March 1, 2023

By Olivia Hille, Graduate Fellows Program Coordinator

After three years, the UNA family celebrated its return to the UN Headquarters in New York for its Global Engagement Summit (GES) on Feb 17th, 2023. Not only was it marking our return to the General Assembly Hall, but the incredible speakers and accomplishments that have happened since the last in-person summit in 2019.

Kicking off the summit with a welcoming from many familiar faces, including Marielle Ali, UNA-USA National Council Chairperson; Rachel Pittman, the CEO and Executive Director of UNA-USA; Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens, President and Chief Executive Officer at United Nations Foundation; Bettina Hausmann, UNA-USA GES Planning Committee Vice Chair; and Sanskriti Deva, UNA-USA GES Planning Committee Chair, all who set the tone of inspiration and renewed our conviction and goals for this next year.

We were also welcomed by none other than the United States’ Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. While she spoke on several topics, her words on the need for young people to be involved in these spaces, the need for modernization of the Security Council to make it more inclusive, as well as the need to defend the UN charter and hold those who violate it accountable rang loud and true. Importantly, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield spoke on the importance of private sector investment in the SDG’s, which was a trend throughout the day in many topics.

As the day moved on into panel discussions, we heard from Liz Metraux, Director of Empowerment Strategy at the United Nations Foundation and Peter Yeo, President of the Better World Campaign and the Senior Vice President at the United Nations Foundation, got into great detail about the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, and the need for UN intervention while discussing the fortification of U.S.-UN Relations. While the war in Ukraine continues to weigh heavily on the international community, some highlights of this discussion included topics such as integration of Ukraine into the European economy, U.S. economy, and foreign service policy. Metaraux and Yeo echoed each other in agreeing that there needs to be honesty and forwardness about this invasion, including on-going collection of war crimes evidence throughout this so that full scale convictions and reparations can happen, and international cooperation to invest in Ukraine is of the utmost importance to win this war. Ending this panel with a call to action, Metaraux and Yeo asked for those on Capitol Hill to come and visit the UN, to see the countries working together and that UN engagement truly matters.

The next panel discussed the Delivery of Humanitarian Aid, with guest speakers Shameza Abdulla, Senior Emergency Specialist at UNICEF; Selly Muzammil, Partnerships Officer, UN System and Multilateral Engagement Division at World Food Programme; and Maher Nasser, Director, Outreach Division, Department of Global
Communications at the United Nations. While discussing humanitarian aid, Muzammil emphasized the need to end world hunger, especially now as we see resource shortages that heighten food costs. Highlighting the importance of aid regarding the food crisis and COVID-19 should not end at state borders but being treated as it is, a global crisis. Abdulla spoke on how work in these agencies are not only important, but vary day to day depending on the needs of global citizens. UNICEF has taken on a holistic approach, getting the most aid to the most vulnerable as fast as possible, even when they are no longer in the news.

The next panel was moderated by Himaja Nagireddy, the U.S. Youth Observer to the UN who spoke with Craig Mokhiber, Director in the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Leyla Sharafi, Senior Gender Adviser at UNFPA. Highlighting that this year is the 75th Anniversary of the United Declaration of Human Rights, speakers were very clear that the global issue of human rights and how the United States treats human rights is drastically different, especially as we see a resurgence of white supremacy. Craig Mokhiber hammered home the fact that human rights are not amenities but fundamental aspects of our lives and they are not recognized as such in the U.S., giving examples of capital punishment and inability to integrate human rights into foreign policy or recognize international human rights agendas. Complimenting these points, Leyla Sharafi spoke on how human rights are under attack, but not in retreat. There are positive changes in human rights movements and the power of feminist movements, youth movements, who are working in dangerous situations and demanding change, and making a difference, especially in the U.S. The positivity of human rights movements needs to be complemented with its needs for international law backing, Mokhiber pointed out. International law needs to fill in for endangered populations where domestic law does not. Mokhiber emphasized that this has to include that the international community needs to understand that they cannot send people back to counties against their will. Along with that no country should be able to veto a human rights mission. These are hard issues to address in human rights when it is ultimately up to the signers to follow through on their end of the bargain. We are still living in a world where 50% of women are made to make their own decisions on their human rights and reproductive health without support of their governments or laws. During this panel discussion, the proposition of creating a space where the government and states have a dialogue with civil society and how the UN wants to create this space and is strongly committed to making this happen.

The program resumed after a lunch break with a panel discussing actualizing the SDG’s moderated by Jamal Hill, President and Founder, Swim Up Hill Foundation and a UN 2022 Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals, with guest speakers being Harshani Dharmadasa, Senior Director, Global Partnerships and Initiatives at the United Nations Foundation, and Jen Mozen, Vice President of Delivery at InnerView Technologies. When speaking about actualizing the SDG’s, it is empashized how many companies do support the SDG’s and place it into the framework of their day to day policies. While this is instrumental in aiding in making the 2030 goal for the SDGs a reality, it is essential to get young people involved, which is what was a major highlight of this panel. Specifically, student support through financial means by fundraising and grassroots activism. Not only is it about getting your people involved but making them and others in these spaces feel included, having peer leaders and peer mentors, which needs to happen from grassroots to government to private sectors.

Next, we heard from Daria Miglietta Ferrari, Senior Political Affairs Officer in the Europe, Latin America and Asia Integrated Operational Team with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations; Elizabeth Metraux, Director, Content and Engagement Strategy, Better World Campaign with the UN Foundation; and Paul Snyder, Former Security Focal Point with the UN Office of Military Affairs, talking about international peace and security. Highlighted by Snyder, there is a difference between peacekeeping and peacemaking, which creates a space to compare and contrast the two terms in this panel. Specifically, peacekeeping is not cheap and it is often the richer countries that can afford to give and receive aid rather than poorer countries. There are many aspects of peacekeeping that make it much more complicated and bureaucratic as Ferraru, Metaraux and Synder touched on, but with a call to focus on creating peacekeeping and peacemaking forces, more inclusive spaces and equity, especially in terms of gender.

The panel on Preserving Cultural Heritages had experts Christinia Eala, Director of Tiyospaye Winyan Maka; Justin Hansford, Director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Georgetown University and U.S. Representative to the UN Forum on
People of African Descent; Kathryn Kross, Executive Director of Communications, Better World Campaign at the United Nations Foundation; and Eliot Minchenberg, Director of Office and UNESCO Representative to the United Nations in New York. This panel covered the topic of the global family, one that has never been more relevant than today. Touching on the extremely important topics of indigenous rights and representation within governments, recognition and more importantly cultural preservation through expression and space. With an overall message of shared humanity, one that is echoed by UNESCO, cultural heritage is one that is interdisciplinary and was called for more attention in the years to come, especially revolving around the SDG’s.

Following, the panel on upholding international law brought out the voices of Sofia Borges, Senior Vice President and Head of the New York Office of the United Nations Foundation and H.E. Mr. Odo Tevi, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of
Vanuatu to the United Nations. Throughout this conversation, Ambassador Tevi reinforced the need for international law, especially in terms of climate change as it is not only his country that is suffering at the hands of extreme climate events but the whole world. Like many other speakers, Ambassador Tevi and Sofia Borges admitted that this is not just about sustaining the current generations but the future generations, creating change now so there are future and prosperous generations ahead. With a call to action about creating and implementing climate change legislation at the international level, Ambassador Tevi spoke deeply about his admiration for his country and the need for smaller countries to be listened to in these times of crisis.

Aftering hearing about several important notes of focus for the next year in the UN, the last panel discussed the evolution of the UN, and how to support the welcomed changes. As Deanna Bitetti, Head of External Relations and Communications at UNHCR; Jordie Hannum, Executive Director, Better World Campaign with the United Nations Foundation; and Jake Sherman, Minister Counselor, UN Management and Reform at U.S. Mission to the UN (USUN) spoke candidly about advancing the SDG’s, reducing carbon footprints and gender equity dominated the conversation. The need for DEI experts has never been more urgent as climate crises create more disproportionate barriers for endangered populations, people of color, non cis-gendered individuals as well as placing the burden on young people.

Concluding the summit, we heard from Selwin Hart, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Climate Action and Assistant Secretary-General for the Climate Action Team. Hart so passionately spoke of the need for climate action now. While his words were urgent and he spoke of the odds and numbers not being in our favor to change the course of our environment, he expressed how optimistic he was, not only because of the actions and policy he believes in but the people working to make the change to save our world. His notes and passion for climate action not only complemented the words of the previous panel but struck a resonating message with the audience.

After hearing from many experts and career activists, we heard from Sophia Kianni, Founder, Climate Cardinals, and member of the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change; Faith Hill, Entertainer and conservation advocate; and Maggie McGraw, public policy professional and conservation advocate about their commitment to eliminating climate change and how important our world is to save in a panel discussion revolving around their experiences with climate change activism.

Finalizing the GES, Farah Salim Eck, Senior Director of Programs and Policies, UNA-USA, provided us with an inspiring farewell. After hearing many speak on issues that have never been as important as they are now, she reiterated the importance of acting locally, and thinking globally.

While the summit was only one day out of a year, it provided us an opportunity to see the passion, work, and faces of those making a difference. Throughout the day, speakers and directors alike highlighted the drive of the people who work in the UN network, and how remarkable it is and how much work is being done for the good of our world. While one day will never fully explain the depth of many of these issues or how much more work needs to be done, the Global Engagement Summit successfully set the tone for empowering and emboldening for impact in 2023.

Need to Know


More >

Upcoming Events

More >
Good chance to earn cash - Glory Casino.