Analysis by Ramesh Jaura and Katsuhiro Asagiri
GYEONGJU, South Korea (IDN) - Five months after the international community began implementing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) endorsed by world leaders in September 2015, representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academia have finalized and adopted a global education action agenda.
The agenda affirming the importance of Sustainable Development Goal 4 – ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong opportunities for all – is spelt out in the Gyeongju Action Plan.
It was agreed at the 66th United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) / NGO Conference that concluded on June 1, 2016 after three days of deliberations in Gyeongju, a city on South Korea's southeast coast.
The conference was underpinned by three pillars: Formal Education; Informal Education and Training; and Advocacy and Public Information, which were examined as a means to eliminate inequalities that create barriers to learning.
Commenting the outcome, Cristina Gallach, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information said: “This conference has demonstrated another example of the value for the United Nations in investing in partnership with academia and NGOs.”
The Gyeongju Action Plan provides concrete guidance for NGOs around the world to enhance their ability to lobby governments to commitment to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and mobilize NGOs in communities on the ground.
“The United Nations is committed to continue to support and partner with NGOs and academia in our joint efforts to advocate for and successfully implement the 2030 Agenda,” Gallach added.
The Gyeongju Action Plan includes a series of concrete measures as a reference for NGOs around the world to jump start implementation of the 2030 Agenda, at the grass roots level.
Dr. Scott Carlin, Co-Chair of the conference and Associate Professor of Geography at Long Island University in the U.S. said: “NGOs from around the world brought passion and expertise to lively final consultations on the outcome document. We are grateful for all of the inputs received and very proud of the Gyeongju Action Plan.”
Dr. YuKang Choi, Co-Chair of the conference and NGO Representative to the United Nations for Dream Touch for All, said: “We hope that Gyeongju was an inspirational setting for finalizing a truly unifying action plan that will be useful for NGOs, wherever they are working.”
For the first time in the history of the DPI/NGO Conference, youth also developed and issued a Youth Declaration.
Gallach, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, pointed out that youth had “come in great numbers, demonstrating the value that they see in partnering with the United Nations”.
“It's truly inspiring to find so many people, especially young people, coming together from all over the world under the theme of education for global citizenship and in a shared commitment to achieving the SDGs,” said Hirotsugu Terasaki, Director General, Peace and Global Issues, Soka Gakkai International (SGI), based in Tokyo.
Pointing out that “so many discussions and dialogues, so many interactions and so much networking” had taken place during the conference, he said: “I believe that this in itself is a highly effective form of education for global citizenship.”
Ahmad Alhendawi, the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, noted “the conference not only reinforced the critical role of NGOs to achieve a vision for the 2030 Agenda, but also stressed the urgency for greater investments in education for global citizenship to unlock the potential of this massive generation of children and youth.”
“Unfortunately youth are still not involved enough in policy making processes around the world,” said Saphira Rameshfar, Representative of the Ba’hai Community to the United Nations and youth leader at the conference.
“The Youth Declaration is a necessary reminder that young people are needed as leaders and decision-makers not only in youth forums and special-purpose councils, but in those spaces where the course and direction of society as a whole are determined,” added Rameshfar.
Emphasizing the need for an adequate follow-up, Terasaki said: “The conference has ended, but the real work has just begun. As we go back to our respective homes and communities, we need to expand our different networks, sharing what we have learned and what has inspired us.”
He added: “We need to keep deepening our understanding of global citizenship and the role of all learning in promoting it. Most of all, we need to encourage global citizenship in our daily lives, starting with ourselves.”
There was broad agreement among the participants from around the world that the contribution of NGOs, academia and youth will be key to achieving the SDGs, for without the participation of NGOs and civil society groups, no initiative, however visionary, can be fully achieved.
“I am such a strong believer in NGOs, I constantly call on governments to expand space for you to operate,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his opening address on May 30.
Four days earlier, at the Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity, Ban had denounced “shrinking democratic space” and urged freedom for civil society organizations and human rights defenders. “Unfortunately, that freedom is under threat, including at the last place this should happen: at the United Nations. I call on Member States to stop constricting NGO engagement,” Ban said.
South Korean Prime Minister Kyo-ahn Hwang reaffirmed the country’s commitment to fostering global citizenship. “We worked very hard so that global citizenship was reflected in the SDGs,” he said, adding: “Global citizens need to fulfil the basic values of humanity. They need to be proactively involved in solving global issues. This conference, under the theme of ‘Education for Global Citizenship: Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals Together’ will encourage people to become involved.”
But what exactly does ‘global citizenship’ mean? Independent educationists appear to agree that it embodies three essential elements:
The wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of all life and living; the courage not to fear or deny difference; but to respect and strive to understand people of different cultures, and to grow from encounters with them; and the compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches beyond one's immediate surroundings and extends to those suffering in distant places.
These three elements are an integral part of the Gyeongju Action Plan. [IDN-InDepthNews – 2 June 2016]
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
Photo: Participants applauding adoption of the Global Education Action Plan by the UN Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization Conference, Gyeongju. Credit; Katsuhiro Asagiri | INPS Japan