichever angle one chooses, it will be about judgment – open, unedited, colourful, sadly probably unthankful, judgment.
Former Prime Minister May’s final words were gentle, were grateful, were sincere, were without tears. Her words were clear. She is thankful to, and hopeful for, the people to whom she has had the honour of her life to serve.
As for the issue of future of the UK and its relationship with the EU, into this she refrained. Or did she?
There, in front of the iconic doorway of 10 Downing Street, she stood in her (presumably thought through) choice of departure suit: a tailored suit in distinctive blue, with a bold, chunky, gold connected-bauble (star?) necklace. Strategists could not help but smile at the choice – respectful salutes to the EU noted.
Was it a coincidence? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Now, a further four hours on, with the flag above Buckingham Palace changed back to its summertime Union Flag, nods an acknowledgement of the fact that we must, as always, keep calm and carry on. However the guard may have changed, whoever may be the next head of state, we must always ensure that we are all – each and every one of us – guarding what is, in the end, truly valued.
Today and always, ‘leader‘ must always be honoured as a verb, not a noun. For one, and for all. x
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2019
The SDGs – Who Cares? I do.
How do you start a journey? Wise men of the past have suggested that you begin with a first step, but I’d like to begin this one with a step back.
First of all, I’m Jessica. (Great to meet you!) I’m the Marketing Executive here at ANITA MENDIRATTA & Associates. I couldn’t tell you what that title actually means, as my role thus far has been unlike any marketing position I’ve ever had. Everyday brings new and exciting challenges, and while I’m still doing some of the more traditional marketing tasks for the business, some days I have the opportunity to contribute in ways, and be a part of a team, that makes a lasting impact on the world.
Our firm, spearheaded by Anita Mendiratta, does this in a multitude of ways. From her role as the Special Advisor to the Secretary General of the UNWTO, to consulting with government leaders in tourism post-crisis, supporting CNN International in their support of the global tourism industry, and helping tourism organisations create more sustainable business models and brand identities. Whether working on assignments short- to medium-term, everything is focused on long-term development, an integral distinction because it doesn’t get all the glory as short-term results, but over time makes the biggest impact.
I personally have worked within the tourism industry for years now and felt like I had a great grasp of the ins and outs and purpose behind what we do. Encouraging more people to see the world, getting them to book the trip, and importantly with my social media background, asking them to share their experiences with others on Facebook, Instagram, or the social platform of their choice. I always found the work I did in tourism extremely rewarding – particularly because I wanted others to enjoy seeing the world as much as I do.
SHIFTING MY VIEW OF TOURISM
After joining AM&A, my understanding of tourism was completely shifted. For my first task as a new employee of the firm, Anita asked me to write a paper on the ‘20 Things I Didn’t Know About Tourism’. To be completely honest, I wondered what the point was. I’d spent years in the tourism industry, but assumed the assignment was more to get a grasp of my writing style than it was to actually teach me something. I figured I’d finish the paper and send it back within a couple of days, but I spent over a week pouring through the suggested resources, reports and data. By the time I sent back the finished assignment, I felt like I knew less than when I started. Walking through my report with Anita, and getting her perspective as a practitioner within the strategic (and especially diplomatic) tourism space, I began to see tourism less as a tourist taking a trip, and more as an economic sector that had the power to combat poverty, bring people from diverse backgrounds together, change a community’s future with new infrastructure and employment opportunities, and even bring peace to the world. For the first time I began to see the big picture.
The problem with seeing the big picture, is that it suddenly feels like something that one person couldn’t possibly have any effect on. Not by encouraging customers to visit Tenerife or book a city break, not by sharing beautiful destination images on Instagram to inspire, and not by travelling more this year – or could it? The disconnect between tourism on a higher level and travelling as a tourist became so clear to me, and I knew I needed to find a bridge to connect my two worlds.
We have become increasingly more aware of the way we should or shouldn’t travel, that’s a fact. 41% of us consider social issues in a destination of real importance, and 58% choose not to visit a destination if they feel it will negatively impact the people who live there. (Study from Booking.com) The majority of us have stopped riding elephants, book tours and activities through local suppliers, and seek authentic experiences over top ten lists. But how do we make a difference? How can we shape employment opportunities in Nepal or healthcare infrastructure in Mali or make sure that the Greek family who has been working in tourism for three generations has access to the digital skills they need to keep up?
the sdgs: united nations sustainable development goals
As part of that introductory paper, Anita shared with me the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. They may or may not be known to you, but at the time, they were unknown to me. In 2015, all of the UN Member States adopted these 17 goals, which were to act as a blueprint for “peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” Importantly they became a call-to-action, a checks and balances of sorts, a strategic framework for the global community as they make decisions leading up to 2030. She shared the SDGs for a reason: to give our work context. Even in tourism.
For some reason the SDG’s really stuck with me. I would love nothing more than to live in a world without poverty or hunger. For gender equality to be the norm and for all children to have access to a quality education and clean water. A world where climate change is taken seriously and its resources are protected for future generations. But, we don’t live in a perfect world and the success of the Sustainable Development Goals is dependent on the efforts of the UN Member States. While it’s positive to see global leaders take these goals seriously, how could I possibly contribute to such large-scale ideals as a traveller?
These are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No Poverty
GOAL 2: Zero Hunger
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being
GOAL 4: Quality Education
GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality
GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
GOAL 13: Climate Action
GOAL 14: Life Below Water
GOAL 15: Life on Land
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal
it’s time to bridge the gap
After discussing these ideas with the team, and sharing my frustrations, Anita decided that I would be a perfect ‘fit’ as our firms’ voice on getting the message out on why the SDGs matter to us all. My background in the more consumer side of tourism, and as a traveller myself, has shown me where and why we travel and how we make those decisions. My role here at AM&A exposes me to all of the political, economic, and diplomatic facets of tourism – it shows me jigsaw pieces of the big picture everyday. I’m now in a unique position to join them together, and the business provides the perfect platform for reaching both sides of the tourism aisle.
It’s time to shift our views on tourism. As travellers particularly, we need to stop looking at tourism as something we do or where we go, and begin exploring why it matters. I’m confident that the Sustainable Development Goals can be the stepping stones we need and help shift our focus while encouraging all of us to make a difference. Whether we are travelling or at home, making actionable micro choices that, together, will begin to change the big picture.
I’d like to invite you to take this journey with me, and AM&A, as I explore the 17 sustainable development goals. Each month we’ll focus on one goal and explore actionable ways that we as individuals can change the world.
One year ago, on what was a milestone day, I received the most incredible gift from someone who is a central part of my heart and who understands my heart – Al Merschen. The shock was immense. I understood what it was, but I couldn’t quite absorb its enormity: its immense purpose, its huge potential impact. I needed to get my head around it. I needed to get my heart around it – I needed to fully honour it.
Over the past year I, we, have been figuring out where in the world to bring this gift to life, and where in the world it can start to touch lives. The process of defining the WHAT, WHY and WHEN has been a long, important one. But now we know!
And so here, now, I am delighted to share that Al’s gift – creation of THE ANITA MENDIRATTA FOUNDATION, is being officially registered as a globally-focused Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) with the UK Charity Commission. For this, I thank Al with all of my heart, and with this, I hope to be able to make all the difference. x