Contributed by Tori Black, President of United Families International
Following World War II, the United Nations was formed with the goal of establishing a world of safety and peace. Peace, however, is elusive. Even when we are free from the ravages of war, people live with the turmoil that results from natural disasters, poverty and inequality.
One way that the United Nations works to address these kinds of challenges and promote peace is through encouraging and facilitating the work of civil society.
What is civil society?
Civil society is the association of people that operate within a community but are distinct from government and business. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are a part of civil society. NGOs are voluntary, non-profit, groups of citizens that work on the local, national or international level. More than 1500 NGOs are associated with the UN and work to promote its mission, often in very practical ways. Civil society organizations associated with the United Nations generally concentrate on specific issues such as human rights, sustainable development or peace and security. They may concentrate on policy issues, like the mission of United Families International to strengthen and defend the family, or they may provide information, services and humanitarian aid. NGOs that are formally associated with the United Nations may be accredited through the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC) or through the UN Department of Global Communications (DGC), formerly the Department of Public Information. This department was formed to “…actively assist and encourage national information services, educational institutions and other governmental and nongovernmental organizations of all kinds interested in spreading information about the United Nations.”
United Nations Civil Society Conference
Every year the UN hosts a civil society conference that is attended by close to 2000 representatives of over 500 NGOs from over 100 countries. The conference allows civil society organizations to address issues on a global basis and provides an opportunity for them to network and share best practices. Organizations associated with the Department of Global Communications and those in consultative status with ECOSOC are welcome to participate in the conference. However, there is a process for civil society organizations that are not associated with these bodies to also take part in the conference, and organizers encourage their participation.
Five international cities have hosted the conference in the last decade. This year, the UN Civil Society Conference will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah. This will be the first time for a U.S. city outside of UN headquarters to host the event. Other cities that have hosted conferences for NGOs include Paris, Mexico City and Melbourne, Australia. Organizers estimate 3,000 to 6,000 people will attend the conference in Salt Lake City. Registration details will be available sometime next month.
Dr. Baldomero Lago, is the person primarily responsible for bringing the UN Civil Society Conference to Utah. He is the Assistant Vice President for Global Engagement at Utah Valley University (UVU). His work in this position has included hosting UN ambassadors and diplomatic officials to the state of Utah and UVU. Dr. Lago’s global perspective has led to UVU becoming an associate member of the United Nations civil society, giving the school access to the United Nations and the opportunity to present at UN events. Dr. Lago has considerable experience in global relations. In addition to serving as UVU’s Chief International Officer, he is also the President of the World Trade Association of Utah, and Honorary Consul of Spain.
An opportunity for Utah
Every United Nations conference has a theme, and the theme for this year’s civil society conference is Building Inclusive and Sustainable Communities. The theme derives from the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 11. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They consist of 17 objectives all countries are encouraged to reach by the year 2030 and include such things as eliminating poverty, producing clean energy and achieving gender equality. They are ambitious, to say the least. SDG 11 is about creating sustainable cities and communities.
The state of Utah will be in the spotlight as Salt Lake City hosts the UN conference and has much to contribute to the theme of building inclusive and sustainable cities. Faith and family are at the heart of Utah’s approach to the challenges it faces – the same challenges that face communities around the world. It therefore has an opportunity to highlight its best practices.
The people of Utah also will have the chance to show and share with attendees those things that make Utah unique and which form the foundation for its success in building inclusive and sustainable communities. I know this from my own experience. Until two years ago, I lived in Texas. There is much that I love about the Lone Star state, but when I relocated to Utah, I was impressed with Utah’s unique approach to so many issues. As an advocate for pro-family causes, I was proud that Utah’s legislature was the first to declare pornography – a threat to sustainability if ever there was – a public health crisis. Utah also takes the principle of inclusivity seriously; in 2016 it led the way in crafting compromise legislation that preserves the rights of disparate groups. Utah has also developed good programs that promote the inclusion of refugees, those with disabilities, and the aged.
How can you make a difference?
Like the Olympics in 2002, the conference will be in need of volunteer help. If you live in Utah, there will be opportunities for you to show in word and deed just what it is that makes Utah’s approach to sustainable and inclusive communities unique. And as advocates, we will have a platform for sharing our knowledge that the family is the first and best place to instill those qualities that lead to inclusive and sustainable communities.
I would be lying if I did not admit to some skittishness on the part of the pro-family community of NGOs. Our organizations are often on the losing end of requests to UN organizers when it comes to good venues and time slots for our presentations, so we are hoping for some miracles of open doors and open minds. However, we have witnessed miracles in our work in the past, and we are confident we will continue to in the future.
Join us in making some miracles for the family at the UN Civil Society Conference, August 26 – 28, at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City.