Every Bit Counts

A mere 30 minutes after my plane touched down in New York City, I am crossing the East River and entering Manhattan, eager to participate in an event whose ambitious magnitude of purpose would mirror the enormity of this city. I arrive at NYU, where a good friend, Carlos, and I will be staying, and crash on the couch. By eight in the morning, we are awake and heading towards 92nd Street and the big event. We enter the building, pass through security, and take our seats at the front of the auditorium, right beneath the stage. The fanfare begins within the hour as the first presenter, with much bravado, announces the opening of the Social Good Summit.

The Social Good Summit, which is linked to the United Nations Foundation, is held annually during the week of the U.N. General Assembly, where every U.N. nation’s representatives or leaders gather at the U.N. Headquarters in New York City. The Summit is meant to initiate an incredibly important conversation: how can technology and, more specifically, “new media”, forms of information distribution and communication that take place digitally, impact social good initiatives around the world? The United Nations has outlined a new set of 17 goals, called the Sustainable Development Goals, that aim to “shape global sustainable development for the next 15 years”. The Social Good Summit met to discuss these goals, and address how they may be furthered by Internet-rooted social initiatives. These sorts of initiatives are shaping up to be one of the, if not the singular, most progressive and moving forms of social initiative.

The power of these new initiatives derives from the fact that 3.2 billion people use or have access to the Internet. Those are 3.2 billion people that can interact with “new media”. This makes it much more facile to develop wide-reaching platforms and programs that can create real change. On stage at the Summit, Vice President Joe Biden said “I believe that there is no time in history that there was more power within our control, at our disposal, to do more good for more people”. The power that the Vice President referred to is all around us; our generation, which has discovered the power of social media, is in the position to “do more good… than has ever occurred”. Social media has created a plethora of platforms for reaching and tackling issues anywhere in the world, including social, cultural, environmental, and political issues.

The issues that demand the most immediate attention, as well as the ways in which social initiatives should work to address these issues, have been specified, in part, by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Goals are meant to “end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all” by the year 2030. This is a monumental task. All humanitarian efforts being conducted in today’s world, from providing cheap vaccinations to disease-ridden areas of Africa, to addressing the Syrian Refugee Crisis, to expanding the number of people with Internet access, to renovating crime-ridden districts of urban areas, to the growth of clean energy are all efforts that are embodied by the SDGs. Although they are ambitious, they also embody challenges that are already receiving dedicated attention from the international community. That is what makes the SDGs so significant: they are achievable.

Why should we, as college students, care about these global issues? This rhetorical question is not meant to be facetious. It is perfectly valid, as well as important, to ask how can and do these goals affect our lives. Our world is more interconnected than ever before, as are we. Any change on a global scale ripples to cause changes on a local scale. When an oil crisis strikes, the U.S. economy takes a blow, and gas prices shoot up. Lines at the gas station become common. When a disease that arises because of deplorable health and sanitation standards in one part of the world sparks an inevitable epidemic, the result can spread throughout the world rapidly. This principle of shared global consequences is true for long-term and institutional issues as well. The fact that over 50% of the world’s children not in school live in sub-Saharan Africa confines that region to a state of “third world” development that does not allow it to help the world economy prosper. Rather, it breeds inequality and poor standards of living that can create many more problems. The world is truly global now, and tackling these issues in whatever way we can, from wherever we live, is imperative to achieving the SDGs.

As students in a dynamic, forward-moving college campus environment, we are uniquely situated to work towards the SDGs on a local scale. Empowered by “new media”, we have the ability to make meaningful strides on global issues like never before. Taking steps one at a time, on a local level, is the grassroots beginning necessary to bring change to campus, our community in Dallas, and the world. To start out, join or start an organization that is involved with some sort of social good, and contribute whatever you can to the cause, using your specific talents. (If you have an idea for a new organization but don’t have the time or the know-how to start it, send me an email to benjamin.rubanov@utdallas.edu. I’ll do my best to help you get started and connect you to the right people.)

For example, Goal Four of the SDGs is to provide quality education for every single human being. There is significant progress already being made: the number of children out of school worldwide has dropped by almost half since 2000. But we can do better. At UTD, organizations such as Helping Hands, which aims to provide underprivileged children nutrition, education, and encouragement, and WeTeach, which reaches out to local schools to help with tutoring and education events, are facilitators of this progress towards quality education.

Goal One of the SDGs is to end worldwide poverty. Just looking at our city: over 15% of the 100,000+ population of Richardson has an income below the poverty level. Only 4% of those working full time are at this poverty level. This indicates that the majority of this poverty exists among residents who are not working, for whatever reason. It is incredibly important that these residents be given economic opportunity to do work for their living, and a wide variety of local activism can accomplish this within our city.

There are four Goals that directly relate to the impact that humanity can have on the environment; they include climate action, life below water, life on land, and responsible consumption and production. Regardless of the politicization of climate change, its occurrence is undeniable, and local changes can positively affect the environment. At UTD, we have a very active Sustainability Club that provides many avenues for effecting change at UTD and in our Dallas community. It is one of many facilitators of environmental support organizations that make it easy to become an activist. The Citizens’ Climate Lobby, an organization focused on the legislative side of environmental advocacy, has a chapter at UTD. These grassroots organizations have managed to cultivate extensive community support, which manifests through the activism brought on by local volunteerism.

Goal Seventeen, which calls for a partnership among countries, is the uniting element of this massive call to action. Progress cannot be made without a united effort, regardless of the scale of the movement. That is where raising awareness and activism becomes so crucial. As individuals on a college campus, we are limited to the role we can take on a national and international scale. However, if we assume the role of a University that is united as a vanguard for change, we suddenly can make much more of an impact. The UTD name should be known for its students and their drive for progress. Collaboration across campuses, large-scale organizational support, and a youthful drive for betterment of the lives of people worldwide can truly incite change on an international scale. If we show that our campus cares for these Goals, if we approach students internationally and cultivate the same hunger for change, if we create a collective voice, then the seventeenth goal of the SDGs will be achieved, and the achievement of the others will follow. There are youth group organizations working closely with the United Nations that adhere to this unification regime. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is an organization that is meant to verify the ban on nuclear tests worldwide. It has a youth group that is closely involved with engaging in activism in global peace and security endeavors. CTBTO champions global unification efforts that the youth group is active in pursuing at a local scale, including efforts that are already underway at UTD.

We have a real, tangible ability to make lives different. There are so many local organizations that need help – students on campus can group together and work towards genuine change. In today’s world, there is a great need for that kind of collectivism. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that “it’s important that you, young people, set the bar high… work not just for yourself, not just for your community, but for the world, because the world is your community… be a global citizen: someone who works in the best interest of their neighbor, in the best interest of the global community”. We have the ability to be these “global citizens” and, in working for our community, effect change that could significantly impact these movements on global stage. Suddenly, the Sustainable Development Goals don’t seem that far off.