Mila Rosenthal, the director of communications for the United Nations Development Programme, sat down with faculty and students to discuss the UNDP’s communications campaign to promote the UN Sustainable Development Goals at Wallis Annenberg Hall at noon on Wednesday.
The SDGs are a set of 17 goals — and 169 targets — aimed at ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for the global population. The goals were decided upon by more than 150 world leaders at the UN Sustainable Development Summit on Sept. 25, 2015.
Rosenthal explained that the UN was careful in setting ambitious goals that would still be achievable. She noted that while enormous progress has been made in recent years in terms of poverty and hunger reduction and improving access to education, many people are under the impression that things are getting worse.
“A lot of research shows that in regards to issues related to development, people believe that there’s not much that can be done, that there aren’t solutions,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal attributes this to several factors, mainly the abundance of information available to people and the immediacy with which it can be accessed. Information with a negative narrative tends to discourage people. The Narrative Project, an initiative by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, found that the debate about development is broken when people know little about what progress has been made, and instead the conversation focuses on what doesn’t work or aid is seen as a good idea done badly.
Rosenthal acknowledges that the perception that sustainable development is a lost cause only makes communication more important. In order for the SDGs to be met, citizens have to be aware of the goals and be able to hold their governments accountable.
“When people know the standards their governments have agreed to meet, whether they’re legally binding or social, countries are more likely to implement those standards in policy solutions, regulations and in practice,” Rosenthal said. “This is where communications comes in. We have to make sure that people know the goals their government has signed up for, and that they can be a part of achieving these goals.”
To maximize communication efforts, the UNDP collaborates with a broad range of partners across various industries, including the entertainment and telecommunications industries. One such partner is Project Everyone, an organization founded by British filmmaker Richard Curtis. It informs the public about the SDGs through short films. One of the most famous short films is called “‘We The People’ for The Global Goals,” and featured numerous celebrities outlining the SDGs. The UNDP also runs events to connect people through social media; one of these events is the Social Good Summit, a two-day summit examining the impact of new media on social good initiatives. The UNDP localizes more broad campaigns for different locations by translating information into the relevant language and finding spokespersons who would appeal to the demographic of that location’s people.
Patti Riley, an associate professor of communication at USC, believes that the UNDP is working hard and has a good foundation for communications. However, she thinks that they should amplify their digital presence to appeal to the younger generation.
“There’s not much space for engagement,” Riley said. “[The UNDP does not] have user-generated content thus far. You get a sense that experts are working on this issue, but you don’t have facilities for young people to experience these issues through their own media.”
Bianca Vekima, a senior majoring in global health, said it’s important for young people to understand the SDGs.
“These goals affect our lives,” Vekima said. “Mila said that the only way the government will take these goals seriously is if people know about them, and that includes young people.”