Former U.S. President Barack Obama said nations must cooperate to confront some of world’s most pressing challenges, including climate change, poverty, disease, and discrimination.
“The biggest problems we confront—no one nation is going to be able to solve on its own—not even the United States of America,” Obama said before an international summit organized on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
Obama joined a group of philanthropists, world leaders, public figures, and entrepreneurs, including Bill and Melinda Gates, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Jordan’s Queen Rania Al Abdullah, and Nobel Peace Prize winners Malala Yousafaza and Leymah Gbowee, to discuss progress on the UN Sustainable Goals (also known as Global Goals), 17 goals that seek to end poverty, reduce inequality, improve global health, and combat climate change by 2030. The SDG agenda entered into force in January 2016.
The former president’s remarks came a day after President Donald Trump stressed the principle of sovereignty before the General Assembly, saying he would “defend America’s interest above all else.”
Obama also said development officials should work to educate citizens on progress being made in the development field. “People wildly overestimate what we spend on foreign aid,” he said, making many Americans skeptical of development programs that send money abroad instead of investing locally. He said efforts should be made to show the connection between foreign aid and international stability. “It’s a good investment to make countries work,” he said.
Last week the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released “Goalkeepers: The Stories Behind the Data” a report card that evaluated progress in 18 areas. The report, citing data projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, found progress in areas like poverty reduction and decreases in childhood mortality.
“We are optimistic—we think progress can accelerate,” said Bill Gates, Co-Chair of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. However, the report also found a risk of backsliding on some recent gains. Gates warned the the death rate from HIV/AIDS could go back up if the United States went through with a proposed budget cut to foreign assistance.
Participants at the Goalkeepers event discussed issues affecting global development, including women’s movements across the globe and access to digital technology.
“If you want a healthier, better world, you need to put women at the center of that agenda,” said Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Women are some of the most important changemakers in the world.”
Gates spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the importance of gender parity in leadership roles, and on the country’s Feminist International Assistance Policy. “The best way to affect real change in struggling or developing communities is to empower women,” said Trudeau, who added that 95 percent of Canada’s development aid would go to gender equality or women-supportive programs.
Speakers also discussed how new technologies could help the world’s poor. The Netherlands Queen Máxima highlighted the importance of developing efficient, secure tools to help more people access financial systems; engineers Jenny Hu and Morgan Fowler demonstrated cooling devices that could ensure more children receive properly preserved vaccines; and Google X head Astro Teller presented a portable, flying balloon (known as a loon) that could expand internet connectivity.
“Improving internet access is single best way to give people tools to learn and access opportunity,” said Teller. He said greater connectivity would have ripple effects, allowing the rural poor to access weather forecasts, financial services, and health information and care.