Communication for Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development and Volunteerism

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NGOs Prepare for 64th Annual United Nations DPI/NGO Conference in Bonn
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gearing up for the sixty-forth annual United Nations DPI/NGO meeting in Bonn, Germany, have chosen sustainable development and volunteerism as their major topics of discussion. The meeting, which will take place from 3-5 September, has as its theme, “Sustainable Societies: Responsive Citizens”. Non-governmental organizations will use these twin themes to showcase the impact that volunteers and engaged citizens make on sustainable livelihoods and communities.

The Conference will also give the global NGO community the opportunity to prepare a consensus statement containing their input on sustainable development and its relationship to volunteerism, as well as reflecting their views on the upcoming major United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development scheduled for 4-6 June 2012 in Brazil, known as Rio+20, and the General Assembly’s discussion in December 2011 on the International Year of Volunteers + 10. In addition, with its important overarching theme on the role of volunteerism in promoting sustainability, the DPI/NGO Conference is expected to influence those talks in the Assembly.

The DPI/NGO Conference is expected to secure renewed commitment from the NGO community on the issue of sustainable development by assessing the progress made to date, specifically around the issue of building sustainable societies through responsive citizenship. Through four round tables, 38 NGO-led workshops, and some 23 exhibits, the Conference will offer NGOs and civil society activists in the fields of both environment and development and volunteerism an opportunity to examine emerging issues. They will also have the chance to raise questions on such critical issues as the green economy and its link with social equity, as well as to identify challenges and obstacles as the global NGO community prepares its position on Rio+20.

Some 20 internationally renowned speakers on the environment, sustainability and volunteerism, including Achim Steiner, the United Nations Under-Secretary General and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director, will address the annual DPI/NGO gathering. Mr. Steiner notes that this meeting will be an important moment for building NGO consensus around key sustainable development issues ahead Rio+20.

“The urgent need to implement and evolve sustainable development onto a resource-efficient, employment-generating, green economy path is among the central issues for Rio+20,” says Mr. Steiner. “These and the other central challenges of the twenty-first century urgently require the analysis, input, vision and support of civil society — the Bonn meeting is the moment for a broad alliance of non-governmental organizations to sharpen and focus their unique contribution to a successful outcome in Brazil next June”.

One of the partners in this year’s event is the United Nations Volunteer Programme (UNV). Looking forward to the Bonn meeting, UNV Executive Coordinator Flavia Pansieri says, “The themes we’ll be discussing are more significant than ever. NGOs and responsive citizens — the people — act at the heart of societies. They are key to transforming development, since grass-roots voluntary action reaches into the long-term and is more responsive to community needs, giving it real sustainability.” “The development debate is shifting,” she warns, and adds: “Sustainability and human well-being are finally coming to centre stage.”

In calling for the global NGO community to seize the opportunity Bonn presents as UNV marks the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers, and in the run-up to Rio+20, she suggests that “volunteering is a truly sustainable and people-centred approach, so let’s join together and seize the chance to move it up the international agenda through this conference.”

The United Nations DPI/NGO Conference will also attract a large number of speakers from both the sustainable development community and the world of volunteerism, some of international renown and others with highly regarded reputations in specific regions. Among the keynote speakers, Dr. Vandana Shiva, a trained physicist and activist from India, will discuss sustainability.

In comments ahead of the Bonn meeting, she captures the essence of the discussions that will be held on the green economy. Stressing that green economics needs to be an “authentic green”, she underscores that: “It cannot be the brown of desertification and deforestation. It cannot be the red of violence against nature and people, or the unnecessary conflicts over natural resources – the land and water, seeds and food.”

The plenary speakers at the round tables that will be held during the DPI/NGO Conference will come from all backgrounds and walks of life and will share their wisdom and visions on a broad range of issues related to sustainability and volunteerism. Dr. Grace Aguiling–Dalisay of the Philippines, a former volunteer psychologist trainer and selector for the VSO Bahaginan in the Philippines, has spent some 35 years in the joint worlds of academia and civil society. Her hope for the Bonn Conference is “that Governments, civil societies, NGOs and international bodies will tap volunteerism much more vigorously and deliberately, taking stock of the contribution of volunteering to engendering societies with empowered citizens who know and claim their rights, are involved in the development of their own communities, and are able to hold their leaders to account for a socially equitable world.”

Among the first timers to the annual meeting are Ukrainian environmental activist Anna Golubovska-Onisimova of Mama-86 [which promotes protection of the environment in Ukraine], and Dr. Eden Mamut, a Romanian professor at the Black Sea Universities Network [a conglomeration of universities that deal with Black sea ecological issues], who will bring the unique perspective of Eastern Europe. As for the African region, another first-participant will be Rose de Lima Ramanankavana, an environmental activist from Madagascar.

The NGO Section of the Department of Public Information has also reached out this year to the corporate world, and as a result of that effort, Daniel Bena, Director of Sustainable development at PepsiCo will also be a contributor. Among the numerous speakers set to participate in the Conference workshops will not only by Laureates of the Alternative Nobel Prize — Abser Kamal from Bangladesh, and Pat Mooney from Canada — and World Food Prize Laureate Hans Herren, but also inspirational leaders of the environmental, peace, volunteer and social movements, including Dr. Justin Davis Smith, Chief Executive of the NGO Volunteering England, of the United Kingdom.

As in previous years, the Conference is expected to produce an NGO Declaration and a Call to Action for civil society, United Nations Member States and the international community. In previous years, the outcome document adopted by the Conference has been introduced by the respective host country Government in the competent United Nations forums, including the General Assembly and the Security Council. This year, those forums would be the Rio+20 preparatory process, which kicks off in December 2011, and the General Assembly’s two-day meeting on the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers.

Bernward Geier, Coordinator of the German NGO Focal Group in encouraging European NGOs to register for the Conference says NGOS in Germany are looking forward to welcoming their colleagues from around the world “for three days of learning, listening, debating, networking and […] the joy in being part of such a monumental conference”. Registration ends on 16 August.

Kiyo Akasaka Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information who is excited by the growing number of registrants says, “The Bonn Conference is a unique occasion to bring together passionate volunteers, civil society and UN experts from all over the world to focus on Rio+20 and concrete ways to save our planet — today, and for future generations.”

As in previous years, the Conference will also feature a number of side events, including the launch of two major United Nations reports, as well as regional NGO consultations, and a public town hall meeting. More details on the programme can be found on the Conference website:

The Conference, organized annually by the Department of Public Information, will be held this year in partnership with the Government of Germany, the United Nations Volunteer Programme and the NGO/DPI Executive Committee.

For additional information, please contact Maria-Luisa Chavez, Chief of the NGO Relations Section, tel.: +1 917 367 7022; or Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Information Officer in the NGO Relations Section, tel.: +1 917 367 9380.

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