Members of the global community convened at Occidental College from Monday, Feb. 5 to Thursday, Feb. 8 to take part in Occidental’s annual United Nations (U.N.) Week. The week included a collection of speakers, panels and workshops centered around the U.N.’s adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with an emphasis on SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. Keynote speaker Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti kicked off U.N. Week in Choi Auditorium by announcing the Global Ambition, Local Action plan that the city will adopt in partnership with Occidental.
The partnership comes after Garcetti signed a memorandum from the World Council on City Data Feb. 5 that established L.A. as one of the worldwide cities that will collect and share data on the implementation of the SDGs.
“The SDGs are not just about international diplomacy and development or about far-off places,” Garcetti said. “They’re about us. They’re how we measure ourselves.”
The SDGs consist of 17 goals adopted by the U.N. to be achieved over the next 15 years. According to Sanjeev Khagram, John Parke Young Chair in Global Political Economy and Diplomacy and World Affairs (DWA) professor, Occidental’s U.N. week intends to bring the U.N.’s mission to Occidental. The college sends about 20 seniors to the U.N. headquarters in New York City for a full-time internship each fall.
“Only 18 or 20 students get to go to the U.N.,” Khagram said. “But we want all of our students to get to benefit from our partnership with the U.N., and also we believe that the U.N. — while by no means perfect — is one of the ways that the global community comes together.”
Khagram coordinated with the Mayor’s Office to organize Garcetti’s speech on campus. He worked with Erin Bromaghim, director of Olympic and Paralympic development for the 2028 Summer Games; Jeanne Holm, senior technology advisor to the mayor; and Nina Hachigian, deputy mayor for international affairs.
“The city of Los Angeles is proud to be joining other governments to work to achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals,” Holm said via email. “Our work towards the SDGs will support our efforts in alleviating poverty and homelessness and increasing climate action and gender equity. Our partnership with Occidental College and Dr. Sanjeev Khagram will bring new voices, Oxy students and global partners [together].”
According to Khagram, he will lead a collection of task forces on multiple projects related to the implementation of the SDGs in Los Angeles. Students will be identifying key community individuals and organizations working on the goals and analyzing the city’s budget to see how it aligns with the goals, among other projects.
The events throughout the week included a series of workshops with academics, SDG experts and representatives from Mumbai, Bristol, San Jose, Bogotá, Mexico City, Nairobi and New York City to discuss best practices in the implementation and measurement of the SDGs on the city level. Hachigian and other city officials hosted a plenary panel on “Cities, SDGs and Diplomacy.”
Jenna Feldman (senior) recently returned to Occidental after spending the Fall 2017 semester interning with the Permanent Mission of Rwanda at the U.N. with the Kahane Oxy at the U.N. Program. Employees at the U.N. emphasized the importance of young people working in international affairs, according to Feldman.
“Young people our age are the changemakers, and really should be the focus of the goals, not just older people helping us, but us actually helping the world,” Feldman said. “So that’s why I think it’s really great that Mayor Garcetti wants this partnership, because it’s all about having young people our age actually doing the work instead of having other people do it for us.”
Doug Gardner, director of the Kahane Oxy at the U.N. Program, said Occidental became Los Angeles’ center for the SDGs.
“The values and the norms that you see at the U.N. in New York City are directly connected to the values and norms that we embody at Occidental College,” Gardner said. “This is where the sustainable development goals are being picked up at the local level by L.A., but they’re also shared by cities around the world, Mumbai, Tokyo, Bogotá and other cities that are here this week.”
The week-long event included a panel with Patricia McCarney, president and CEO of the World Council on City Data; Jeanne Holm, senior technology advisor to the mayor; and Ania Calderon, the executive director of Open Data Charter. The panel emphasized the importance of data in SDG Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.
“One of the issues is, you adopt the goals and targets, how do you measure whether you’re making progress?” Khagram said. “What are the indicators, what are the data? So we had folks from the World Council on City Data here, we had a lot of experts who work with financial institutions, philanthropies and impact investing, all these new ways of resource mobilization.”
The event series also featured a panel of Occidental professors that discussed the power of place and community in the context of the SDGs. Saskia Sassen, a distinguished scholar from Columbia University, discussed cities and states in the world economy, while Mila Rosenthal, the director of communications for the United Nations Development Program, discussed the correlation between data and SDGs.
“I think [Occidental] understands that students’ lives are international,” Garcetti said. “That this city is inherently global and that we are connected to strangers around the world. And Oxy has the only department of Diplomacy and World Affairs in this nation, and maybe even in this world. So everything in global affairs — from counterterrorism to human trafficking, to development, to sustainability — really is distilled in this campus in such an extraordinary way.”
Gardner reaffirmed Occidental as an ideal platform for a program such as U.N. Week.
“This is what Oxy strives to be, a global thought leader in the context of our work as academics and scholars, but also a platform to bring others together,” Gardner said.