Insights from the United Nations: A Q&A with our CEO & SFU Chapter President

This month, five EWB staff traveled to New York City to attend the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development at the United Nations. Landon Reeves, president of the Simon Fraser University EWB chapter, also attended as a youth delegate through the BC Council for International Cooperation. At the end of the week, we sat down with Landon and CEO Boris Martin to chat about their highlights and reflections.

Hailey: Is this your first time at the United Nations?

Both: Yes!

Hailey: Why are you here?

Boris: I came to see Canada provide its Voluntary National Review (VNR) on our country’s progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and was excited to hear what tone and expectations Canada sets in this international forum. I also wanted to see first hand how the United Nations works.

Hailey: Can you give a short description of the High Level Political Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals?

Boris: The HLPF is a place where world leaders, ministers, and senior officials convene to exchange ideas, challenges, and progress updates towards their contribution to the SDGs. Each country shares how they are doing domestically, but also how they are working together to reach the goals. Each country gives a review not a report, and it is voluntary, not mandatory, so the HLPF is not fully a space for accountability. It is the gathering place where countries who have declared their intention to reaching the SDGs share what they have done so far and what they are going to continue doing.

Hailey: What has your experience been like?

Landon: My experience has primarily been meeting with people from all over the world. As a youth delegate with BCCIC, I led the organization of meetings for myself and my fellow youth to learn as much as possible about the UN and Canada’s progress on the SDGs. Meeting UN Young Leader for the SDGs, Nikki Fraser, who is a young Indigenous woman from Canada, was a highlight for me.

Boris: In many ways it has been exciting. There is an inspiring sense of place in the United Nations building. What stood out to me is the art from many different countries, the series of portraits of past United Nations Secretary Generals, and photos of Nelson Mandela and other international leaders. Yet at the same time I also got the sense that the UN is a big institution and at the end of the day there is a strong focus on process and protocol.

Hailey: What were your expectations coming into the HLPF, and how does reality compare?

Boris: I was expecting Canada’s VNR to be more quantitative and to assess the country’s global contributions: have we done enough? Are we satisfied with what was done? Instead, the report was more qualitative and highlighted what we can celebrate about what Canada has done so far. I also thought it would be a national review, rather than a Government review. In my view, the report lacked national representation of the efforts and progress made.

Overall, of the experience of attending the HLPF, I didn’t anticipate how tangible the challenge of reaching a consensus between 194 countries would be. Towards the end of the week when all countries voted on the outcome document, you could see the underlying tensions and different perspectives that they needed to navigate. I thought that was really revealing and I didn’t expect it at all. That really underscored for me how the UN is the place where all worldviews are brought together, and where each country brings both their national concerns and hopes for the global community. It also underlined for me the role that we play in each country to elevate the conversation and encourage our leaders to commit to long-term global wellbeing, rather than bartering for short-term national interests.

Landon: I think there was a lot of language being used that lacked substance and detail. This reminded me that CSOs play an important role in holding countries accountable and making sure they are being very explicit with what they are doing. It is also our role to champion and pushes for transparency.

Hailey: What is a lesson you have learned this week that you are going to hold onto as you head home?

Landon: Youth actually have more power than they think. I wrote a blog post called Elbows Out For Youth at the UN in which I shared how spaces for youth are starting to be created but more needs to be done. I am committing to using my power as a young person for issues I am passionate about.

Hailey: If you could tell the EWB community one thing about the HLPF what would it be?

Landon: It is organized chaos. Also, it is so amazing and you have to try it yourself – and you can!

Boris: It is on us as EWBers to share the importance and relevance of the SDGs with Canadians across the country!

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