News and analysis
April 24, 2015

Trillions of Dollars on the Line as U.N. Weighs New Goals

Catianne Tijerina, UN

The Security Institution Unit of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic coordinates a weekly food support distributed by International Organization for Migration to over 2,000 ex-Seleka combatants at three camp sites in Bangui.

As the world’s top policy makers weigh new global-development goals, the nonprofit community has shifted into high gear with efforts to elevate public attention and seal major commitments from wealthy nations.

The activity centers on the United Nations’ post-2015 development agenda, which U.N. members will vote on in New York in September. On the table are 17 sustainable-development goals — a 15-year blueprint for how leaders will deal with pressing social, environmental, and economic problems. The high stakes include trillions of dollars in aid and investment.

"The world is redefining its to-do list," said Aaron Sherinian, chief communications and marketing officer at the U.N. Foundation.

The goals under consideration — they are commonly referred to as "the SDGs" — include ending poverty and hunger, ensuring access to a good education, and advancing gender equality. The target date to achieve the goals is 2030.

The SDGs are successors to the eight millennium-development goals, or MDGs, set by the U.N. in 2000. That earlier agenda included halving the rate of extreme poverty, stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, and reducing child mortality rates, among other things, by 2015.

The U.N. summit in September is sandwiched between two related meetings: the third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in July and the U.N. climate change conference in Paris in December. Together, they make 2015 a watershed year, said those who work in global development.

Working Overtime

With six months to go until the September meeting in New York, thousands of nonprofits and other stakeholders are working to galvanize both high-ranking leaders and ordinary citizens around the issues.

On Thursday, the U.N. Foundation announced a $5 million effort to train journalists and expand reporting on global development issues through 2015. Supporters include the Jynwel and the Thomas Reuters foundations. As part of the effort, 30 news organizations around the world will receive grants of up to $100,000 to bolster coverage, said Mr. Sherinian.

The U.N. Foundation is also one of more than 1,500 organizations that make up a campaign called Action 2015, focused on the global development goals. It has dubbed May as "May Mobilization Month" and is staging a range of events around the world focusing on global development topics such as child mortality rates and climate change-related social-justice issues. Supporters are being directed to write letters to their lawmakers and to talk about what they want to see in terms of global development.

Action 2015 organizations will have a presence at the key U.N. summits and at parallel events around the world to send a message to national and local governments.

The more citizens and civil-society groups are engaged, the more likely it is governments will implement the commitments that they sign up for at the summits, said Robert Skinner, the executive director of the U.N. Foundation’s New York operations.

"We are going to be very busy in the next 10 months trying to see ambitious outcomes from these summits," Mr. Skinner said. "But I think 2016 is when we get even busier because that is when we all need to be doing our work to implement these goals."

Bill and Melinda Gates dedicated their 2015 annual letter to highlighting progress on key global health benchmarks such as the child mortality rate — it’s been halved since 1990 — and the imminent eradication of guinea worm.

They also committed to helping recruit "tens of millions" of individuals to be "global citizens," referring them to the website There, users can read about issues of interest, lobby lawmakers, support partner nonprofits, and share information with their social networks. Users also have a chance to attend a series of events. First up was an Earth Day concert in Washington earlier this month, which featured the heads of the U.N., the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank Group, alongside a slew of celebrity music performers.

"Global Citizen will be asking their members to hold their leaders accountable for the goals they sign up for in September, particularly those relating to the health of women and children," the Gateses wrote in their letter.

The Gateses continue to promote the website on Twitter and elsewhere.

Huge Opportunity

Joe Cerrell, managing director for global policy and advocacy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said that 2015 is a huge opportunity to signal to decision makers popular support for confronting problems like poverty and environmental degradation. Individuals have a major role to play in spurring their governments to act.

"We hear all the time that one of the reasons they don’t do as much as they would like to do is because they don’t hear the demand among the public to engage and be as generous as they might otherwise," the London-based Mr. Cerrell said.

Simon Moss, managing director for programs for the Global Poverty Project, which is behind, said the website has topped 1 million sign-ups. He and his colleagues are embarking on a major recruitment effort and are confident that number will climb steadily in the coming months.

"What we are really interested in is what you do once you have started to have conversations with people," Mr. Moss said.

One person is not going to change the world with one click, Mr. Moss said.

"But what we do know is when a whole bunch of people like you channel your efforts and your energy with support from nonprofits, we can actually, and regularly, change what governments do," Mr. Moss said.


Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the U.N. Foundation is leading the Action 2015 campaign. The U.N. is a participating member.  

Send an email to Megan O'Neil.