Telling Untold Stories and Innovating for Good
Written by Gael O'Sullivan   

As refugee Olympians kicked off the Social Good Summit at the 92nd Street Y in New York City on September 18, 2016, Chelsea Handler further energized the crowd with her opening salvo, “If you have a soap box, stand on it and scream!”  For two full days the likes of US Vice-President Joe Biden, actor Alec Baldwin, UN Ambassador Samantha Power, former President Joyce Banda of Malawi, musician Demi Lovato, US Secretary of State John Kerry, and journalist Shaun King challenged attendees with thought provoking insights and passionate calls to ensure that the world follows through on achieving the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals.

Even more importantly, a wide array of everyday citizens also took the stage to share their stories, ranging from tenacious efforts to fight injustice to ingenious technology applications tackling intractable challenges.  As Mashable founder and CEO Pete Cashmore explained, “We set out to start a conversation, and with the power of your voices, we’ve started a movement.”  Now in its’ seventh year, the Social Good Summit is held during UN Week each September to examine the impact of technology and new media on social good initiatives around the world.  The theme, #2030NOW, asks, “What type of world do I want to live in by the year 2030?” With 1,800 people in New York, more than 100,000 watching the global broadcast live in seven languages, and over 1.8 billion impressions on social media, the Social Good Summit gave voice to a wide range of speakers and topics. 

A few key takeaways include:

  1. Each of us has a role to play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  What are you doing to make the world a better place?
  2. Young people have tremendous energy and ideas – we need to support leadership training and other efforts to help them succeed.
  3. Technology will continue to play an increasing role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals related to education, the environment, health, agriculture and other sectors. 
  4. We need new ways of thinking about and acting on the overwhelming refugee challenges in the world today.  As UNHCR Chief Filippo Grand says, “Humanitarian resources are not a solution – they are a stop gap.” Actress Connie Britton reminded us that we need to help those without a voice be heard, and others commented that we as a global community no longer seem to equate the word ‘refugee’ with the word ‘person’.

Social Marketing was not featured explicitly at the Summit, although many relevant principles such as understanding your audience, developing creative and compelling messages, and looking at the continuum of change needed from the consumer to the policymaker were featured in the presentations and discussions.  The four “P’s” were mentioned, although they were described as “policy, people, physicians, and pharma”.  Hopefully next year our global social marketing community can have a stronger voice at this critical forum.

Despite the enormous challenges discussed and debated throughout the Summit, attendees could not help but leave inspired after hearing speakers like Memory Banda, a young girl from Malawi.  Memory is an activist who had the courage to speak out at age 13 against traditions of child rape and child marriage.  Initially she and her friends just wanted more time to be educated and to enjoy their childhood.  With the help of the Girls Empowerment Network and Rise Up, Memory’s passion helped lead Malawi to pass a law in February 2016 banning child marriage.  Now four million girls can focus on school, childhood, and thinking about their futures in ways they never before imagined.

For more details and to watch the presentations, check out #2030Now and this link: