From Peru to Qatar, young changemakers from the UN Foundation’s +Social Good community are pushing for change even though 2020 changed our world. Here are some ways this global network of advocates, entrepreneurs and activists is refusing to let COVID-19 hold progress back – innovating, pushing past geographical boundaries, and diving deeper to help transform the world – so we can all recover better, and regain momentum on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Harnessing Technology for the Global Goals

There’s no question that, in addition to health, data and technology were hot-button topics in 2020. We saw how much more needs to be done to bridge the digital divide, as lack of connectivity kept 463 million children (31% of total schoolchildren) away from the classroom. In contrast, COVID-19 also accelerated digital adoption – pushing communities to innovate in order to keep the economy going.

Nashilongo Gervasius is a knowledge society specialist, media lecturer, communication specialist, and ICT4Dev analyst who is invested in the development narrative of Africa and is committed to upholding Africa’s position as the new frontier for new media, technology and innovation. Photo: Nashilongo Gervasius

Nashilongo Gervasius, +SocialGood Connector in Namibia, advocates for open access to the internet in her home country. She co-founded the Namibia chapter of the Internet Society as a policy and advocacy hub to help bridge the country’s digital divide, promote a safe online space for all users, and ensure that everyone has access to a safe and secure internet. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the group joined forces with local and international stakeholders to hold virtual policy dialogues with citizens on internet regulation, the role of youth in governing the internet, and how to secure digital human rights.

“The future of internet freedom in Africa should be one that recognizes digital rights as human rights [. . .] but also one that propagates technological connectivity as an important tool in driving democratic processes and key in social development,” she says.

Gervasius was recognized as an Open Internet for Democracy leader for her efforts to protect and promote an open internet. She was also honored as a finalist for the 2020 Equals in Tech Awards for her research on women’s rights online and the digital gender divide.

Ashley Bass is a design and technology advocate who supports and develops K-16 education and city-wide programs for underserved communities.

In the U.S., +SocialGood Connector Ashley Bass has witnessed the transformative power of technology firsthand in her work helping underrepresented and low-income young New Yorkers access training and mentorship programs in software development and design.

In the spring of 2020, she collaborated with JPMorgan Chase to host Generation Tech, an annual event bringing together high school students — many of whom have no tech background or experience — to use technology to identify solutions to the SDGs. Participants from the New York and New Jersey area received mentorship from the “Tech for Social Good” team at JPMorgan Chase, and the top four teams received a prize from the event jury. Bass’s work with technology in underserved communities not only promoted tech as a tool for social good, but also ensured that individuals of all social and economic backgrounds are included as key stakeholders to achieving the SDGs by 2030.

Pushing for Environmental Sustainability, Youth Inclusion

2020 showed us that urgent action is needed now more than ever to heal our planet. It also showed how the world’s youth have the most to lose as they face a double threat of health and climate crises.

Neeshad Shafi is an environmentalist, educator, and social change advocate based in Doha, Qatar. He is the Co-Founder & Executive Director of Arab Youth Climate Movement Qatar (AYCMQ), the first and only registered, independent, non-profit, youth-led environmental association in the State of Qatar. Photo: Arab Youth Climate Movement Qatar

As part of the G20 Think 20 (T20) Saudi Arabia climate change and environment task force, Qatar-based +SocialGood Connector and co-founder of the Arab Youth Climate Movement Qatar, Neeshad Shafi, worked with other experts around the world to develop recommendations for empowering young people to take action on climate change and environmental protection. He and his co-authors point to a global disparity in climate and environmental education, with young people in developed economies more aware of issues such as pollution, climate change, and renewable resources than their peers in developing economies.

It is rare to hear from young climate activists in the Middle East, Shafi explains. He’s working to change that. “We need to give young people the platform to speak about climate issues in their communities,” he says.

Jose Arrieta is a leader in the fight for climate action in Peru as a Climate Reality Leader trained by The Climate Reality Project. Jose is also President and co-founder of Social Good Peru, the Peruvian chapter of + SocialGood.

In Peru, +SocialGood chapter president Jose Arrieta also pushed for youth involvement in climate advocacy. He was named Peru country coordinator for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference of Youth (COY) in Glasgow in the UK, and was part of the 2020 cohort of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, a training program with environmentalist Al Gore that teaches global activists how to better communicate and advocate for climate change action.

Ruba Al-Zubi is a staunch advocate for mainstreaming environment issues into all development sectors, a strong communicator and change agent, and an engineer who is passionate about linking science to development.

Ruba Al-Zu’bi, a +SocialGood Advisor, continued the push for a green economy and environmental mainstreaming in Jordan, deepening her knowledge as a sustainability leader and picking up an award in the process. Al-Zu’bi was admitted to Common Purpose’s competitive Sky Blue training program, joining leaders from across the world to build cross-boundary skills so they can tackle environmental challenges. She also received a Clean Energy Education and Empowerment (C3E) Award, which recognizes the accomplishments of women working in the clean energy field.

Local Action to Solve Global Problems

The +SocialGood community — wherever they are in the world — continue to give their voices, time, and ideas to help build momentum to achieve the SDGs in this critical Decade of Action.

As we look for ways to recover better in 2021 and beyond, their leadership, collaboration, and innovation should be an inspiration — showing what’s possible when we take action where we are with what we have to solve global problems.

Looking for more motivation to take action? Read about the changemakers’ work over the last twelve months, and catch up on how they were recognized for their efforts.

+SocialGood is an international community of changemakers convened by the United Nations Foundation. Learn more about how they are working together to find solutions to shared global challenges.