As the activist and author Arundhati Roy wrote in April, “Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. … And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”
As Sustainable Development Goals advocates appointed by the United Nations, we both believe that the Global Goals — a detailed blueprint that calls for ending poverty and gender inequality, promoting sustainable economic growth and universal access to health care, along with fighting climate change and achieving peace — will steer us toward a better world.
In the five years since the Global Goals were established, the UN has been working towards reducing maternal mortality rates by building a stronger workforce of midwives to provide critical health services for women around the world.
There has also been major progress towards increasing access to education and school enrollment rates all levels, particularly for girls. Before the coronavirus crisis, the proportion of young people out of primary and secondary school had declined from 26% in 2000 to 19% in 2010 and 17% in 2018.
But the global pandemic has disrupted every facet of life and it threatens the progress we’ve made on each of the 17 Global Goals. While initiatives, including UNESCO’s Global Education Coalition, are rising to the challenge during this period of disruption, we must press on and redouble our efforts on all fronts.
This year has presented immense obstacles, but we’ve also seen an encouraging surge of social activism. We’ve seen how quickly the world can change, and how many people are willing to transform the way they live their lives in the interest of humanity. We’re seeing a deeper sense of personal and practical activism as people ask themselves, “What can I do, what steps can I take in my own life?” As a result, we’re changing the clothes we buy, the food we eat, the way we travel and the cars we drive, as well as the way we invest our money.
The world’s challenges are forcing us to find solutions. Being in the creative industry, we’ve always believed that we have to make things in order to make things happen. So together, we’ve made a short film in partnership with the United Nations called “Nations United,” which you can watch on YouTube.
The film, which marks the 75th anniversary of the UN and the fifth anniversary of the Global Goals, is a whistle-stop tour of some of the most urgent problems facing the world and the UN’s specific solutions, like taxing carbon emissions to fight climate change, putting quotas in place to promote equal gender representation in government and providing internet access for all to ensure greater access to economic opportunities for the impoverished. It features some brilliant voices, including Thandie Newton, Don Cheadle, Michelle Yeoh, Malala and Burna Boy, alongside the UN secretary-general and deputy secretary-general. There’s also a radio version narrated by Julia Roberts.
Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” We already know what to do to make the world a better place — it’s a question of public pressure, political will and personal responsibility to help get the job done. We are all citizens of the world with the power to make a difference, starting with our daily lives and everyday decisions.
In the midst of Covid-19, we have a historic opportunity to look at the world as it is and really focus on the solutions to some of our greatest problems. In the 75 years since the United Nations was founded, the human race has never had to face a set of challenges like we do right now. But together, guided by the SDGs, we believe we can overcome them.