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CSocD-52: Listen. Share. Act.

Kelly McGlinchey is a SustainUS delegate at the 52nd Commission on Social Development – CSocD-52 – at the United Nations in New York. The theme of this year's Commission is "Promoting Empowerment of People in Achieving Poverty Eradication, Social Integration, and Full Employment and Decent Work for All." Meet the CSocD-52 Delegation, or follow @SustainUS on Twitter and check out the SustainUS Facebook Page to track the delegation's work!

What will it take to transform words into action?

World leaders and experts on poverty and social welfare have assembled for CSocD-52, each poised to share his or her understanding of the frameworks that perpetuate challenges to social development, and to offer solutions to these challenges. While the reports and presentations have been varied, thorough, and thought-provoking in nature, most seem to lack the sense of urgency – the call for action – that must be voiced to address global issues as complex as poverty, corruption, social integration, unemployment, and empowerment. Perhaps it is for this reason that a presentation given by panelist and Queens native Jose Nuñez during the Civil Society Forum on the conference’s first day stands out to me as the most powerful statement made thus far.

Hosted by the NGO Committee for Social Development, the Civil Society Forum was organized to prepare civil society participants for the Commission, which officially opened the following day on February 11th. The first panel discussion addressed “Empowerment for Inclusive & Transformative Development: Building Partnership, Promoting Social Protection.” Among the speakers was Jose Nuñez – a father of two, husband, member of the International Movement ATD Fourth World, and current resident at a homeless shelter in Queens. More than once I was moved to tears by the candid openness with which he spoke, calling for “a shift in mentality…to remember what it means to be human.”

Mr. Nuñez challenged audience members and Commission delegates to hold onto the reality of why we gather at the UN for these two weeks. His frank description of what it felt like for his family to report to the office for temporary housing dared us to keep in our minds what empowerment means for families with no other options left. These families must report to social services offices, where they are often treated as items on a checklist rather than as individuals with unique experiences, feelings, and stories.

“Empowerment is not about money,” he reiterated. “A check is only empowering for the time being. It’s not transformative.”

What will it take to transform words into action?

Mr. Nuñez believes it starts with listening to one another. In sharing our stories we find common ground upon which to build a more just, equitable society. He spoke with a sense of urgency that has been largely missing from the conference since his statement: “People need meaning in their lives. People in poverty feel like they don’t have meaning, feel like they don’t have a voice…Listen to people, ask people. You’ve got to talk to people living in the shelters, and not just once…[They] have to be asked enough to build trust, and to establish a partnership based on that trust.”

It is with the simple act of intentional listening that our voices – the call for action – can be amplified, and positive change can take root. By listening to others’ stories and feeling their reality, we build a support network that empowers. As Mr. Nuñez stated, “Empowerment should be whatever lifts you up. It should make you feel like no matter what situation you’re in, you’re not any less of a person. It is about how you carry yourself. That is true empowerment.”

Listening, collaborating, feeling openly, sharing stories, and building partnerships – these are the building blocks, the actions we must take to generate change. 

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Sustainability and Empowerment in Social Development

Megan Barry is a SustainUS delegate at the 52nd Commission on Social Development at the United Nations in New York. The theme of this year's commission is "Promoting Empowerment of People in Achieving Poverty Eradication, Social Integration, and Full Employment and Decent Work for All." Meet the CSocD-52 Delegation, or follow @SustainUS on Twitter and check out the SustainUS Facebook Page to track the delegation's work!

Empowerment has been a common theme throughout the 52
nd UN Commission on Social Development – empowerment of youth, aging populations, the poor, LGBT communities, women, and others. There were side events devoted to the unique challenges each of these groups face, as well as how to address the things keeping them disempowered. The variables at play are often limitless; the diversity of nations being represented makes the discussions even richer.

Issues affecting empowerment receive varying attention in different nations, depending on political climate, cultural factors, and economic standing. An underlying question we must ask is how to confront established cultural practices that perpetuate inequalities. This question is particularly important when we consider the history of Western-led development and our tendency to impose on other cultures aspects of our lifestyle we view to be unquestionably superior.

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Making Sense of It All

Erik Lampmann is a SustainUS delegate at the 52nd Commission on Social Development at the United Nations in New York. The theme of this year's commission is "Promoting Empowerment of People in Achieving Poverty Eradication, Social Integration, and Full Employment and Decent Work for All." Meet the CSocD-52 Delegation, or follow @SustainUS on Twitter and check out the SustainUS Facebook Page to track the delegation's work!

I’ve spent the better part of the past week at the United Nations in New York trying to make sense of my experience serving as a Youth Delegate with SustainUS at the 52nd Commission on Social Development. I’ve been privileged to join SustainUS in the past several months and to be a part of their efforts to change the paradigm around youth engagement within the UN system.

My experience contributing to delegation statements and policy interventions has been nothing short of trailblazing.

Frankly, it’s overwhelming. I’m a second-semester senior taking time away from my last semester at the University of Richmond to fundraise, travel to New York, and speak to the concerns of my generation within these storied halls. No one from my Irish Catholic, working-class family has ever had access to these sorts of spaces – no one that I’ve ever known has had their voice legitimized and accredited by the United Nations, the world’s premier organization working to ensure vibrant and resilient democratic societies.

Read more: Making Sense of It All