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UN Global Goals Challenge Inspires Smart Ideas for a Better World  

Photo of Seton Hall diplomacy studentsWhile working with FEMA on hurricane recovery efforts in his hometown of Ciales, Puerto Rico, Cristian Ramos-Miranda received the news that he was a finalist in the School of Diplomacy and International Relations' UN Sustainable Development Goals Challenge.

Inspired by the fallout of last year's dual hurricanes, the recent University of Puerto Rico graduate had submitted a plan for better coordinating relief efforts worldwide. More than 65.6 million people are forcibly displaced from their homes, including 16 million who are living in refugee camps, as Ramos-Miranda explained at the UN SDG finals on April 20. "There is a great need to better coordinate the resources being provided by over 900 organizations set up to help refugees resettle into more permanent homes." He said that a lack of services, including legal counseling and representation, has resulted in less than 1 percent of refugees begin resettled annually.

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Cristian Ramos-Miranda won first place for his proposal to help resettle refugees.

Ramos-Miranda, who went on to win first place in the graduate-level competition, was one of more than 350 UN SDG Challenge entrants from around the world. Now in its third year, the School of Diplomacy, through the Center for UN and Global Governance Studies, invites high school and college students to propose innovative solutions that will bring the world closer to reaching the UN's 17 sustainable development goals by 2030. The proposals take aim at ending poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, improving and expanding educational opportunities, and tackling climate change, among other ideas. 

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1st place college winner, Zoha Siddiqui, plans to bring libraries to refugee camps in Morroco.

"The SDG Challenge is becoming a UN Center event around which prospective students, the School, and our colleagues from the UN, civil society, and academia can gather with excitement," explained Father Brian Muzás, the center's director and an assistant professor at the School of the Diplomacy. The project, he said, "is a way to crowdsource varied ideas from diverse sources."

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Many students presented their proposals long distance, including Kevin Donaire, who is based in the Philippines.

High school and college students traveled to campus from as far away as Knoxville, Tennessee and the Philippines. Several of 15 finalists presented their inspiring proposals via Skype from locations such as California, Illinois, India, and Australia. Throughout the day, students took questions from a panel of judges that included former SDG Challenge winners, as well as distinguished international relations practitioners, diplomats and scholars. 
They discussed how the projects linked to specific UN goals, and considered ways in which some ideas could be expanded beyond a pilot phase. 

"It will take a generational culture change to accomplish the Sustainable Development Goals," Courtney Smith, senior associate dean at the School of Diplomacy remarked. "We need the energy of youth because that's where the desire for change will really come from. We will learn from those who are just beginning their careers."

Taking High School Students from Basketball to Banking

University of Tennessee senior Spencer Ahmed Hinton, wants to help reverse economic inequality in disadvantaged communities by building the financial acumen of high school students. With support from his fraternity, Hinton's Made Man Movement came in second place in the graduate competition. The project brings together high school students from marginalized areas around Knoxville, and pairs them with college volunteers and financial service professionals for mentoring and afterschool programs centered around topics such as banking and budgeting for college. "Getting students interested is the hardest part of the process," Hinton explained. "We start by getting to know them." Hinton says that may mean a pick-up game of basketball, adding, "once the students see that we are invested in them, we can start introducing the material."

"If this were Shark Tank, I'd offer your asking price," Hugh Dugan, one of the event's judges, told Hinton. Dugan, who spent 26 years working with UN member states and now teaches at the School of Diplomacy, suggested Hinton's college fraternity consider adopting the idea as an ongoing project. Hinton agreed, forecasting that the Made Man Movement "will be in good hands when I leave UT and may expand to involve a fraternity at another school."

Start Locally, Act Globally

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Leon Carranza, a high school student from New Jersey, proposed a plan for recovering stolen assets from corrupt government officials in the developing world.

For many of the students, the stories behind their proposals had a very personal connection. New Jersey high school student Leon Carranza's bold idea was just one example. Carranza's vision for helping people in the developing world recover assets stolen by corrupt dictators and government officials was inspired by his father's work in the Philippines to find assets hidden by the Marcos family. Carranza proposed the establishment of a UN-supported campaign to fund and organize asset recovery. "Most poor countries have no resources to find what is stolen," he said, noting that over $1.26 trillion is lost annually. "Are countries poor because of corruption, or corrupt because of poverty?" he asked.

Joseph Todaro, a high school junior, took up the challenge of helping people in Sub-Saharan Africa gain access to clean water. Moved by the realization that 500 children die from water-related diseases each day, Todaro's Operation Waterworks project aims to involve local communities in installing and maintaining fog nets, a low-cost water capture system that he said could produce 2000 liters of clean water a day.

Colin Smith, a high school sophomore, linked his idea to a UN-sponsored initiative to stamp out malaria by providing mosquito bed nets in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nothing But Nets has distributed $10 mesh coverings to more than half of the people living in the region. Smith's plan of action, which won second place in the undergraduate-level competition, is centered around local fundraisers at soccer camps and elementary schools. So far, Smith has purchased 380 nets, with money raised through games and spare change jars he’s set up at events in his community.

Improving education for girls in the developing world is the mission of HER, a project launched by a group of high school friends from Washington, D.C. Project founder Zoha Siddiqui entered HER – which stands for HER Education is HER Right – in the UN SDG Challenge and took first place in the college competition. HER has so far helped establish seven libraries in girls schools in Pakistan, where Siddiqui is from. Girls schools, she explained, are typically underfunded and often lack books and other sorely needed supplies. "Establishing libraries was a sustainable, cost-efficient way of helping the schools," she shared during a pre-recorded presentation. New and gently used books are donated or purchased locally. A professional librarian helps teachers and students to properly maintain, organize and distribute the books. The Spider-Man series has been among the children's favorites, Siddiqui reports. "Through our libraries," she predicts, "generations of girls will be empowered to become their own super heroes."

The fourth annual UN Sustainable Challenge returns to Seton Hall in 2019. Proposals are due in early March. For details and submission directions, please visit the project web site.

Categories: Nation and World

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