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Image Credit: Muhammed Nahas/©Gulf News

There is a lot of discussion about the Sustainable Development Goals this week, and most of it by government officials. But make no mistake, this is a grass-roots movement and everyone, especially our youth, has a role to play in the future of human development.

We are at a critical moment in time where we have the opportunity to address challenges that affect every aspect of our life — and pave the way for a bright future for the next generations — but we can only achieve this critical ambition if the world comes together, individual by individual.

We are nearly eight billion people, meaning eight billion possibilities for positive change.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — which set out objectives to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind, by 2030 — were conceived by grass-roots organisations and people like you and me.

They require each one of us to become familiar with them, to think innovatively and to take action.

...We can only achieve this critical ambition if the world comes together, individual by individual. We are nearly eight billion people, meaning eight billion possibilities for positive change.

- Reem 
Al Hashimy, Minister of State 
for International 
Cooperation, Special to Gulf News

They reflect the vision of the UAE Founding Father, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, for a sustainable future, and the UAE was one of the first nations to support Agenda 2030 and pair it with our national priorities.

The SDGs are a key focus of Expo 2020 Dubai, the first World Expo to be held in the Arab world. From the outset, Expo 2020 has been about so much more than the six months of the event. Our aim is to support the UAE’s long-term strategic vision for a prosperous future, while bringing the world together to create positive change.

Expo 2020 will be one of the first times that citizens will be actively encouraged to come together with nations, businesses, multilateral organisations and educational institutions from all over the world and form meaningful partnerships that can drive global change, in line with the SDGs.

We expect 25 million visits to the Expo, with 70 per cent coming from outside the UAE. We must leverage this opportunity to advance such an important message; one that could impact human development for generations to come.

We are working with various social development partners to create and deliver an interactive visitor journey around the SDGs that aims to not only engage millions of visitors with the agenda but, most importantly, to inspire and empower them to take their own action towards human development.

It represents 25 million opportunities to take positive action.

Youth must be at the heart of our efforts to achieve the SDGs. Youth make up almost two-thirds of the Middle East population and we expect 2.5 million school students to visit Expo 2020. We cannot leave any one of them behind.

During a visit to the Expo 2020 site in December, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, implored the UAE’s young people to take hold of the opportunities available at Expo 2020 to help shape the future — their future. Shaikh Mohammad said: “The youth should play a key part in this mega event and get opportunities to observe, learn and contribute creative ideas so that they can develop innovative solutions for creating a better future for our region and the world.”

Shaikh Zayed had wisely advised that the youth needed to be encouraged and supported to participate in the process of nation-building. The SDGs are a prime example of how they can actively participate in cultivating a bright future for themselves, and for all.

Opportunity Pavilion

Expo 2020’s Opportunity Pavilion (one of three Thematic Pavilions) will be a dedicated home for the SDGs throughout the six months of Expo, using interactive journeys, workshops and gaming components to enhance awareness of these crucial objectives and how everyone can be involved in achieving them.

At the very least, we want visitors to become aware of the goals and, at the most, to trigger reaction so they leave as agents of change, whether in their communities or on a bigger scale.

Achieving the SDGs requires us to think innovatively. We cannot advance the lives of all if we continue on our current path. Expo 2020 will showcase successful and impactful solutions to the world’s biggest challenges, both through the Expo 2020 Global Best Practice Programme, ‘Small Steps, Big Leaps’, and its global social impact programme, Expo Live.

The solutions highlighted in the ‘Small Steps, Big Leaps’ programme can be developed and implemented by anyone, from communities and creative individuals to countries, companies and international organisations.

Expo Live is already having a valuable impact globally through its support of 70 Global Innovators in 43 countries, plus 28 university student teams in the UAE.

$100-million programme

The $100-million (Dh367.8 million) programme backs projects that offer creative solutions to pressing challenges that impact people’s lives or help preserve the planet — or both — but would not reach their full potential without its support.

Many of the Expo Live-supported projects have demonstrated increased impact in areas related to the SDGs. It proves that innovation can come from anywhere, to everyone.

The 200 international participants at Expo 2020 — including 190 nations — will have the opportunity to showcase their progress towards the SDGs and the global agenda.

Governments are placing sustainable development at the core of their strategies to ensure prosperity economically and socially, but we will not be successful in achieving the SDGs if governments are left to shoulder the responsibility alone.

Every individual has its role to play in achieving a better future for all.

We are four years into the agenda; we have 11 years to go and there’s a lot left to do.

Our future is in our hands. The SDGs are shared goals and will lead to shared success. Do not underestimate your individual contribution; do not delay your action.

Reem Al Hashimy is also the Director-General, Expo 2020 Dubai and Chairwoman of the National Committee on Sustainable Development Goals.