15 June 2020

75 for UN75: A Conversation on Rethinking Poverty

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, and as part of its 75th anniversary initiative (UN75), United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) is hosting the "75 for UN75: 75 Minutes of Conversation" series of online dialogues with academics, educators, researchers and students around the world, to discuss their priorities for the future, obstacles to achieving them, and the role of global cooperation in managing global issues. On 8 June 2020 UNAI hosted a webinar on the theme “Rethinking Poverty”, as part of this series.

The COVID-19 pandemic is more than a health crisis. Before it hit the world at the beginning of this year, more than 700 million people still lived in extreme poverty, surviving on less than US$1.90 per day and struggling to fulfil the most basic needs like health, education, and access to water and sanitation. It is estimated that the economic fallout from the global pandemic could increase global poverty by as much as half a billion people. This would be the first time in thirty years that poverty has increased globally.

In light of this, United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) brought together a panel of experts from academia to discuss the role of higher education in eradicating poverty and ensuring social justice. The virtual event entitled 75 Minutes of Conversation: Rethinking Poverty was held on 8 June 2020 as part of the "75 for UN75: 75 Minutes of Conversation" series of online dialogues.

Ambassador Narinder Kakar, Permanent Observer of the University for Peace to the United Nations opened the discussion by pointing out that “people with higher education have a better capacity to pull themselves and their families out of poverty.”  He went on to highlight the importance of education for the girl child: “Education has the potential to help achieve greater gender equality and break the cycle of early marriages and child labour.” Ambassador Kakar also linked education to industrial transformation, employment, economic progress and agricultural productivity that improves nutrition and health outcomes for millions of people.  

Dr. Dimitrios Mavrakis, Director of  the Energy Policy and Development Centre, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (Greece), UNAI SDG Hub for SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, shared the “UN75 – 75 trees” initiative that invites municipalities and academic institutions to plant and take care of 75 trees in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. The university also initiated a project that seeks to reduce energy poverty by working closely with local communities to educate energy consumers about sustainable practices, cover the needs of households with renewable energy sources, develop smart financing and “smart buildings” that will bring energy savings. “Successful implementation of such initiatives will help low-income households meet their energy needs in a sustainable way, contribute to the green transformation of the economy, combat climate change and create jobs,” Dr. Mavkaris noted.

Dr. Faisal Ahmad Khan, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering, and Management Sciences (Pakistan), UNAI SDG Hub for Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, provided an overview of the university’s efforts to tackle poverty in the province of Balochistan in Pakistan and its neighbouring regions in the past 8 years. According to Dr. Khan, most of his university’s students come from under-privileged families and one household can have 18-20 people. When the university enrols and graduates a student, “It means you are effectively creating decent work for a huge household in the developing world. In a period of 10 years, quality higher education can literally transform the lives of tens of thousands of such households and millions of people,” observed Dr. Khan. He believed that faculty members and professors who contribute to economic development by supporting underprivileged social groups should be recognized and rewarded. He further called for a strong linkage between governments and institutions of higher education so that policy recommendations from these institutions can influence decision and policy making processes.

Ms. Esther Odi Tieku, a student from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana and a Millennium Fellow for the class of 2019, described the role young people can play in addressing poverty and social injustice. Ms. Tieku founded the “Shelve the Books” initiative that provides children from underprivileged communities with books, stationary and other learning materials. Working as a volunteer in an NGO inspired Ms. Tieku to make a difference. “I became very passionate about education. When people are empowered with access to education, they can achieve more for themselves.” Through this initiative, Ms. Tieku mobilized funds and received support from communities and institutions to achieve her goals. “We should not just focus on numbers, but the impact we can create in the long run. Think of what you can change in your community in your little way,” she advised young participants.

Dr. Balghis Badri, Director of the Regional Institute for Gender, Diversity, Peace and Rights, Ahfad University for Women (Sudan), UNAI SDG Hub for Goal 5: Gender Equality, discussed the efforts of students and faculty of the university to help lift women out of poverty, such as helping them access financial credit services and livelihood sources, and supporting women and girls to continue their studies and receive training that strengthens their leadership skills. Students and faculty members also engage in research, monitoring and evaluation activities with organizations like the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme. “The bottom-up participatory research has given resource-constrained households a voice and created community-based partnerships,” Dr. Badri said. “We encourage our students to have debates and dialogues with underprivileged families and advocate for access to education and health, while discouraging practices like early marriage and dropping out of school,” she concluded.

During the moderated Q&A session, the panelists interacted with participants to discuss topics ranging from empowering young people to be change agents, access to resources for youth, and the impact of COVID-19 on addressing poverty.

Additional resources:


UN7 Rethinking Poverty

On 8 June 2020, United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) hosted a webinar on the theme “Rethinking Poverty”, as part of the UNAI “75 for UN75: 75 Minutes of Conversation” online dialogue series.