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Intergenerational Dialogues on the SDGs

Intergenerational Solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.

The Intergenerational Dialogues took place thanks to the Department of Public Information (DPI) at the United Nations, which ignited a spark between young and old in the quest towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Building a bridge between these two marginalised sectors of the population is key in empowering these representative voices. It is time to have these underestimated members of the community in real positions of power to enact change.

As a Youth myself, I have seen first hand how age impacts one’s ability to be heard. Younger people are commonly underestimated, seen as naïve, unprofessional, over emotional, too idealistic or incapable. On the rare occasions that they are invited to partake in intergovernmental spaces, which are overly dominated by middle aged men, young people often make the comment that they feel more like tokens in these spaces, rather than valid contributors. After having attended the DPI Dialogues, it seems the aged generation have been exposed to the exact same treatment. This is why Intergenerational Dialogues are so important, as it gives unheard voices a platform and an opportunity to prove just how essential they are to Sustainable Development implementation.

The day began with an inspiring opening plenary, featuring a moving violin performance by from mental health advocate and student, Brianna Perez. She played the same violin Joseph Feingold, holocaust survivor, gifted to her.

We have posted a small clip of her performance on the IBVM Instagram.

This musical outlet helped Brianna overcome many of her problems, and has made her more passionate than ever to advocate for physical and mental wellness. Feingold, among many other NGO representatives, gave closing remarks on the necessity for intergenerational relationships for innovation and grassroots action.

6 important conversations were held simultaneously within the United Nations Headquarters in New York, discussing how intergenerational collaboration can be implemented into approaches to:

  1. Poverty
  2. Gender equality
  3. Shared responsibility for the planet
  4. Innovation
  5. Employment
  6. Physical and mental wellness

The day ran so that a registered attendee could only attend 2 out of the 6 dialogues, so I chose to partake in the meetings on Gender Equality and Shared Responsibility for the Planet.

The Gender Equality dialogue had a captivating panel, one being Cody Blattner, Youth Delegate and transgender college student. He brought a new perspective to the gender conversation by encouraging more education and representation of those LGBTQI individuals as part of the gender equality movement, on top of championing for female empowerment.

Blattner sensitively explained that the older generation are less familiar with the LGBTQI term and view it as a “new phenomenon”, thus contributing to their marginalisation. Continual intergenerational dialogues are key to inclusion and growth of both groups, which in turn moves the gender equality effort forward. One interesting idea from an audience contributor was to have the press partner with LGBTQI based NGOs to ensure wider dispersion of information on this under represented group. Another suggestion was to have 2 way mentoring relationships, where just as often as old teach young, we get the youth to educate the aged population in a respectful mentoring relationship.

Janice Peterson was another member of the gender equality panel, who talked about how real change is enacted at the grassroots level. Having worked in small African communities, Peterson has seen first hand how the bottom up approach, beginning with small local programs, has tremendous impact on policy changes and world wide development. Proactive community members are the ones who have broken through many barriers of gender inequality and poverty.

But in true dialogic fashion, the audience was able to speak up and put forward their own contributions, questions and ideas. One respondent put forward her own research on female representation in the media, and how this has hindered gender equality in a big way. The Media is a global story teller in a world that places story telling at the centre of culture. Gender depictions in TV, movies and advertisements are perpetuating gender based norms and leaving aged women out completely. This needs to change if we are to achieve gender equality, as humans are more likely to enact what they see represented in the media.

A young audience participator’s input was most memorable, as it sparked a room-wide applause. The young woman from a gender based NGO spoke up about the importance of interweaving our personal and professional lives in the fight for gender equality. The family is our first intergenerational environment, and should be taken advantage of as a safe space for young and old to engage in dialogues about inequality. Too often, activists leave their advocacy at work, and come home to a family that may still hold outdated beliefs on the rights of women. It is our job to be in a state of lifelong learning and teaching, where we can include the SDGs in our personal life as much as we do our professional life.

Sharing Responsibility for the Planet was the title of the second dialogue I attended. The name alone intrigued me, and seemed like an important topic for a young person who is expected to live in a world that is currently deteriorating.

This dialogue was far more interactive and free flowing than the Gender Equality one, where the moderator encouraged everyone to voice their “pledge” to the whole room. This pledge is referring to an individual’s practical plan of action or behavioural change that they promise to commit to, post DPI Intergenerational Dialogue.

A few pledges included no more plastic water bottles, composting, buying organic, discussing the SDGs in daily life and advocating on social media, going vegan, buying second hand clothing etc.

Making these small changes, it was said, is more effective than advocating for extreme lifestyle changes, as they are more manageable, and if everyone gets involved, could make a big impact worldwide.

Moreover, we should begin celebrating those who are making a difference, rather than shaming those who aren’t. Instead of pointing out those who still use plastic water bottles or who aren’t recycling, we need to lift up the people who are putting in the effort to care for the environment. This will have a ripple effect, as human are inherently reward driven creatures. If more and more people are being recognised for environmental behaviours, others will follow, making “living sustainability” a more enticing and trendy movement.

The Intergenerational Dialogues on the SDGs was a vibrant, energetic and enlightening event, filled with diversity and creativity. I certainly learned a lot, but was grateful to have the opportunity to teach as well. The Dialogic model is definitely one that should be continued on in future United Nations events.

Overall, the day was a complete success, with many visitors feeling their views and ideas were heard and appreciated. Spirits were left high for many, as it was clear that many groups from all generations are working hard to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. This initial bridging of generations is just the beginning of a long lasting, collaborative, intergenerational relationship.