Make the global education goal your own, urges Special Adviser for the President of the UN General Assembly, Dessima Williams
“Do more, do it together and do it better,” is the message from H.E. Dessima Williams, Special Adviser on the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the Office of the President of the UN General Assembly.
Ambassador Williams, representing the President of the UN General Assembly, H.E. Mr Peter Thomson, at a recent meeting of the Education 2030 Steering Committee at UNESCO Headquarters, is a fervent believer in tackling the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development head-on.
She spoke to UNESCO about the need to make the agenda accessible to all people, the vital work of the Education 2030 Steering Committee and the special needs of a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) such as Grenada, her home. She also spoke about how she puts sustainability practice into her own life.
The 2030 Agenda is an ambitious and universal effort to mostly wipe out poverty through sustainable development, by 2030 captured in 17 goals. It puts education at the heart of realizing all the goals in Sustainable Development Goal 4 which aims to “ensure inclusive and quality education and promote lifelong learning”.
“The nomenclature that goes with a large undertaking like this can be frightening; but instead of looking at the SDGs as a complicated ‘other,’ we should make it our own. Call it what you like as long as you do something to make it happen. Take stock of how you live and ask how you can change your life to make it more sustainable, and less damaging to the planet.
“There is no excuse not to get involved with this paradigm shift; in fact, you are probably doing some of the work already without giving it a formal name. The SDGs are formalizing positive human behaviour under one framework. All human beings like new knowledge and better ways to do things.”
Williams takes a special interest in the role of girls and young women in bringing about the aims of the new agenda and benefiting from it.
“Due to access to education in the past, the world now has a mass of educated women and girls; we need to channel that in positive ways and ensure they become leaders and role models for the many more who are still accessing formal education.”
Working for education for rural children
Ambassador Williams is enthusiastic about the work of the Education 2030 Steering Committee in relation to SDG4.
“This is the first time that this goal has its own coordinating mechanism; and we have in the committee, not only the necessary technical and historical expertise, but also broad political leadership. So much of this type of work is often done in silos, so with the broad composition of this committee, it offers us a great opportunity to achieve more. And quickly.”
For those sceptical about the possibility of reaching the targets by 2030, particularly after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) she says: “While the MDGs reduced inequality and raised people out of poverty, that progress was unequal, insufficient and very expensive to the environment. We need to learn those lessons this time round.”
Away from her official role, Ambassador Williams, who served for four years as Grenada’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, works in her own country to highlight the challenges of Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) for the education of rural boys and girls.
“These are children who, if equipped with formal education, can choose to do better paying jobs than their parents," she said.
“The very territorial existence of many SIDS is challenged by climate change. Small Islands are particularly vulnerable to rising sea-levels “Their remoteness can’t be changed but they can be better financially supported, for example, with the means to write our own textbooks and to pursue more climate resistant agricultural practices.”
She has a particular interest in this last topic, being a passionate organic farmer and an enthusiastic exponent of a non-toxic lifestyle, especially to reduce the use of plastics. She also maintains a sustainable lifestyle through diet, walking rather than driving where possible, and letting others know about the SDGs.
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