To fight poverty globally by empowering students

Three non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, the Mountain Institute, and Utah China Friendship Improvement Sharing Hands Development and Commerce will present their joint vision regarding the fight against poverty in mountainous regions of the world at the special United Nations forum fighting poverty at the beginning of 2018.

The United Nations Commission for Social Development will hold the fifty-sixth session on 31 January–7 February 2018. The priority theme of the session will be “strategies for the eradication of poverty to achieve sustainable development for all.”  It is a follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen – 1995, and the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly: Social Development (26 June-1 July 2000, Geneva).

In a joint statement E/CN.5/2018/NGO/71, accepted and distributed by the United Nations Secretariat on December 1, 2017, they emphasized, that: “Today, mountain communities, being disproportionately affected by the challenges of living at high altitudes, and left almost on their own to deal with emerging new threats such as climate change, etc., are among the world’s poorest. They must be at the centre of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. On their behalf, we must address poverty and hunger eradication; promote gender equality; provide decent work opportunities and economic growth; and develop industry and infrastructure. Lack of access to education and information further deepen their dependence.  About 39 percent of the mountain population in developing countries, or 329 million people are estimated to be vulnerable to food insecurity, according to a recent study of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in collaboration with the Mountain Partnership Secretariat. When only rural areas are considered, nearly half the population is at risk. During the period 2000–2012, despite food insecurity decreasing at the global level, it increased in mountain areas. The study revealed a 30 percent increase in the number of mountain people vulnerable to food insecurity from 2000 to 2012, while the mountain population increased by only 16 percent.”

As one of the ways to raise awareness about the need for sustainable development and poverty eradication for mountain communities, they cite an example from Utah Valley University, which is an active contributor to the sustainable development of mountain communities in the developing world. UVU does this by engaging students, non-traditional students in particular, in a hands-on involvement and practical implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals to address the eradication of poverty, principally in impoverished mountain regions of the world.

Non-traditional students are often older than 25 years old, and may have delayed enrolment into postsecondary education; attended university part-time and work full time; are financially independent for financial aid purposes; have dependents other than a spouse; are single parents; or do not have a high school diploma. The UN statement says that, “These students represent more than 30% of college students in the United States and many are women. However, most have diverse professional skills and experiences which they are ready and eager to contribute to benefit the global communities — mountain ones in particular.”

UVU’s model represents a service learning initiative which allows students through the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at UVU, to gain professional skills and experiences by addressing real-world problems such as poverty eradication at local, regional and United Nations levels with an instructor serving them as a mentor.

As a highlight of the model, three NGOs have mentioned that “The fourth international Women of the Mountains conference was hosted in Utah, October 7–9, 2015 solely through the efforts of the Utah International Mountain Forum, a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University. Members of the coalition, the majority of whom are non-traditional students, raised funds to host the event and brought diplomats, experts and women from mountain nations worldwide to Utah. The goal was to engage students in creating awareness and seeking solutions compatible with gender-related Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.” As a former president of the UIMF, I am grateful to all three NGOs and their leaders, Dr. Rusty Butler, Dr. Andrew Taber and Ms. Wendy Jyang for such high praise, and at the same time an objective evaluation of the efforts through which my peers and myself were able to contribute to the advancement of the mountain communities’ cause at the United Nations level.

The statement also mentioned that “The model allowed students, non-traditional ones in particular, to gain professional skills and experiences through the advocacy of different initiatives with a focus in particular on poverty eradication among the mountain communities on local and global levels. They did it by not only hosting the international Women of the Mountains Conferences and conducting research on gender norms, sexuality, and religion in Utah, but also by successfully teaching women business management in Zambia; working with students in Indonesia on tsunami-preparedness community education projects; conducting research on water quality in Senegal, the impact of mining and oil pipelines on indigenous people in Ecuador and globalization impact to Tarahumara Mexican women.”

I completely agree with recommendation made by these NGOs that “This experience demonstrates that students of all ages can play an essential role in the implementation of the 2030 development agenda of the United Nations, and in poverty eradication in particular. It can be used by other universities in rural and mountain states of North America and globally to provide similar benefits to their students, and at the same time encourage them to contribute to advocating the post2030 Development agenda with a focus on poverty eradication.”

The experiences which I have gained through working with the UIMF are incredible, and I hope that many students in other academic schools—especially throughout the Rocky Mountains region—would be able to do the same things: advance themselves professionally by promoting the noble cause of eradicating poverty, both in their neighborhoods and in the rest of the rural and mountainous world.

Tony Medina, President Emeritus, UIMF    

Statement submitted by the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, Mountain Institute, and the Utah China Friendship Improvement Sharing Hands Development and Commerce, non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council

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FAO-UN and MP news item about the event

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