18 June 2018

Conference at UN Headquarters stresses work of universities on sustainable development

In collaboration with De Montfort University (DMU), the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) co-organized the #JoinTogether Conference that recently took place at United Nations Headquarters in New York. This article features some of the highlights of the event in which hundreds of students were able to participate.


18 June 2018 -  On 7 June 2018, the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) initiative co-organized a conference with UNAI member institution De Montfort University (United Kingdom) that addressed ways to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The conference featured an emphasis on SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Chancellor Baroness Lawrence of DMU talked in her opening remarks about how the collective work of institutions of higher education "does have a lasting impact on people's lives" and that the event was an opportunity "to create a roadmap for a more inclusive world". In that line, the Vice-Chancellor of DMU, Dominic Shellard told students in the audience: "You can all make an individual difference to improving the environment around you and also to improving the conditions of our planet". 

Speakers included faculty and students from DMU itself, including the Faculty of Business and Law and the Leicester School of Architecture, as well as other institutions such as the University of Jaen (Spain), Aristotle University (Greece) and Amsterdam University College (The Netherlands). UNAI member institutions that took part in the event were the University of Pennsylvania (United States), the Elon University of Law (United States) and Guilford College (United States). 

As the conference considered in particular the challenges faced by refugees in local communities, the work that has been done on campuses to help refugees and migrants was also showcased through best practices, case studies and projects, including an interactive session with the audience. 

Maher Nasser, Director of the Outreach Division in the United Nations Department of Public Information, emphasized that the Charter of the United Nations, which begins with its preambular reference to "We the Peoples", envisages that the United Nations also belongs to the academic community, including students. Nasser touched upon each of the SDGs in underscoring the importance of universities and the need to work together in order to ensure that nobody is left behind. “The change starts with you, the society around you and your university", he stressed.

The role of institutions of higher education was highlighted by Antje Kristin Watermann, Associate Public Information Officer at UNAI. "Something we see in the institutions that are part of UNAI is the committment to the transformative power of education through teaching, research and knowledge-sharing", she observed. Omar Hernández, also from UNAI, provided examples of institutions from around the world that are not working on sustainable development merely from a pure curricular approach, but with meaningful research and practical ideas involving faculty and students. 

There was also a discussion about the the use of diplomacy to tackle global challenges. Daniël Prins, Chief of the Conventional Arms Branch in the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, and Jonathan Alley, Deputy Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations, gave their perspective on that topic. Ambassador Alley remarked that one of they elements of multilateral diplomacy when dealing global challenges is "building relationships and understanding which enables results to happen and allows to move things forward."

To view the archived webcast of the conference, please click here