17 Things I Learned from the Social Good Summit

Coinciding with the UN General Assembly and the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting this week was the Social Good Summit in New York City. In attendance, Adrian Grenier, Ashley Judd, Patti Smith and me! With a background in international relations this summit was my mecca. I’d been wanting to go for years and finally leveraged my blog to get a press pass. After two enlightening days I headed home to Philly only to find that my precious notebook, the one with my notes from every session, and e-mails of people at the UN and practically every NGO I ever wanted to work for, was missing. Hence, the lateness of this post. I had to get in a good cry before I could try to use my memory (not such a good one) to tell you all about the 17 things I learned from the Social Good Summit.

First, let me explain…17 may sound like an odd number, but the Summit this year was very focused on the SDG’s or Sustainable Development Goals, that were just agreed upon at the UN last week. The goals focus on everything from gender equality and climate change to ending hunger and poverty. The hope is that we as a collective community can make these goals a reality by 2030. The SDG’s are ambitious to say the least, but if we know more about them, we are in a better position to put them into action. So, here is a little recap of the things I learned about the goals from some of the most interesting people on planet earth.

17. People in the developing world need education and support to help their big ideas flourish, the same way American’s do. I spoke to Romain Vakilitabar who started Watson University with the idea of being an incubator for talented individuals who needed a college degree from all over the world. (Goal #4 Quality Education)

DSC_382716. Data talks. The amazing Laverne Cox moderated a discussion on transgender issues, and specifically talked about the fact that we have very little data on this population of people. In order to help slow the rate of suicide and bullying among transgender men and women we need less aggregated and more focused data on this group of people. Watch Laverne, Shelby Chestnut and Cecilia Chung here. (Goal #5: Gender Equality)

15. One person CAN make a difference…. even a child. Vivienne Harr started STAND a lemonade stand to help raise money to end child slavery when she was 8 years old. She’s 11 now, and one of the most inspiring speakers at the summit. Check out her speech here. (All of the goals)

14. The Power of Social Media to promote change is real. On Sunday I spoke with Amneh Jafari the young woman who started the hashtag #istandwithahmed. She was invited to the summit by Mashable. Not only did her hashtag effect the change she wanted to see, allowing so many people all over the world to voice their support for Ahmed Mohamed, but it changed her life as well, by exposing her to the vast world of New York, and all the interesting and remarkable people at the Summit. (All of the goals…again)

13. 1.5 billion people are living in the dark. Cathy Calvin, President and CEO of the UN Foundation reminded us that a major chunk of the world’s population does not have access to electricity. (Goal #9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure)

Photo courtesy of mnn.com
Photo courtesy of mnn.com

12. Black Mambas! There is a bad ass group of women in South Africa who fight poachers, and we need more women (and men) to stand up for these defenseless animals. (Goal #15: Life on Land)

11. When You Have Something to Say-Interrupt. Stellar advice on being a powerful woman, direct from Madeline Albright. (Goal #5: Gender Equality)

10. The Planet Does Not Need Saving. As director of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, put it “if we warm the planet up as we are going the consequences are, we will be gone, the planet will still be here.” This is such a great point to remember when talking about climate change. The trees, and grass, and mountains will eventually grow back as they have throughout earth’s 4.5 billion year history…we just won’t get to enjoy them. (Goal #13: Climate Action)

Photo courtesy of Mashable
Photo courtesy of Mashable

9. Music Is a Great Vehicle for Social Activism. Just ask Patti Smith who surprised everyone at the Summit with her presence, and talked about her long history protesting through song. (All the goals…make your voice heard!)

8.There are concrete things you can do NOW to help. That pesky notebook loss has me at a loss for which speech this was in, but someone asked how they could help refugees and the answer was “host one in your home.” As someone who has worked with refugees for almost a decade I was surprised to hear this answer, because I’ve never met a refugee who lived with an American family. I have only known refugees to live in very sad, subsidized housing situations. What a great way to help! I have to keep this one in mind when I start to feel helpless. (All the Goals)

7. We are taking fish out of the ocean faster than they can reproduce. According to Dr. Enric Sala who is a National Geographic Explorer, in the last hundred years we have removed and eaten over 90% of the available supply of fish from the ocean. Check out this talk to learn what we can do to replenish our oceans. (Goal #14: Life Below Water)

6. Facebook is actually good for something other than baby pictures. Naomi Gleit from the big FB came to talk about the social media giant’s social good initiatives. Facebook is working on ways to make it easier for people to connect and confirm the safety of their loved ones during a crisis. (Goal #17: Partnerships for the Goals)

5. The Dark Web is more accessible than you think. Rosa Bransky from Flamingo spoke about virtual spaces that are very easy to get to on the web, and often full of nefarious creatures doing unspeakable things, like sex trafficking children. Check out her informative and enlightening talk here. (Doesn’t really relate to a specific goal) 

4. We can, and should be the generation that ends AIDS. Actress Charlize Theron spoke eloquently about her childhood in South Africa, and her deep connection to the AIDS epidemic. We are at a pivotal point where AIDS can, for many people be managed through education and getting the right drugs to the countries most in need. We need to lobby for better access to drugs in the developing world. #genendit (Goal #3: Good Health and Well-being)

3. “And” is an important word when we talk about the SDG’s. The goals fit together and have to be accomplished in tandem. We can’t end hunger and AIDS without education. We can’t provide decent work and economic growth without industry, innovation and infrastructure. (All the goals) 

2. Once your displaced from your home, the average time you will remain displaced is 17-years. Women and children are far more likely to be in refugee camps than men, and refugee camps are a petri dish for hate. We can’t allow children to spend their entire childhoods in hopeless situations, with no education. As Frieda Pinto put it “Kindness, empathy and ethics should be part of the Global Goals.” Let’s make sure that more children don’t learn to hate, and create a safer world for everyone. (Goal #16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions)

1.The Goals are More Important than Kim Kardashian’s Bottom. Filmmaker and Activist Richard Curtis put it pretty perfectly when he reminded everyone that social media is a tool for good, and not just a tool for junk celebrity gossip. Let’s use the many tools we are empowered with for the social good, to further the 17 SDG’s, and to make the world a better place. (All the goals)

You can watch the entire Social Good Summit 2015 here.