26 September 2018: Grassroots efforts to end child marriage, the power of young people and keys to movement building were major topics of discussion during a day-long event hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers initiative. Goalkeepers 2018 took place as part of the annual Global Goals Week on the sidelines of the 73rd UN General Assembly’s high-level debate.

Goalkeepers participants gathered on 26 September 2018 at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, US, following an evening ceremony on 25 September to present awards to three young advocates.

The Heads of State of France and Sierra Leone participated in interactive sessions with participants, as did experts in technology, data journalism and humanitarian relief. Performances by artists from around the world highlighted urgent issues, and activists, advocates and community leaders emphasized that “change starts young” and discussed ways to make more progress towards the Global Goals.

France will increase its development aid from US$10 to US$50 billion by 2022, announced President Emmanuel Macron, beginning the day’s programme. He said France’s G7 presidency will focus on inequalities, and that the three root challenges of climate, education and health must be at the core of the Group’s agenda. He called for shifting one-third of global financial assets from “day-to-day business to climate business,” and said France’s development aid will be Paris-compliant. Highlighting the importance of education for young girls in Africa, he emphasized the need for “chosen fertility.” On health, Macron noted that France will organize the 2019 global replenishment for the Global Fund. Finally, he said youth should be able to dream of being an African of the 21st century, rather than a European of the 1980s.

David Sengeh, Sierra Leone’s first-ever Chief Innovation Officer, spoke with Julius Maada Bio, President of Sierra Leone, and Bill Gates to address whether poverty is inevitable. Gates shared the findings of the 2018 Goalkeepers Data Report highlighting that while the global population has peaked, its geographical concentration is changing, with more babies being born in the poorest, most difficult circumstances. This means that, at least at the beginning of their lives, they and their families will spend their time seeking out food for survival, therefore unable to invest in education, health or building assets. Gates said the next wave of poverty reduction can come through investments in young innovators and other human capital.

Sengeh said Sierra Leone can be the blueprint for growth through technology and environmental resilience. To realize this, President Bio said the priority is free, quality and competitive education for “the last boy or girl in the village.” He noted the need for technology infrastructure to make this possible. Gates added that innovation can drive progress when it focuses on a big gap.

Stephen Fry, actor and director, and Richard Curtis, director, screenwriter and campaigner, who founded Project Everyone, recounted what made the MDG era “15 of the greatest years in human history:” they showed that “when the world focused on alleviating poverty and suffering, it worked;” and they encouraged a shift from addressing poverty as charity to seeing poverty as political. However, they said, there is no point in going only half way, and the SDGs serve as the MDGs’ sequel. They noted that many countries have taken concrete action to implement the Goals, businesses have identified a US$12 trillion opportunity, and 250,000 charity organizations have aligned themselves with the SDGs. But the momentum of the first few years of the 2030 Agenda can falter “without new energy,” they said, and they called on campaigners to push governments further in 2019. Moreover, in 2020, the world must “work out the big sea changes and the big funding solutions” to support the remaining ten years of SDG implementation.

Steve Waygood, Aviva, highlighted the World Benchmarking Alliance launched on 24 September. He said the WBA will rank the world’s largest 2,000 companies by their impact on the SDGs, in an effort to “reconnect people to their money” and its impacts in the world. Waygood said large-scale change will come not from regulation but from people with money ensuring that their assets are invested with integrity. Curtis added that Aviva aims to become plastic-free, has been carbon neutral since 2004, and invests heavily in renewable energy sources; by changing its own behavior, Aviva has gained the credibility to call on others to change.

Graca Machel urged young leaders to communicate in ways that allow everyone to feel connected with them.

As part of a tribute to the legacy of Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel, advocate and member of The Elders, said the lessons of the past show the need to build movements and broad coalitions: transformation is “not going to happen in small groups.” She noted that “there is apartheid” in each of the 17 SDGs. Machel said Nelson Mandela had been “an ordinary young man who simply embraced one cause.” She urged young leaders to communicate in ways that allow everyone to feel connected with them.

David Miliband, International Rescue Committee (IRC) President, echoed the reflections on getting “half way there” on extreme poverty. He said that new tools are needed for the second half of that journey, in order to fight poverty in places in conflict. He also said the current humanitarian system is “building future generations of poverty” by not directing enough resources towards education.

A panel of young experts, advocates and community leaders moderated by Melinda Gates highlighted that young people must be enlisted as “true partners” in delivering on the SDGs. Joannie Bewa, a physician in Benin, said young people are not just needy, but bring talent and innovation, and need to be involved in designing and implementing solutions.

Trisha Shetty, founder of SheSays, suggested tapping into leaders’ interest in public opinion, and shared her success in involving comedians in a social media campaign to get finance ministers to drop taxes on sanitary napkins. Shetty also highlighted the complicity of people who remain silent in the face of sexual abuse of young people. Addressing those in older generations who have not faced accountability, she said, “give up your seat. We will leave you behind, because we don’t want to leave others behind.”

Another conversation focused on protecting and supporting girls, featuring Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and child rights activist, and Jaha Dukureh, founder and CEO of Safe Hands for Girls. Satyarthi discussed the need for “child-friendly” education, and said social taboos block the provision of appropriate sex education. Dukureh encouraged the use of technology and media, noting that her Change.org petition to then-president Barack Obama led to an investigation on FGM in the US. Her work also contributed to the banning of FGM in Gambia.

Mona Chalabi, data journalist and illustrator, said she aims to “create joy” while providing data in her work for major newspapers. She stressed that readers should feel something while looking at data, since it can communicate injustice. She also uses her illustrations to disaggregate findings, showing the rates that apply to specific readers rather than broad generalizations.

The Goalkeepers event launched three “accelerators” to direct resources and make progress on specific issues. The 2018 accelerators are focused on: early literacy in Africa and Asia (managed by Room to Read); supporting youth to use data to hold leaders accountable (managed by CIVICUS); and community-based solutions for ending child marriage (managed by Girls Not Brides). Accelerator Stations were situated around the event to enable participants to invest in the initiatives.

Jayathma Wickramanayake, UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, elaborated on the data accelerator, which is called the Goalkeepers Youth Action Fund. She said data provide incentives to achieve the SDGs by clarifying the problems we face, and she said the data that exists must be clear. She encouraged young leaders to apply online for support for initiatives focused on SDGs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

The Goalkeepers day also featured performances from: Kenyan rapper King Kaka, who is also a UNICEF Advocate and highlighted his work to bring menstrual hygiene products to poor communities and to destigmatize menstruation; Broadway actor Nicolette Robinson, who sang over film footage of young girls’ weddings and child brides with their babies; and ten-year-old ‘DJ Switch’ from Ghana, making her first appearance outside her country. [SDG Knowledge Hub sources] [Goalkeepers website]