Sustainable Buzz: The U.N.’s #GlobalGoals

Maybe if the U.N. blueprint for peace and prosperity by 2030 were sexier, people around the world would take notice and support it. So goes the thinking behind #GlobalGoals, an infotainment campaign to frame the U.N.’s new agenda for economic and social development as something that everyone should be excited and optimistic about.

Trading in the wonkish official name Sustainable Development Goals for the hashtag friendlier Global Goals, the campaign aims to make the goals fun and accessible, especially to those under 25 (who make up 60% of the world’s population).

A colorful chart distills the complex web of 17 goals and 169 sub-goals, adopted Friday by 193 countries, to a simple message: the world has agreed on a plan for making hunger and poverty a thing of the past while protecting the planet and addressing issues of social and economic injustice and inequality.

 

TheGlobalGoals

 

If people know that their governments have agreed to implement national policies that prioritize their needs and concerns, they will push their governments to live up to that promise. At least that is the conviction of campaign founder Richard Curtis. Curtis is the filmmaker behind Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mr Bean, Love Actually and other romantic comedies as well as the co-founder of the charity Comic Relief, a response to the 1985 famine in Ethiopia that was part of the U.N.’s Make Poverty History campaign in the 1990s.

“Knowledge is power. You can’t fight for your rights if you don’t know what your rights are,” Curtis told the U.N. press corps by way of explaining why he endeavors to tell seven billion people about the Global Goals in seven days (between September 25 and October 2).

How does he plan to make the goals famous? By harnessing the star power of Hollywood royalty (Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Daniel Craig, Matt Damon and Meryl Streep, to name a few), professional athletes (David Beckham, Gareth Bale), and popular personalities including Malala, Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking. Many of them read sections of the goals (translated from U.N.-speak into plain English) in the video “We the People,” which is just one of the campaign’s several sentimental and informative videos. Google, Wikipedia, Tumbler, The Huffington Post and other influential platforms have agreed to amplify the media frenzy that the videos are intended to spark by promoting related content on their sites. Curtis also created the gimmicky #dizzygoals, a digital outreach campaign wherein famous football (soccer) stars do silly things, intended to serve as a refreshingly light antidote to the gravity and enormous scale of the problems these goals intend to resolve.

 

 

“Of course these are serious issues,” notes Curtis, “but we need to make the goals simple, fun and entertaining to capture people’s attention.”

Many young artists and activists have joined the campaign and are coming up with their own creative ways to reach their peers. Tell Everybody is a crowd-sourced song initiated by 12 musicians from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, Tanzania and South Africa, all of whom have committed to remaining actively engaged in #GlobalGoals throughout its 15-year lifecycle. They chose the lyrics from over 5,000 verses submitted via text by people from 24 African countries, including “many” from rural areas, according to the video’s creators.

The glitzy aspects of the campaign will culminate in Saturday’s Global Citizens’ Festival, an annual free concert in Central Park (and broadcast worldwide) that galvanizes financial and moral support for eliminating poverty. This year’s lineup includes Beyonce, Coldplay and Pearl Jam as well as an appearance by the U.N. Secretary General.

The festival is expected to draw tremendous attention, but only from the 43% of people with internet access. These are not necessarily the people with the most at stake in U.N.’s global vows to protect their rights and bring them into the world economy. In effort to reach the most marginalized, disenfranchised communities, #GlobalGoals launched Project Everyone in partnership with educators, faith leaders, sports clubs, creative and media agencies, publishers, artists, broadcasters, telecoms operators, U.N. agencies and NGOs. Their initiatives include a pop-up global radio station, sticker books, lesson materials,  billboards, text messages to a billion mobile phone subscribers and more.

Beyond generating some online buzz, what kind of impact can these schemes have? Will they increase the likelihood of universal access to health care, better protection of the environment, girls staying in school instead of being married off as child brides? Will they prevent future families from being driven from their homes by violent conflict?

No amount of innovative campaigning can mobilize meaningful support for those causes from 7 billion people by the end of this week. If the message were ever to reach over 1 billion people without access to basic services—energy, hospitals, bank accounts—they would have good reason to be skeptical of the non-legally binding promise to empower them that their leaders made in New York. Even if the campaign proves the most successful in history in terms of awareness, it is useless unless it also convinces people that these ambitious goals are attainable. Even within the U.N. there are cynics.

One can hope that #GlobalGoals campaign at least gets people thinking about the more inclusive, holistic approach to economic development that is reflected in the new agenda. This would be a first step toward forging strong enforcement mechanisms or raising the estimated $3.3-$4.5 trillion a year needed see them through. The world will be lucky if we can get those prerequisites for success in line for the post-2030 agenda.

In the meantime, it might inspire a few to support a relevant NGO or lobby for effective implementation in their countries, every little bit of which helps make the best of the what we have in place now. If it entertains people along the way, so much the better.

 

Featured image: screen shot from Tell Everybody–the Global Goals Campaign video