The Sustainable Development Goals & Pragmatic Idealism - vol. 1

A pragmatic idealist. For the most part, I tend to shy away from singular labels but this name is one I have created and justified for myself. Largely a product of my nomadic upbringing, the label is a testament to the years of question-driven and solution-focused discourse I was compelled to engage in by my parents, educators and peers. Being asked on a constant basis to vocalize and justify my beliefs and thoughts, I learned how to see the positive through recognizing the negative. This acquired skill, molded in large part due to geographic adaptation, cultural immersion, and intellectual curiosity, is the driving force behind my aspirations in global governance. More specifically, it is the motivation inspiring my desire to raise the conscience and goodwill of young people to the content and scope of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Initiatives like AIESEC’s Youth For Global Goals and #KnowYourGoals by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) are testament to the ongoing work of youth globally in believing and accomplishing the Sustainable Development Goals. Best of all, the existing efforts of talented youth are assurance that I am not alone in my contributions to the SDG movement.

For most of my millennial peers, social media is the “edgy” accessory of choice. Be it tweeting out politically correct hashtags, Instagraming photos with the culturally appropriate filter, or Facebooking the newest, intellectually trendy news article, the content a young person originally produces or circulates has come to serve as a label of his or her beliefs. As the current United Nations Youth Representative for Caring for Cambodia (CFC) and an avid, amateur photographer myself, I have personally benefitted from the application of social media. Not only has it served as a strategic way of documenting my personal achievements, but it has also enabled me to spread the relevance of the UN’s work to those who may be outside the world of international affairs and development. In fact, following the UN panel I spoke on at the end of October, I received an overwhelming number of messages from friends and young people I did not know about their takeaways from my words. The wide-ranging positive support empowered me and provided me with an opportunity to discuss CFC’s fantastic work on education-related issues in Cambodia as well as the UN’s focus on youth. The panel even allowed me to spread the message further after I was approached by a fellow youth representative to be profiled on her organization’s blog.

During a time when young people are able to swiftly jump from discussing Adele’s latest musical masterpiece to expressing condolences about the ISIS-led attack in Paris, I see social media as a holistic way of establishing connection. The UN Sustainable Development Goals, launched in September 2015, span 17 globally inspired commitments to end extreme poverty, tackle inequality and injustice, and rectify climate change. Spanning from zero hunger to clean energy to partnerships development, the beauty of the SDGs lies in their ability to generate broad-ranging access. Despite their expansive scope, the interrelatedness of the Global Goals provides varying degrees of flexibility and connectivity in terms of how they activate youth. For instance, without universal healthcare, the goal of education cannot be accomplished because children who are sick would not perform as well in school. Additionally, without universal education, gender equality can’t be achieved if girls cannot attend school. Thus, it is key to keep in mind that the SDGs can only be a complete success if all, not just some, of the goals are achieved.

Tapping into social media as a means to spread the word can help decrease the general complacence surrounding action on global issues and the SDGS, potentially stemming from their wide reach. Moreover, making the seemingly overwhelming nature of the SDGs more digestible for those not in the sphere of international organizations can help youth and others base actions on their interests and passions. It will allow for understanding of the fact that every human isn’t responsible for achieving all 17 goals or even all aspects of one goal. In fact, most of us may not even possess the knowledge or skills required to solve some of the goals. However, some of us may already be working toward or can implement small actions to contribute to completion of the SDGs. For example, some may work toward Goal 12 about responsible consumption and production by composting trash or Goal 14 about life below water by avoiding the purchase of mass-farmed salmon.

The broad scope of the SDGs means that they can be disseminated and digested by many, starting with the youth of our world. Tuning youth into the conversation surrounding these global targets will ignite a sense of urgency and even inspire cynics to attempt solution prior to quick dismissal. Most importantly, we must not ignore the efforts of youth who have already joined the SDG movement, raising awareness and achieving the plethora of development targets in their own ways. The SDGs have the potential to form a new kind of pop culture, one where those like myself, a pragmatic idealist, can continue to believe that perhaps, the birth for solutions to global issues are just one (or many) hashtag, filter, or status update away.




Sharmishta Sivaramakrishnan is the current UN Youth Representative for Caring for Cambodia. Presently, she is interning for the Office of the United Nations’ Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth. She is an undergraduate student at the George Washington University, double majoring in International Affairs and Economics and minoring in Sustainability and will graduate in December 2015. Believing herself to be “a citizen of worlds,” aptly phrased by Taiye Selasi, she believes change to be the sole constant in her nomadic life. She is driven by new situations, people, and ideas and is constantly seeking ways through which to impact global governance.

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