“It’s in each other's shadow that we flourish.”
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, broke into her native tongue to share this Irish proverb at the launch of the Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Promoting Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies (Sustainable Development Goal 16) at the UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday 22 September.
These words struck me as the crux of the morning’s discussions. The key message was that we can’t leave the mandate for peace to peace workers. We all have a part to play, beginning with recognising and listening to each other.
This plays out in something as seemingly pedestrian as reporting.
Reporting is not a mere recording of facts: what gets reported and who is involved is key. If we want an equitable society as an outcome, then we must leave no one out. We need to break down silos so that discussions about progress towards just societies are in themselves diverse and open. If reporting processes are too tightly codified, they risk becoming themselves an obstacle to participation. Rather, they should be geared towards the participation of those most at risk of being left out. Both Ban Ki-Moon’s representative and the only business representative, Dr Marcia Baliscian of RELX group, reinforced this point, that sustaining peace is a shared task, and must span government, civil society and the private sector.
If we want to create diverse and inclusive processes, we have to tackle the tricky issue of language. Robinson paraphrased the Irish poet Seamus Heaney: “If you have the words, there’s always a chance you’ll find a way.” Dr Luis Felipe Tavares, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Cape Verde, emphasised ‘la bonne articulation’ of a shared vision for societies in 2030. If data is now a global language in itself, then transparency and access are crucial to conversing in it.
To close, Peter Thomson, President of the UN General Assembly, emphasised the role of young people, “the inheritors” of the SDGs. Young people today may have an advantage in interpreting data as digital natives, but - alongside access to it - they need an understanding of the goals themselves if they are going to help make sense of our progress towards them. Thomson wants to see the goals discussed in every classroom across the world. Classrooms may take on many forms between now and 2030, but ensuring all children have access to them, and supporting diverse listening and sharing within them, will be crucial to meeting the 16th goal.