A woman stands in front of a United Nations Association of the United States backdrop.

Grassroots Organizations Have a Role in Light of the UN Global Engagement Agenda


On February 22, I had a chance to participate in the annual United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) Global Engagement Summit that took place at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. It brought together grassroots civic organizations and students from more than 47 universities around the country to jointly commit to action under the theme: Shared Partnerships - Shared Responsibilities.

In a time of unprecedented challenges and threats for peace and sustainable growth in the global economy, the summit discourse focused on some of the most pressing issues facing the United Nations--issues where U.S. engagement could make a significant difference. Humanitarian emergencies in conflict zones, global health care access for everyone, human rights protection, and global warming threats to humanity were some of the topics during this one-day event with more than 1,000 participants.  

Human rights at risk of losing ground

Opening remarks by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres set the stage for an intensive program of vivid interactive discussions between panelists and participants. Guterres emphasized the distinguished role of UNA-USA in advancing the U.N. agenda throughout 50 states by enhancing the commitment of every citizen to actively contribute to peace and prosperity around the globe. He praised the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady and human rights champion, for her contributions to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and activism in protecting human rights around the globe. However, he raised concerns that at the 70th anniversary of the Declaration, the human rights agenda is losing ground, and authoritarianism is on the rise.

Guterres pointed out that, “In a time of world fragmentation, deficit of trust, and rise of doubts on the effectiveness of U.N. and other international organizations, it’s crucial to show that the U.N. is able to mobilize resources to find solutions for concrete answers for the problems.” Notable are U.N. achievements regarding the approval of a work program to implement the Paris Climate Agreement on Climate Change, adaptation of the Global Compact for Migration, the Global Compact on Refugees, and engagement in the independence of South Sudan and other conflict zones. Guterres identified interlinked conflicts with links of global terrorism as the biggest threats for world peace and security.

However, this is not enough; much more should be done. An invitation to action was extended to grassroots organizations and influencers to unite in cooperation with the U.N. to build synergy for delivering more for everyone. With climate change more menacing than ever before for life on earth, joint action is essential.

Inequality remains an obstacle to sustainable development

Discussions at the Summit shed light on another issue of global concern. Inequality remains a substantial obstacle to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to end poverty in all its forms. Migrants and refugees continue to face discrimination. Yet today, more than ever, it is essential to defend their rights for equal chances. Migration policies should be accordingly designed to harmonize intertwined interests from the perspective of host countries and the migrating population. The U.N. mission stands for creating fair chances and opportunities in all countries of origin in order to provide people the chance to build their future in their countries.

U.N. Sustainable Development agenda to ensure human rights

Closing remarks were delivered by Her Excellency Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President, 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, who explored the main dimensions of the Sustainable Development agenda. Through global action, the U.N. aims to ensure human rights protection for all and to create the preconditions to achieve gender equality by empowering all women and girls. She called for strong engagement of grassroots organizations in sharing responsibility for creating an equitable and sustainable society, and put an accent on multilateralism as an indispensable dimension of globalization. In addition, crucial challenges remain, including access to energy, better education, and decent jobs in all member states. Adequate policies are needed to ensure that people have needed skills in the face of employment changes.

As 2019’s Global Engagement Summit came to an end, the key takeaway was the appeal for every individual and organization to be an actor for change and unity in their communities while actively contributing in synchrony for a united world in peace and prosperity.

Ksenia Oleneva, a researcher of the Institute for Public Policy and Good Governance from Albania, is volunteering for three months as a research affiliate at Wilder Research. She recently attended the UN Global Engagement Summit at UN Headquarters in New York. The summit emphasized solutions to issues facing people around the world require collaborative and local efforts such as the work done by nonprofit and community-based organizations in Minnesota.