Cabrera Leads Discussion on Sustainable Development Goals

A virtual discussion introduced the Tech community to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

On Sept. 10, President Ángel Cabrera delivered the keynote address on Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals at Georgia Tech. Anna Stenport, chair of the School of Modern Languages and co-director of the Atlanta Global Studies Center, then moderated a virtual discussion. The panelists were John McArthur, senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at The Brookings Institution; Wendy Purcell, research scholar with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and president, vice-chancellor, and chief executive emerita with Plymouth University, UK; Sarah Lee Kjellberg, head of U.S. iShares Sustainable ETFs at BlackRock; Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Spelman College and co-founder of the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance; Isabella Stubbs, environmental engineering undergraduate at Georgia Tech and co-lead, RCE Greater Atlanta Youth Network; and Joyelle Harris, senior academic professional in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the Engineering for Social Innovation Center.

The event introduced the Tech community to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), discussed their relevance to the Institute, and emphasized how Tech can lead the region in implementing and advancing the goals.

“One of one of the first things I did soon after arriving at Georgia Tech was to invite the broader community of faculty, staff, students, and online leaders from our community to come together to develop a new strategic plan to lay out our collective dreams for the next decade,” Cabrera said. “We began by asking the most profound questions: What is it that we do? Why do we exist? What is the ultimate purpose that gets us up in the morning, keeps us going forward, and binds us as a community? Out of those questions it became important to try to distill in one phrase what we do as a community: to improve the human condition. If we are committed to improving the human condition, then we should embrace the SDGs to guide our actions as a university.”

The SDGs were adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They address the world’s most monumental challenges, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, and peace and justice. Some of the objectives are improved industry, innovation, and infrastructure; affordable and clean energy; and sustainable cities and communities. The SDGs appear by name in the Institute’s new strategic plan as long-term goals that should guide teaching, research, and operations.

“There is a way for everyone to get involved, and that moment starts right now,” Joyelle Harris said. “The first way is to add to our sustainable development goal asset map, which lists assets that are connected to each of the goals.”

The map is an online effort to identify places, programs, projects, organizations, and web-based resources, that Georgia Tech can deploy toward achieving the SDGs. The mapping activity will help create an initial list of assets that will become the starting point of 17 Zooms, a virtual version of the 17 rooms concept, which convenes 17 distinct groups of specialists to identify high-impact objectives that can be met in 18 months. To see the SDGs and SDG asset mapping, click here.

The full event can be viewed here. Selected comments from the panelists are below.

“I am confident that our generation can be the one to make substantial progress on achieving sustainable development. In fact, I believe it is our responsibility, through personal lifestyle choices or through career choices, to contribute positively toward sustainable development. Students are looking for ways to integrate the SDGs into our everyday learning and for opportunities to break down silos and barriers.”  —Isabella Stubbs, Georgia Tech

“I think about it from a community-based perspective. To me, it boils down to three things: UN collaboration, meaningful partnerships, and authentic community engagement. There is so much promise in locally grounded partnerships. There’s so much promise around using senior design projects and map projects in architecture, in civil and environmental engineering, and in courses across disciplines to help solve some of the challenges that communities are facing.”  —Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, Spelman College

“A lot of people typically have three basic concerns about SDGs: It’s just too much, it’s too far off and I have immediate concerns, and I’m not the UN. One answer is to not ask everyone to do everything, but to bring together all the issues that we already care about. Each stakeholder already cares about at least one issue as their most important issue. And instead of thinking about just what needs to be done by 2030, why don't we think about what could be done in the next 12 to 18 months to bend the curve.”  —John McArthur, The Brookings Institute

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