67th Annual UN.DPI/NGO Conference
United Nations Head Quarters New York | 22-23 August 2018
Highlights from the: Opening Plenary Session, Round Tables & Open Forum


Sevgin OKTAY, The Light Millennium
NGO Representative to the United Nations Department of Public Information
“Just 42 people own half the wealth of the world” …
“Civil society is bigger than any government.”
There are amazing things brewing at the United Nations, in which several The Light Millennium NGO representatives are privileged to participate.
And all this was aimed at “We the Peoples… Together Finding Global Solutions for Global Problemsunder the commitment to redouble UN.DPI/NGO efforts “to establish people-centered multilateral cooperation in a spirit of global citizenship.” Accordingly, we the NGOs called upon states, corporations, institutions, and other collective and individual stakeholders to join our efforts. By so doing, together we will further the 2030 Agenda” for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and “ensure that no one is left behind.”

BACKGROUND: The genesis of this commitment started in September 2015, when the General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes 17 SDGs. Building on the principle of “leaving no one behind”, the new Agenda emphasizes a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all.

The formal name for the SDGs is: “Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” That has been shortened to “2030 Agenda.” The goals are “broad and interdependent, yet each has a separate list of targets to achieve. Achieving all 169 targets would signal accomplishing all 17 goals. The SDGs cover social and economic development issues including poverty, hunger, health, education, global warming, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, urbanization, environment and social justice.”

The concept of the 67th Conference of the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) of the Department of Public Information (DPI), can be found in the UN Charter which starts with a simple introduction ‘We the Peoples’, laying out “an ambitious and noble mandate.”  As is stated in the program, “The impetus for creating such an Organization came from an understanding, after two world wars, that a global framework for working together was essential to avoid a repeat of the catastrophic suffering. Yet today, skepticism is rising worldwide about the value of multilateralism and the United Nations faces the challenge of remaining relevant and effective. Secretary-General António Guterres recognized this when he took office, declaring: ‘We need to re-assert the value of multilateralism; only global solutions can address global problems.”

THE 67th UN.DPI/NGO CONFERENCE: Starting with the “Concept Note” for the program the “Outcome” came to be an outstanding re-affirmation of a people-centered multilateralism requiring the expansion of the role of civil society partnerships, especially with youth, to advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  This reaffirmation was underlined by remembering Kofi Annan, the seventh Secretary General of the United Nations, who had passed away only a few days ago on Saturday the 18th of August 2018.  After a tribute to him led by the Head of the NGO Relations, Ms. Hawa Diallo, the Opening Plenary Session speakers were introduced by Ms. Alison Smale, the Under-Secretary for Global Communications, United Nations Department of Public Information. (The speaker biographies may be accessible by clicking on this link>).

Ms.  Smale underlined Mr. Annan’s immense contribution to the United Nations, and his support of youth and women in world affairs.  It was interesting that each of the speakers touched upon the sustainability of some aspect of the 169 targets of the 17 SDGs. For example,  Mr. Bruce Knotts, Chair of the NGO/DPI Executive Committee, stressed the importance of Climate Change in pointing out how global problems are becoming local or local problems becoming national problems, and hence should be dealt in totality of the affects of the problems.  He also pointed out that youth involvement in these problems is very important and was pleased to report that 44% of the registrants to his conference were under the age of 32.

Several other speakers took the podium to talk about the various targets of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  They were Ms. Madison Ross and Ms. Shermin Luo, both Co-chairs of the DPI NGO Conference Youth Sub-Committee.  They touched upon the Youth Declaration that was read at the end of the conference. Then Ms. Penny Abeywardena, Commissioner Mayor’s office for International Affairs, New York city.  I had met her back in 2015 in relation to a project involving Assembly of Turkish American Associations.  I found her just as enthusiastic and energetic in dealing with global issues, especially vis a vis the role of women and youth in those issues. A video of youth activities was a part of her presentation.

If I remember correctly, there was then an interlude for a beautiful song performance by Ms. Mijori Goodwin singing “Someday we will all be free… take it from me, someday we will all be free.”

After the song interlude, Conference Chair Ms. Winnie Byanyima took to the microphone almost continuing with the song and giving a pep-talk for the conference injected a verve to the capacity filled conference room 4 with NGOs who cheered her on. The Chair, proud of her heritage as Ugandan parliamentarian for several years and her gender continued to cite how important it was for her to be not only where she was now at the UN, but also being an Executive Director of Oxfam International, a confederation of 20 organizations working in more than 90 countries empowering people to create a future that is secure, just and free from poverty.” Ms. Byanyima is a global women’s rights leader, human rights defender and a global authority on economic inequality.” She emphasized the importance of global multilateralism on many fronts pointing to the urgency of solving the global problems on a timely basis.

“Just 42 people own half the wealth of the world” … “Civil society is bigger than any government.”

Other speakers followed, including, Her Excellency Ghanaian Ambassador Martha Pobee, now Vice-President, Office of the President of the General Assembly; Mr. Elliott Harris, Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development and Chief Economist; Ms. Elizabeth Cousens, Deputy CEO, United Nations Foundation.  They enumerated, among other things, that just 42 people own half the wealth of the world while mostly women and girls bear the burden of the world.   And 88% of the Americans want to work globally beyond the federal government. She stressed that Civil society is bigger than any government; and that we, a part of Civil Society, shall overcome the challenges of today. Then came Mr. Nyle DiMarco, Deaf Activist, Model Actor.  It was actually a tough act to follow after a deaf Mr. DiMarco giving a speech with a perfect diction about disabled individuals like himself, and imagining for us a world in 2030, fully inclusive of persons with disabilities.

Notwithstanding, Ms. Kehkashan Basu, the Youth Ambassador for the World Future Council, got acclamation from the full house for her being the voice of her youth constituency and part of “WOMEN IN SOLAR” group, which seeks to encourage women in the solar industry. She works with UNICEF and UNHCR. For her inspiring work, she is the recipient of the 2014 Non-Resident Indian of the Year award, the 2014 GESS Award as Ambassador for the Environment and the 2015 Diana Award for Active Campaigner. She was awarded the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2016 for her work. She lives in the United Arab Emirates whose sole objective is to involve and mobilize children and youth in the movement for a sustainable and green future around the world.

Last speaker in the Opening Plenary Session was Ms. Hunter Lovins, Founder, Natural Capitalism Solutions.  Speaking of finding Global Solutions for Global Problems, Ms. Lovins insisted, with her one-gallon Texas hat cocked to one side, that some of the solutions to some global problems like what was once 59 cents a woman made back in 1950s to man’s dollar when she was a student compared to the current 77 cents a woman gets now  (see the cartoon where a young woman when asked for a dollar gives 77 cents to help out and explains that it was a woman’s dollar when questioned about it), must have been known how to do it, and why wait till later, say 2030,  to make the “dollars” equivalent.

On the premise that we can do lots of things now with the know-how we now have, rather than wait, she gave a lively discourse on sustainable development, globalization, energy and resource policy making, climate change, land management, and economic development. On Natural Capitalism, she almost harked back to a form of Social Society in which from each according to his/her ability, to each according to his/her needs rules for the good of all.

Among other speakers of the first day that spoke before lunch, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations, Ambassador Gòmez Camacho talked about global governance pointing to the old days when “zero sum” was the game. If one got a bite out of the global economic pie, then that meant someone else lost from the same pie.  However, if through multilateralism all made the pie bigger together, then that would be a win-win for all.  He also tackled the current huge migration of peoples such as from the South (Africa or Latin America) to the North (Europe or North America) not to mention from East to West (Syria, Afghanistan to Europe).  He stressed that such migrations should be welcomed for both the migrants and for the receiving countries for economic reasons. While not promoting or demonizing migration, he was urging to make it safe as should civil societies.

ROUND TABLES:  The Plenary Session on the first day was followed by Round Tables on “Women and Girls Mobilizing;”  the recognition of “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70;” “A Repositioned UN Development System;” and Workshops ranging from “Many Faiths, One Belief;” Role of Effective Communication in Overcoming Conflicts and Challenges in Sustainable Peace Building Development,” to “The Central Inclusion of Women and Girls: National Action Plans, Localization Efforts and Effective Mobilization.”  These were followed by Youth Film Series (Short films made by youth that showcase impactful community based and youth-led projects that support SDGs.)   Finally, a “Post-Conference Day One Reception” ended a busy and important day with hopeful promises for the future, including the 2030 Agenda

“54 countries in Africa had a budget equivalent to the combined budgets of, Google and Ali Baba…”

After early Workshops and “Youth Hub Caucus,” the Conference Chair Ms. Winnie Byanyima opened the second day “Open Forum” with another positive outlook on the work that the NGOs are doing all over the world, and rightly so.  She introduced the next speaker Mr. Maher Nasser who is currently the Director of DPI’s Outreach Division.  Based on his over 30 years of work experience in the United Nations System during which he has worked in various capacities in Gaza, Jerusalem, Amman, Cairo, Vienna and New York, Mr. Maher talked about historical parallels that he saw regarding nationalist populism, retreat of democratic principles, inequalities in incomes, and inequalities between “South” and “North.”  Nevertheless, he felt that all these difficulties can be overcome with steady and sustainable goals such as laid out in the “2030 Agenda.”  Ms. Fatma Nilüfer Cağatay followed Mr. Maher with her very interesting prescription (global solutions) as to how to go about solving those global problems.  Namely, instituting UBI (Universal Basic Income), SPS (Social Protection System) and GT (Global Taxation).  Which imply, it seems to me, that we form a Global Village with United Nations being the governing body.  (Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to ask her about this during a brief conversation I had with her after the panel discussion because of a long line of people wanting to talk to her.)  Continuing with her talk, she noted that of the 193 UN member states, 54 countries in Africa had a budget equivalent to the combined budgets of, Google and Ali Baba, which was enough food for thought.

After several other  excellent speakers in the “Open Forum” of the second day of the conference, one presentation stood out regarding Part 2 of the Open Forum which read “Solutions for SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Advocacy and Action” in doing just that, namely “Advocacy” being pursued in a very unique way by Japanese entertainment, and advertisement firms joining forces with United Nations to raise awareness of social development goals such as the SDGs.  In one of the press releases in New York City, representatives from entertainment powerhouse Yoshimoto Kogyo Co., “advertising giant Dentsu Inc. and the United Nations recently highlighted their joint efforts to make the Japanese public aware of the international body’s social development work around the globe.”  The release went on to say: “The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 global objectives to be achieved by 2030, aim to lift millions out of poverty, end hunger, make cities more sustainable and tackle climate change, among other critical world problems.”

Speaking at a two-day civil society conference that ran through Thursday in New York, Miyabi Haneda of Yoshimoto Kogyo recalled her company’s motivation for joining the project two years ago following outreach from Kaoru Nemoto, the Tokyo director of the U.N. Information Center.

We wanted to collaborate with the SDGs to make the world a better place with a lot of smiles,” said Haneda, who serves as the talent agency’s general manager of corporate communications.

“We figured out that our comedians are the perfect messengers to help spread the meaning of the goals in their own comedic ways.”

The SDGs were hardly known in Japan, and I thought that to allow us, the U.N., to reach out to the general public, we need good storytellers,” Nemoto explained.

It is the people’s agenda, so that is why it is really important to reach out to the general public,” she added.

In the publicity, there were two catchy black-and-white videos produced by Dentsu which were shown in the Open Forum.  The brief skits are part of a series introducing the SDGs through light-hearted interactions at a coffee shop.

In one video, friends come up with a plan to pour excess ice from their drinks into the ocean to combat the melting of ice caps, while in another a young woman takes on the SDGs as 17 personal goals and tells her boyfriend she no longer has time for dating.

It was interesting to listen to speaker Ms. Miyabi Haneda of Yoshimoto as she drew on some of her company’s market research to explain the Japanese public’s perception of the U.N. initiative.

In a survey of 1,400 people carried out earlier this year, the company determined that only around 15 percent of respondents were aware of the development goals. However, Haneda noted that roughly 70 percent of those questioned indicated some level of support for pursuing the international targets, which she viewed as a positive. In light of such research, Dentsu intends to keep finding creative ways to educate Japan about the goals for the betterment of society as a whole, she said.  In response to questions from the floor, she said that they were also planning to continue with research around the world.

What seems obvious is that people at large appreciate and will support institutions, entities by way of buying products that promote worthy goals, certainly including SDGs, for betterment of the world we live in.

Although I thought that the two-day conference could have ended right after the showing of the two videos mentioned above as being the high-points of the conference, of course the morning session continued with a discussion of “Unleashing the Power of Entrepreneurs to Achieve the SDGs” and “Leading a Wave of Universities to Contribute to Agenda 2030.

CLOSING PLENARY:  Actually, the Closing Plenary was Session did not start until 4:30 PM after Networking Luncheon and several Workshops touching upon the 169 targets of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Session ended around 7 PM.

All attendees came together for the Closing Session, which drew again a full house in Conference Room 4 with overflow in rooms 1 and 3.  Chair Ms. Winnie Byanyima opened the session enthusiastically with optimistic views of the accomplishments of the 67th UN.DPI/NGO Conference as well as what’s ahead towards 2030 Agenda. The following speakers followed Ms. Byanyima before the reading of the Conference Outcome report and Youth Declaration:

Ms. Alison Smale,Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications
Ms. Kim Quarles, Vice President, NGO/DPI Executive Committee
Mr. Edafe Okporo,NGO Youth Representative to DPI, UUA
Ms. Rose Strauss,Representative, The Sunrise Movement
Ms. Venus Ilagan,Secretary General, Rehabilitation International
Mr. Roberto BorreroPrograms and Communications Coordinator, Intl. Indian Treaty Council
Ms. Frances ZainoeddinRepresentative, International Federation on Ageing
• Performance: COBU

The Outcome report ( was read which concluded with statement:

Since more than half of the world’s population is under 30 years old, young people are key partners in implementing the SDGs. Thus, on behalf of the non­governmental organizations (NGOs) assembled here, we adopt this Call to Action to ensure that the 2030 Agenda leaves no one behind.

RESOLUTION: We can transform the international order to bring about a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world through people-centered multilateralism. We commit to support the successful repositioning of the United Nations system with our collaboration, passion, and creativity. People-centered multilateralism, through its worldwide institutions, culture, and work in a robust and protected civil society space, will generate the political and social support needed to endure for this generation and future generations.

Therefore, we who are gathered at the 67th United Nations DPI NGO Conference commit to redouble our efforts to establish people-centered multilateral cooperation in a spirit of global citizenship. Beginning with the upcoming Paris Peace Forum in November of 2018, we encourage civil society representatives to meet again during future international conferences to assess progress under this Call to Action. We call upon states, corporations, institutions, and other collective and individual stakeholders to join our effort. By so doing, together we will further the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and ensure that no one is left behind,  and passed by acclamation after which each member of the Youth Caucus read the Youth Declaration ( concluding with the following:

YOUTH DECLARATION: We, the young peoples of the world gathered at the 67th United Nations DPI.NGO Conference, join our voices and efforts to uphold the value of multilateralism and re-commit ourselves to seeking global solutions for global problems, including but not limited to, achieving the targets set forth in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The SDGs also explicitly include disability and persons with disabilities 11 times. Disability is referenced in multiple parts of the SDGs, specifically in the parts related to education, growth and employment, inequality, accessibility of human settlements, as well as data collection and the monitoring of the SDGs.

The 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to transform our world:

GOAL 1: No Poverty

GOAL 2: Zero Hunger

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being

GOAL 4: Quality Education

GOAL 5: Gender Equality

GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality

GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

GOAL 13: Climate Action

GOAL 14: Life Below Water

GOAL 15: Life on Land

GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal

Can’t wait 2030!

In conclusion, I can repeat what I started out with, namely, there are amazing things brewing at the United Nations, on which this 67th UN.DPI/NGO Conference shed an enormous amount of light. Simply can’t wait 2030!

Having listened to and learned about the SDGs, I cannot help but comment on what is going on in the real world versus the SDGs.  In fact, I do remember a session on “Unreasonable Goals” and how to make them reasonable if so. I believe the short of it was to work toward that goal that seems unreasonable until it becomes a reality.  And when it becomes a reality, have “empathy” in the implementation of that goal.  The word “empathy” resonated with me in the following sense.  I will come to it in a roundabout way.

If a president of a country can say a racist or an unusually harsh cuss word or claim on a national television that he can shoot somebody without any consequence, all under the protection of the so-called “freedom of speech“, “without any accountability for his utterances”, then there must be something wrong with that picture. Actually, in the US, it is supposed to be that “hate speech” or “call to violence” as such is not protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution.  And yet they go unnoticed in the market place.  With all due respect to the court system in this country, I submit that the courts are derelict in carrying out the laws of the land.  If I may put it in a larger sense, if such unfettered “freedom of speech” is allowed under the tutelage of democracy, then there surely is something wrong with that picture and that there is a need for more “perfect democracy”- borrowing from the 44th President of the United States Barack Obama, when he used to say that we should strive for a “more perfect Union.”

Hence, I would add another category to the 17 SDGs which might say, “Empathetic Speech,” that is, speech devoid of incendiary or racist lies and hate speech. Hence my placard for the 18th SDG in the last place below which can be discussed at an internal NGO conference later.

Empathetic Speechproposal as the 18th Goal in the 2030 Agenda, it may be incorporated as it has imagined–and-reflected in the below SDGS Poster.
Proposal by Sevgin OKTAY, The Light Millennium ;
NGO Representative to the United Nations Department of Public Information

SDG#18: Empathetic Speech –  as an NGO proposal!

– Posted on September 11, 2018, updated on September 12, 2018.

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"The U.S. Turkish Library & Museum For Friendship and Peace" project joined, and has been produced under the umbrealla of The Light Millennium Organization effective on October 15, 2015.