Unlocking Technology’s Potential: the Social Good Summit 2017

Every September, the world’s leaders gather together at the United Nations to debate on the world’s most pressing issues and present their points of view to the world for a week. This year, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is focusing on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, which were adopted in 2015.  

One of the biggest events of the week is The Social Good Summit, which is held annually. It’s goal is to bring together a community of global citizens and progressive leaders to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. This year, the Social Good Summit will focus on how we can use technology to achieve these goals and make the world a better place. The Summit is particularly special this year because it’s the first global virtual summit exploring social innovation, disruptive technology, and the power of mobilizing networks to address some of today’s most challenging issues.

Since Goal 5 is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, the Summit will include a panel on Women in Activism with Carmen Perez, Executive Director of The Gathering for Justice. She is the co-founder of Justice League NYC and founder of Justice League CA, two state-based task forces for advancing criminal justice reform agenda. She has organized numerous national campaigns and protests, including Growing Up Locked Down conferences and the March2Justice. She’s currently the National Co-Chair of the Women’s March on Washington.

In total, the Summit selected 33 women to speak throughout the event, from artists to CEOs to activists. The fact that more than half of the speakers are women (there are 28 male speakers) already shows the UN’s commitment to gender equality by implementing this principle in their own event.

I’m certainly looking forward to what will be said throughout the Summit about how to achieve gender equality by 2030. Being able to hear from so many empowered women will surely be empowering to those of us in the audience who are at the beginning of our careers and trying to find a way to make a difference in the world. I’m looking forward to being inspired by these world leaders to do my part for my community.

If you’re interested in being part of the global conversation online, here’s the Facebook event

It Takes Team Work

The theme for the 2017 World Breastfeeding Week, “Sustaining Breastfeeding Together”, says it all: breastfeeding is a joint effort, involving a variety of actors whose collaboration is required to give mother and baby optimal conditions and maximum chances for a successful breastfeeding journey.

While breastfeeding can be a very intimate experience for mothers and babies, it is not something that the mother alone should have to bear responsibility for. Ensuring that mothers have access to necessary information and support to make breastfeeding work is also crucial for the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Promoting and supporting breastfeeding can be anything but simple though. Dr. Prashant Gangal from La Leche League International (LLLI) states that one of the greatest challenges LLLI faces in working with support groups at the community level is to help mothers, families and health personnel to recognize their role and importance in making breastfeeding work for mothers and babies.

Elien Rouw, Liaison for the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine to World Alliance for Breastfeeding Alliance (WABA), notes that breastfeeding is in fact something that concerns the community as a whole: it involves the mother and baby, but also family, friends and neighbors, as well as health care workers in many variations and the legal system in society.

Legal frameworks and policies can either help or hinder the breastfeeding experience. Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals calls for promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies through strengthening institutions and providing access to justice for all. Strong institutions, inclusive and participatory decision making and non-discriminatory laws and policies are essential building blocks of societies that promote and protect breastfeeding and enable mothers to achieve the kind of breastfeeding experience they strive for.

Despite this, according to the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), breastfeeding mothers are often overlooked as a population requiring non-discriminatory laws and policies that enable them to succeed in breastfeeding their babies for 6 months exclusively, and for up to 2 years alongside solid foods, as recommended by the World Health Organization(WHO).

ICM also notes that by working in collaboration, health providers can move toward a common goal which helps to decrease conflict, and further encourages a woman and her new infant to be treated as a holistic dyad, rather than as two patients with competing health interests. ICM states too that health care providers who collaborate are more likely to present a unified message to women and families when discussing infant nutrition. Given that women often report being confused by the conflicting information they receive about breastfeeding from different health care providers, improving the consistency of this important messaging can help to break down cultural barriers, thereby improving breastfeeding success rates.

Making breastfeeding work for mothers and babies is a team effort, and we all have a role to play. Ensuring that mothers and babies can live and thrive healthily and happily is a goal we should all be striving towards, and we will reach that goal much faster when we join our hands and work together – as partners.

World Breastfeeding Week takes place from 1 – 7 August 2017. Celebrating collaboration and sustainability, it will focus on the need to work together to sustain breastfeeding. World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has created an online platform with downloadable resources available in a range of languages to support individuals and organizations in their own campaigning and advocacy. 

The Forgotten Development Goal: Personal Reflections

Sustainable Development Goal 18: Engagement and Interest for Development Within All People. How does that sound? Why is this goal needed when we already have 17 of them? But I know that if it actually was an SDG it would already be achieved. I can confidently say so after having the honor of attending this year’s United Nation’s General Assembly (UNGA) Week in New York City.

If we take a look at the Millennium Development Goals I think that – to be honest – it was a thing created by force. The world was falling apart and our world leaders just had to figure out a solution. The result of that were a few great, optimistic, goals that we were all supposed to work on together. Where did it go wrong? How come we did not achieve the Millennium Development Goals? Of course, there were plenty of reasons. For example the lack of detailed targets and goals, the unrealistic part of achieving them and the missing piece of partnership. But the one thing I see in the new Sustainable Development Goals is interest and engagement.

When attending the UNGA week, I met all kinds of people with different ages, backgrounds, titles and careers, but still they all have one thing in common – they want to achieve the SDG’s for real. They don’t work with and fight for these goals because they have to, they do it because they really believe that these goals are necessary and that they can play a part in making them reality.

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Photo Credit: Daryan Shamkali

So looking at the pretend goal number 18 – Engagement and Interest – we can lean back and be proud of ourselves. With not only a year working with the SDG’s we have already achieved what I think is the most important goal – being engaged and interested in the change-making journey. Of course, this is not the most important part when it comes to the change that is actually being made. It is much more important that we achieve goals regarding poverty, hunger, gender equality, health and education. But I think that this imaginary goal number 18 is the most necessary goal if we shall even have a chance of completing the SDG’s within 2030.

So even though this goal does not exist for real – let’s pretend it does. Because in that case we can be proud of ourselves for completing the goal that will drive us forward to achieve the rest of them. From now on – let us continue this change-making journey together, with the passion and real will of getting things done. I really do believe that the Sustainable Development Goals will be a part of the history books, showing how they really made an actual change around the world – thanks to all of the engaged and interested people driven by the passion and will of leading the way.

Featured Photo of the Girls’ Globe team in New York during UNGA week. Credit: Zayira Ray for Girls’ Globe 

The Vital Need for Data to Improve Maternal Health

Globally and daily, around 830 women die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth – equivalent to nearly 35 women an hour. This results in over 300 000 maternal deaths each year – deaths that could be prevented if adequate care was provided. Skilled care before, during and after birth has been identified as one of the key strategies to reducing maternal deaths, a care that 25% of women still do not have access to.

Bernice lives with her father and her four younger siblings in a small rural village in the north of Burundi. Her family, along with eight out of ten Burundians, live below the poverty line, and they depend fully on their household food crop production for their survival. Due to several droughts lately, they are currently facing severe food shortage. Bernice is pregnant with her first child, and even though she’s more than half way through her pregnancy, she hasn’t yet seen a doctor. She is severely malnourished, putting both her and her baby at an elevated risk of complications.

Two years ago, Bernice’s mother Thalia passed away when giving birth to her fifth child, due to a post partum haemorrhage – one of the most common causes of maternal deaths in both developing and developed countries. As with 40% of the deliveries in Burundi, each of Thalia’s childbirths have taken place in their family home – every time without a skilled birth attendant by her side, without both water and electricity.

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Bernice represents a population that is facing numerous challenges that arise from their individual circumstances. Living in extreme poverty in rural Burundi – a country with one of the highest maternal mortality ratios (maternal deaths per 100 000 live births) in the world – makes Bernice and her baby highly vulnerable in regards to surviving pregnancy and birth. In just a couple of months it is her turn to face the difficulties that often come with childbirth in her condition. She fears what is to come, knowing what happened to her mother.

Bernice and her family are fictional characters and fortunately, this time the story is a fictional one. However, based on the latest data on maternal and child health, this is the reality of countless women, adolescent girls and babies around the world, with sub-Saharan African countries facing great challenges in regards of maternal, newborn and child health. In this region, a woman’s lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth is an appalling 1 in 36, and the newborn death rate is the highest in the world with 34 deaths per 1000 live births. Compared to a woman in a high-income country, a woman in sub-Saharan Africa faces a 100 times greater risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth.

The future might look nothing but dark when looking at numbers related to maternal health, but we also need to recognize the improvements that have occurred. Globally, since 1990, the maternal deaths have dropped by 44%, and ¾ of women now have skilled care during their childbirths. Furthermore, at least four antenatal care visits are received by  ⅔ of women worldwide. This increase in maternity services is imperative in showing us that some interventions are successful – hopefully leaving us with a somewhat optimistic mind.

However, in spite of ubiquitous efforts, much is yet to be done. The gap between the countries with the highest and the lowest maternal mortality has grown despite the increased use of maternal health services, resulting in a bigger gap between countries and populations. In other words: millions of pregnant women are left behind from the progress, with minimized opportunities for health gains not only for themselves, but also for their babies.

“We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind.”
The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

For us to be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, and the underlying aim of “leaving no one behind”, accurate, reliable and population-based data on maternal health is essential. It is more crucial today than ever before, and vital to decrease the inequities in care that remains and seem to increase between and within populations.

The percentages in the illustration refer to to following numbers and statistics:

  • 25% of women do not have access to skilled care during birth
  • 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries
  • Between 1990 and 2015, the global maternal mortality dropped by 44%
  • A woman in sub-Saharan Africa is at a 100 times greater risk of dying during childbirth compared to a woman in a developed country
  • Every hour, nearly 35 women die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth