Combating Racism in the 21st Century

The International Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) sought to commit its signatories to promote and encourage universal respect without distinction of race, sex, language or religion. It was established to promote universal respect and dignity among all human beings and aimed to outlaw hate speech and criminalize membership in racist organizations by requesting that Member States establish and enact appropriate mechanisms to combat forms of discrimination.


The UN DPI briefing titled “Combating Racism in the 21st Century” commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Convention and celebrated the launch of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). The panel was moderated by Corann Okorodudu, NGO Representative and Professor of Psychology & Africana Studies at Rowan University, and included Stephanie Franklin, William Garcia, Dil Bishwakarma Sagar, Manbo Dòwòti Désir and Onaje Muid. The panel discussed issues of space, identity and exclusion.

Stephanie Franklin, founder, president and CEO of the Franklin Law Group, discussed the importance of the Convention and ensuring the United Nations remains a space safe and open for discussion. It has sometimes alienated and marginalized grassroots organizations and activists against racial discrimination in an effort to include actors seen as more relevant or influential in discussions and initiatives. Due to her professional background in social justice work, Franklin was able to share extensive data on the prevalence of racial discrimination in foster care systems and the horrific reality of the medication of African American children in such systems.

Onaje Muid, Lecturer at the School of Social Work in Columbia, discussed the importance of the collective in the worldview shared by many African communities, where the notion that “I am because we are” was held highly as opposed to the Cartesian “I think, therefore I am”. This philosophy helped and continues to encourage the fostering of creativity and spirituality among communities. In order to safeguard all peoples and communities of African descent, it is necessary to ensure that international treaties and conventions such as ICERD are effective and making an impact by advocating for them and creating institutions and legal mechanisms on behalf of the disenfranchised.

William Garcia, a M.A. candidate in Curriculum and Teaching at the Columbia University Teachers College, extended the geographical scope of the conversation beyond the African-American experience to include racial discrimination peoples of African descent face globally, specifically in South America and the Caribbean. He highlighted the exclusion of “Afro-latinxs” from both the Latino and black identity when they immigrate, especially to the United States. They become an “other”, in between blackness and their Latinx identity. Garcia emphasized the importance of bridging that identity gap in discourse, especially when considering the significant and powerful advocacy and work that the Black Lives Matter movements are doing in the Caribbean and South America. Garcia posed policy suggestions and safety measures to ensure the full and safe participation of peoples of African descent in South America and the Caribbean, concluding with the statement, “If black lives have to matter in the United States, they have to matter everywhere.”


Dil Bishwakarma Sagar, President of the International Commission for Dalit Rights, likened the caste system to racial discrimination, describing racism as cultural caste discrimination. The prevalence of this international cultural caste discrimination sets up systems which propagate the violations of basic human rights and dignity. Sagar firmly emphasized that to deconstruct these systems, marginalized and oppressed groups would have to cooperate and eliminate racial discrimination of all forms.

Manbo Dòwòti Désir, Chairperson of the NGO Committee on Human Rights Subcommittee for the Elimination of Racism, addressed the necessity of spatial justice – that is, creating mental and physical spaces that support discussion and respect the history and cultural of peoples of African descent. She also highlighted the necessity of safeguarding virtual spaces, which she described as the new frontiers for racial discrimination, and using technology to combat that.

The briefing closed on master kora player Salieu Suso’s musical piece, Kaira.


This briefing is available on UN Web TV.

Bridging the Gap between Climate Change and Climate Awareness


The youth-led briefing held on November 12th presented a panel consisting of Jada Monica Drew, Kelly Matheson and Dave Gonzalez. Among the guest speakers were sixteen-year old plaintiff Victoria Barrett and filmmaker Lisa Russell. The panelists and guests discussed the issues of climate change and the gap between climate awareness and climate action.


Are people aware of climate change? I would argue yes, more so than several years ago due to the involvement of political leaders, activists and artists. Even people that outwardly deny climate change are involved in some sort of dialogue that keeps the issue relevant. I think that what is crucial is informative climate change education in schools, as Victoria Barrett discussed. The work of organizations like Jada Monica Drew’s Social Designs, Kelly Matheson’s WITNESS and Our Children’s Trust and responsible corporations like Google is very important. The combination of both civil society and corporations, along with political platforms, is what will really affect some sort of change. I think continued activism is necessary, especially that of the younger generations who will have new and innovative ways of presenting information and engaging in dialogues with people across age, gender, race and religion.


I think Francois Gave, Counsellor to the Permanent Mission of France to the UN present at the lunch Q&A session following the briefing, made a very important point to be considered amongst this debate – that is, while this is a very dire and important issue that affects all of us, it is not a political priority. It requires unwavering dedication and patience, despite the longevity of environmental projects and awareness initiatives. The work of the briefing’s panelists is proof that individual effort helps promoting awareness, educating and taking action on a communal and international level.

This briefing is available on UN Web TV.

Understanding Human Trafficking through the Lens of Civil Society: Awareness, Advocacy and Action

DPI/NGO presented a briefing discussing the approach that NGOs are taking to combat human trafficking; some are increasing awareness, such as the End Trafficking Project of UNICEF USA. Some NGOs, like the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, advocate on behalf of victims of trafficking and prostitution. Others still take take action against traffickers themselves, such as Operation Underground Railroad.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime is the primary UN organization in its effort to end international crime, including human trafficking, by coordinating efforts between member states, and Simone Monasebian, Director of the NY office, discussed basic facts about human trafficking; it is an almost $30 billion industry, and it continues to grow, thanks to the horrible refugee crisis in Syria.

The UN has established the Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking, which goes directly towards rehabilitation and support.


Awareness is a surprising concern in the fight against trafficking; while human trafficking is recognized as a problem, increasing awareness of its significance continues to be an issue. Ian Urbina stumbled upon forced labor on fishing ships when he was writing his Outlaw Ocean Series for the New York Times; he had previously been exposed to “mag crews” in the states, which he wrote about in 2007. Other groups have more direct approaches; the End Trafficking Project at UNICEF-USA makes resources available to help end trafficking, including info sheets and toolkits.

The End Trafficking Project also advocates on behalf of victims, and is pressing the US Congress to pass the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act. The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women advocates on behalf of sex workers, in the US and abroad. Taina Bien-Aime, the Executive Director, discussed how more often than not, sex workers are victims of trafficking.

Other groups take action directly. Tim Ballard, a former Special Agent with the Department of Homeland Security, formed Operation Underground Railroad when he became frustrated by his inability to deal with trafficking out of the US’s jurisdiction; his group trains local law enforcement with regards to trafficking issues, but members of his group also go undercover on sting operations. Girl Be Heard, on the other hand, works domestically, empowering young women to tell their own stories, and introduces girls to global women’s’ issues. By sharing the stories of women worldwide, Girl Be Heard hopes to end violence against women.

One important suggestion brought up was using the term ‘modern slavery’ instead of ‘human trafficking’. ‘Modern slavery’ carries with it a certain historical meaning and seriousness that is lost with the legal term ‘human trafficking’; society would be more willing to act against modern slavery because of the connotation. However, Taina Bien-Aime brought up an important point; while ‘modern slavery’ is a powerful phrase, human trafficking is an issue that encompasses more than forced labor, and its abolition will not resolve the violations of women’s and children’s rights that occur when they are trafficked.

A consistent problem faced by these NGOs were inaction by governments when facing situations where people were being trafficked — not necessarily out of malice, but because of a lack of awareness, training, or resources. NGOs can help fill these gaps where they exist, from pressing on lawmakers to pass legislation or assisting local law enforcement in a sting operation.
The briefing can be watched here.

Art as a Tool for Conflict Prevention and Reconciliation

The latest DPI/NGO briefing, Art as a Tool for Conflict Prevention and Reconciliation, was held last Thursday, November 5th. The briefing was chaired by Nancy Ye, of DPI’s Outreach Division, who serves as President of the UN Arts and Culture Appreciation Association. The purpose of the briefing was to discuss the means by which art can help bring societies together after conflicts tear them apart. Joanna Sherman, of the Bond Street Theater, described the importance of art with an experience she had in Kosovo. She had met a member of Doctors Without Borders, who told her that DWB helps with the necessities of human survival — food, shelter, medicine — but art and theater is food for the soul. “It restores humanity.”

A Bond Street Theater troupe perform in a women's prison in Afghanistan

A Bond Street Theater troupe perform in a women’s prison in Afghanistan

Bond Street Theater uses theater to offer communities the opportunity to discuss social justice, working with theater troupes in Afghanistan, Haiti, and Myanmar. Through theater, communities can discuss issues; Sherman discussed a case how an all-male troupe in Afghanistan performed a play about childhood marriage, and how a troupe at a women’s prison helped inspire the importance of women’s literacy.

While Bond Street is an example of an NGO bringing art to communities, Nicholas Ledner, a communications officer for UNICEF, discussed incorporating artists and social media to help deliver UNICEF’s message. High production value music videos and well known artists come in handy bringing UNICEF to YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram. UNICEF’s programs towards ending child marriage and child abuse were extremely successful; he presented UNICEF’s moving #ENDChildMarriageNow video, featuring RL Grime’s song ‘Always’.


Lily Yeh, from Barefoot Artists, discussed how community art projects help repair society after conflict tears them apart — she started in Philadelphia, where she told us how she “tricked” adults into working with her by first roping in the children; she later ended up in Rwanda, where she worked with the community to turn a mass grave into a beautiful memorial. Mosaics, she says, are beautiful for this; broken pieces, suffering in isolation, brought together by making art. Yeh also brought art to the survivor’s village, where art helped bring inspiration, resources, and eventually jobs to a community in Rwanda. I found Yeh’s work incredible — I was amazed to see first, how beautiful these community pieces were, but also how they affected their communities.


I thoroughly enjoyed David Murdock’s documentary work as well — Murdock worked on Oprah’s series, Belief, and we watched a clip of a joint Arab-Israeli youth orchestra. Documentary can do two things; on one hand, it can inform and enrage the public, but it also offers the opportunity for individuals to tell their stories. Artistic documentaries have to do more than inform, and NGOs that want to make these documentaries have to trust the documentarians.

Carolina Alvarez-Mathies, of El Museo del Barrio, discussed YES, El Salvador’s first contemporary art program, meant to bring Salvadoran art to the international community. Many of El Salvador’s artists are not formally trained artists, but they have helped directly make sense of the civil war, and help diffuse the gang violence that has affected the country.

The mission of the UN, of course, is the maintenance of international peace and security, and towards that, end, it spends millions of hours and dollars toward peacekeeping, economic development, and humanitarian aid. Rebuilding society after conflict has torn it apart, however, is often apolitical, and art can help bring communities together toward that end. Food for the soul, after all, has no indicators.
The briefing webcast can be watched here.

Town Hall Meeting: DPI/NGO Conference

Left to right: Bruce Knotts, Jeff Brez and Maher Nasser

What I expected to be a purely administrative meeting turned out to be surprisingly enlightening and entertaining.  Leading the Town Hall meeting was Jeff Brez, the Chief of NGO Relations and Advocacy at the Department of Public Information (DPI). Alongside him were Maher Nasser, the Director of the Outreach Division at DPI and Bruce Knotts, the Chair of the NGO/DPI Executive Committee. The focus of the meeting was the 66th DPI NGO Conference in Korea and its overarching theme of Education and Agenda 2030.

The annual DPI NGO Conference is the largest gathering of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) organized by the United Nations, the NGO community and partners. Every year, the conference allows NGO representatives to discuss issues and themes relevant to the UN’s work. Representatives are able to network, to participate in workshops and to showcase their work. The upcoming conference will be the 66th conference to take place. It will be held in the Republic of Korea between 30 May 2016 – 1 June 2016.

DPI and its Korean partners have decided to embrace education as the theme and focal point of the conference. Education, as discussed in the Town Hall meeting and as put forward in Agenda 2030, is not limited to formal education. Education as a means to engage individuals and communicate knowledge is key to fostering a global citizenship. When schools, universities and action groups produce individuals that are globally mindful, they produce people who are as invested in climate, human rights, alleviating poverty and accessible quality healthcare and other issues as they are their neighborhoods, cities and countries.

Several pertinent administrative issues regarding the rapid organization of the conference, such as the chair election and funding, were genuine concerns of several representatives at the briefing. However, I felt that the most important issues raised were the issues of measuring the success of the conference and building lasting relationships with educational institutions and NGOs in Asia. The outcome document is traditionally a compilation and analysis of conference statistics that is distributed amongst the UN, NGO representatives and partners after every conference. There seemed to be general consensus that the document was a heavy and static mechanism that needed improvement in order to effectively measure, distribute and promote the success of the conference. The document should rely both on information shared by attendees and information collected. It should be presented in forms of “embedded media” (infographics, videos, etc) over social media platforms.

The conference will be the first of its series to be held in Asia. As such, it is an incredible opportunity to reach out to Asian NGOs and get them affiliated. In a similar way that the United Nations has set up its Academic Impact and its student subdivision ASPIRE of which several Korean universities and student groups are a part of, these universities have established institutions very heavily involved with civil society and in promoting and implementing Agenda 2030. Therefore it is crucial to ensure the involvement of these groups in any dialogue on the promotion, implementation and assessment of Agenda 2030. It is also imperative that the NGOs and educational institutions involved are encouraged to hold side events and contribute to the conference.

source: UN DPI NGO Relations

Beyond providing a look into the administrative and organizational structure of DPI and of its annual conference, the Town Hall meeting proved to be educational and useful to Mostafa and I. These types of meetings are important because they allow for the feedback from the NGO community. They also allow representatives of institutions, such as university youth representatives, that are in between the UN and the NGO worlds to participate. Before Maher Nasser was called into another meeting, Mostafa was able to ask him about the importance and nature of the relationships DPI and the UN hoped to foster with educational institutions and how exactly he expected either party to contribute to that. Mr. Nasser was able to stress the importance and value of student groups, academic affiliations to the UN and youth representatives. The input and volunteer work of these groups is able to help the UN, DPI and the NGO community develop and learn while they are providing services. Their voices help shape meetings such as this one and ensure more inclusive and representative policies and activities.

This briefing is available on UN Web TV.

The UN at 70: Working together to make a difference

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My name is Mostafa Elmadboly, one of Fordham’s NGO Youth Representatives at the UN Department of Public Information. I’m a senior at Rose Hill, majoring in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies, with a minor in Arabic. I’m thankful to have been able to travel in my past three years at Fordham, studying abroad in Ankara, Turkey, and Amman, Jordan. On campus, I keep busy participating in the Arabic Club, the Fordham Political Review, and Global Outreach.

As youth representative, I attend weekly briefings by the Department of Public of Information, along with my fellow youth rep, Rana Alotaibi. On October 22, 2015, DPI’s briefing was a double panel discussing the relationship between the NGO community and the UN over the past 70 years. The mood was festive, but productive; the conference room was packed and bright blue balloons, celebrating the UN’s 70th birthday, dotted the ceiling.

source: UN DPI NGO Relations

His Excellency, Mogens Lykketoft, President of the General Assembly, gave the opening remarks. Lykketoft discussed the partnership between civil society, NGOs, and the UN. NGOs have have directed attention towards human rights violations; they have represented the marginalized, and they have pressured political leaders and businesses. While congratulating the NGO community on its contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals, he reminded NGOs to constantly reevaluate their capacity to enact effective and meaningful change in the world.

The first panel was comprised of representatives from NGOs long partnered with the UN, including Lions Club International, represented by Robert Libin; League of Womens Voters, represented by Rosalee Keech; and Rotary International, represented by Suraj Bhatia. The panel was chaired by Maher Nasser, head of DPI’s Outreach Division, and discussed the history of the NGOs, starting with their establishment, to the creation of the UN, to their relationship today. The Lions Club worked to establish the NGO section of the UN in 1947; Eleanor Roosevelt and the League of Womens Voters help pressure the US Congress to support the creation of the UN; Rotary International partnered with the UN to end polio.

The second panel was chaired by Ben Malor, Chief Executive Producer of UN Radio. This interactive panel discussed the future of UN and NGO relations, and inclusion of youth in the vision of that future. In this panel, my fellow youth representatives Victoriia Brezheniuk, Mohammed Bakhrieba, and Sharmishta Sivaramakrishnan, discussed their ideas for tapping into the potential of youth, including building trust, increasing representation, and engagement in decision-making.

The following discussion was informative, with the more experienced panelists advising youth to “think globally, and act locally”. Further, it was suggested that intergenerational solidarity be developed; the young have energy, and the old are experienced, and both should be combined. One of Mr. Nasser’s lighter points was the youth are ultimately temporary; youth stop being youth after a few years; “once you’re an older person, you’re always an older person.” The process in developing the SDGs incorporated governments, international institutions, NGOs, and civil society, and set an example for the future of the UN; the youth have a place in that future as well.

The Sustainable Development Agenda: Advocacy, Implementation and Global Partnership

Inside Briefing

On September 25th 2015, Agenda 2030 was unanimously by all UN member states and stakeholders. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is composed of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets which seek to build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) over the next 15 years. The focal points of the agenda include the eradication of poverty, gender equality, quality education, good infrastructure, sustainable cities, climate action and reliable and effective peace and justice systems, among many others. The briefing held on October 8, 2015 focused on how to best promote the agenda and how to best meet these sustainable development goals. Amongst the panelists were H.E. Mr. Antonio Patriota, Ms. Frances Simpson-Allen, Ms. Natalia Vega-Berry, Ms. Maruxa Cardama and Mr. Juan E. Chebly. The briefing was led by Mr. Maher Nasser, the director of the UN’s Department of Public Information’s (DPI) Outreach Division.

Mr. Patriota, the Permanent Representative of Brazil to the United Nations, emphasized the important role civil society had to play in both promoting and implementing the new agenda. Governments can only benefit from keeping an open line of communication between themselves and civil society. He spoke of Brazil during the negotiations of the agenda as an example. The high turnout of civil society representatives at the Rio+20 conference proved this and provided the Brazilian government with a wealth of views on issues of sustainable development. The feedback, and frustrations of some, led the government to set up regular briefings between Brazilian delegates and civil society representatives during and beyond the Agenda negotiations. Including and interacting with civil society also reinforces civil society’s legitimate sense of ownership of the new agenda. Inclusiveness ensures civil society’s support when it comes to implementing the technology facilitation mechanism, an innovative arrangement to bring together UN agencies, governments, the scientific community, the private sector and civil society to disseminate technologies that can contribute to the implementation of the SDGs. Civil society’s support is also crucial to creating an effective follow up and review platform under the high level political forum to evaluate the implementation of the SDGs and an accountability mechanism.

Ms. Frances Simpson-Allen, the Coordinator of the Post-2015 Strategy Hub, spoke of and showcased some of the resources available to promote the agenda. She divided the resources into visual assets and those specific for offline engagement.


  1. Visual Assets
    1. The UN logo for the SDGs
    2. The 5 P’s Circle (People, Prosperity, Peace, Partnership, Planet)
    3. SDG icons which break down and simplify the goals and can be distributed as stickers, etc.
    4. Elyx characters are similar to the standard icons but are more accessible to children
    5. Films The UN and UN agencies have collaborated with many organizations (including NASA and Action/2015) to make incredible films such as Earth from Space, The Story You Are Shaping and Goal Readers to speak to the issues that the SDGs address.
  2. Offline Engagement
    1. The World’s Largest Lesson features crowdsourced content from teachers from over 50 countries made in partnership with UNICEF. It is made up of cartoons, lesson plans, comic books and other resources on the SDGs.
    2. Radio Everyone is made of content from over 70+ leaders around the world talking about what the SDGs mean to them. It is perfect for communities, larger or smaller, with very active radio stations or very prominent radio personalities. Radio Everyone produces over 60 hours of content in different languages.
    3. Prayer For Everyone is a platform for faith based communities by which to engage with Agenda 2030. It was created as a resource center for anyone looking to connect with and understand the agenda with regards to their respective faith.

The People + Planet Project (P+PP) is a new action network for social good created to support the SDGs. Ms. Natalia Vega-Berry, the Campaign Director of P+PP, introduced the network as an opportunity for NGOs and people to express priorities for action and to aggregate content to connect with and support each other. P+PP has established four global campaigns to speak to four different targets which address the social, economic and environmental foundations of the SDGs. Ms. Vega-Berry emphasized that P+PP’s model was “value for many” as opposed to “value for money”. While social media experiences tend to monetize people and their activities. P+PP aims to be a hub of social good by creating a global fund and funneling back all proceeds into that fund which will feed initiatives created within the same platform. The official first phase of the network begins on January 1, 2016, its global launch day.Rana and Marina

Ms. Maruxa Cardama is the Executive Project Coordinator of Communitas. Communitas is the Coalition for Sustainable Cities and Regions in the new UN Development Agenda. It acts as a two-fold platform which links and supports the intergovernmental processes on 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals and on the New Urban Agenda of the Third UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III). So it was no surprised to see Ms. Cardama encouraging governments and civil society leaders to find a core issue that the SDGs address and be able to link and implement several of the goals on all levels. She brought the importance of localizing the agenda and implementing it on a local level. To quote a statistic, 60% of the 169 targets will require full or partial implementation by local and regional governments.

Mr. Juan E. Chebly, the Lead Adviser of the United Nations Environment Programme, made the point that the Agenda 2030 and that implementing the Sustainable Development Goals is not an ambitious agenda. It is absolutely necessary. Development is not a straight line journey, but rather a perpetual cycle which we have to keep working at. It involves total social inclusion and participation at all levels. To be implemented, the SDGs will have to mobilize 90 billion dollars per year from the public sector. This seems like a ridiculous figure, but put into perspective of the global military spending per annum, it is almost insignificant. If only 5% of global military spending could pay for the implementation of all of the SDGs in their entirety, governments and the private sector should be able to afford funding initiatives that save more people as opposed to those that destroy lives.

The panelists of the briefing did an incredible job discussing and analyzing methods by which all aspects of society could be informed, participate and help implement the agenda. As Mr. Patriota pointed out, the agenda is universal. We must discarding traditional North-South development cooperative approaches and embracing an agenda applied to both developing and developed countries. Everyone has work to do. A point that cannot be stressed enough is that communication between people, governments and civil society is key. As is the inclusion of the private sector. Their vocal and financial support is almost as equally important as the support of governments and civil society. The responsible participation and encouragement of the private sector makes for the easier dissemination of information and implementation of the agenda, while also making their interests heard and recognized. I think as Mr. Chebly passionately asserted, the agenda is very achievable over the next 15 years. We just have to be able to make the Sustainable Development Goals the floor, not the ceiling, of our work spaces, our homes and our educational institutions.

Group Photo - Outside