The Utah Valley University (UVU) Office for Global Engagement hosted Mr. Maher Nasser, the Director of the Outreach Division in the United Nations (UN) Department of Public Information (DPI) on November 28, 2018. Mr. Nasser visited UVU after taking part in the press-conference a day before together with Mayor of Salt Lake City Mrs. Jackie Biskupski to announce about Salt Lake City with UVU hosting the 68th UN DPI/ NGO Conference to be held in Salt Lake City 2019. The conference next year will bring together thousands of civil society members from NGOs and other groups around the world to discuss the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
While promoting the conference, Mr. Nasser spoke on the need for multilateralism and why achieving the SDGs is a collective responsibility. In his presentation, Mr. Nasser advocated for working with the UN at local, regional, national, and international levels to implement the SDGs and foster international cooperation.
Mr. Nasser began by addressing misconceptions about the UN, stating that while the UN is a collection of diplomats and international organizations, the issues that it addresses cut across all borders and affect the global population. In arguing why multiculturalism matters, Mr. Nasser said that all aspects of life are touched in some way by a part of the UN, and that the most important global issues cannot be solved without the UN. In describing the pillars of UN work—peace and security, development, and human rights—he mentioned terrorism, organized crime, disease, , human rights, natural disasters, and climate change in particular as examples of interrelated issues that cannot be solved without the UN and multilateralism.
Mr. Nasser described how UN organizations have been working with governments, organizations, and other groups to coordinate a global response to such issues, highlighting the work of the World Food Programme (WFP), which assists nearly 92 million people each year with food and nutritional issues, and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), which has provided vaccinations to 45% of the world’s children. Mr. Nasser noted that many UN successes go unnoticed or are eclipsed by a few instances of gridlock and reports about the failures of UN endeavors, but that overall, the UN has achieved many successes, citing the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, formation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the general improvement of living conditions and avoidance of war because of UN efforts.
Mr. Nasser also described one of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ main priorities, to mitigate the effects of climate change and reduce mankind’s impact on the environment, adding that the world must do more in this regard. Mr. Nasser also emphasized the Secretary General’s priority to reform UN processes and to realize the interconnectedness of global issues and the importance of multilateralism.
On the SDGs, Mr. Nasser said that the goals are not simply UN development goals, but are really the goals of individuals, given the nearly 10 million people who contributed to the 17 goals and 169 targets’ language. In saying this, Mr. Nasser stressed that people, organizations, and governments should view the goals in this way, noting both the importance of local action and global coordination by the UN. Mr. Nasser specifically urged young people to take ownership of their futures and unitedly face global issues related to the world population, climate change, and food access. Mr. Nasser also called upon civil society in general to push politicians to be true to multilateral commitments, emphasizing that such action is about working for the good of the future, not about political goals or simple awareness.
In a brief question and answer period, Mr. Nasser again addressed climate change, noting that he finds it difficult to measure which country has done the most to respond to climate change, but that a measurement of success should go beyond specific countries and focus on coordination and effective solutions. Mr. Nasser cited a New York Times article about deforestation cause by the US palm oil biofuel mandate to show how responding to climate change should be comprehensive and reliant on multilateral decision making. Mr. Nasser also discussed how the UN works to promote human rights and give aid in the midst of opposition, describing the way that the UN has worked to shrink the deficit in funding to Palestinians.
Overall, Mr. Nasser’s visit constituted a timely discussion of the role and efficacy of the UN. Clearly, global issues require global responses and international-level work, and, as Mr. Nasser mentioned, the UN is the recognized, legitimate body in the eyes of nations that can coordinate and drive such efforts. While a discussion about the UN’s successes and failures, as well as the strengths, weaknesses, and necessary reforms of the organization should not be ignored—especially given current geopolitical issues, transnational conflicts, and the current state of poverty and hunger—civil society, politicians, and other groups should also pragmatically consider how to work multilaterally to achieving solutions to global issues, especially the critical ones described in the SDGs, so that the benefits of globalization are extended more effectively and comprehensively.
Full video of Mr. Nasser’s presentation is available here.
Mr. Nasser’s visit also provided an important opportunity for students and members of the Utah International Mountain Forum, a coalition of student clubs at UVU, to interact with dignitaries at both UN and local levels. It helped in their professional advancement and to make connections with influential officials to not only promote the UVU engaged learning model but also the specific issues UIMF advocates for. Sam Elzinga, UIMF President, Kyle Warren, Vice President, UVU Rotaract and myself were also invited to a luncheon in honor of Mr. Nasser with UVU faculty, and members of the Orem Rotary Club in attendance. Personally, I was able to speak directly with Mr. Nasser to explain UIMF efforts to prepare for the 63rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, highlighting UIMF’s written statement as well as advocacy of mountain women with permanent missions. Additionally, UIMF members and I introduced ourselves to members of the Orem Rotary, which will play an important role in the UN Conference next year as part of Rotary International. Rotary International is a respected globally institution, which is registered as a non-governmental organization under the UN Economic and Social Council since 1993. We had conversations with a number of Orem Rotary Club members about the mission of UIMF and the importance of local cooperation with implementing the UN sustainable mountain development agenda in Utah and the UN. From our interactions, it was clear that local action is highly effective at bringing high-level leaders such as Mr. Nasser to work with local causes, but also to advocate for global issues and more effectively have important voices heard.
Michael Hinatsu, UIMF member
STUDENT REFLECTIVE ESSAYS