The world is increasingly siloed. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, globalization was in trouble. Although the flow of information is largely free, the movement of people, goods, IP, and capital is not. This is a unique moment in time to connect people who don’t usually work together and generate new ideas about solutions for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Every year, on the opening day of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September, Diplomatic Courier and its partners host a high-level meeting titled the “SDGs in Action Forum.” Every year we bring together a multi-disciplinary group of leaders with the purpose of creating uncommon collaborations. But we all know this year is different.

While I believe this UNGA is the most open it has been in decades, I also know that the UN that was established 75 years ago to respond to the ills of a world war, is not entirely up to task for the multiple crises we are facing today.

But I also believe they don’t need to be.

For more than 60 years our focus in development and solution-making has been based on big actors and big solutions. Experts from very large institutions, under this model, have done a lot of good and big work.

But times have changed. The solutions are also coming from hubs outside of New York, Geneva, and Washington. And so, progress on the SDGs will depend on small-but-scalable solutions, decentralized, and devised by creativity and local knowledge.  

This year’s meeting is not business as usual. Not because we are meeting virtually but because we are facing multiple crises all at once. Heavy statements to the tune of: “More than a billion children out of school around the world makes this a generational catastrophe” (UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres); and, “Gains made in the past 25 years were erased in just 25 weeks of the pandemic” (Melinda Gates) are weighing on our minds.

Indeed, this year is not business as usual for the SDGs. We have to make up for all the lost time and figure out how we can build resilient systems for the future. But I feel optimistic that we can. The most open UNGA in the UN’s history is unfolding this week and we have a chance to truly democratize solution-making.

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