20,000 Suns a project by Expo 2020
20,000 Suns a project by Expo 2020 Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Today marks the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Action Day, a day to remind ourselves of the urgency of moving towards sustainable development goals to help the planet and its people co-habit in a more nurturing future. Underpinning every act of sustainability is an opportunity, and these twin imperatives are finding the acme of their purpose at the Expo 2020 Dubai. It is no coincidence, says Marjan Faraidooni, Chief Pavilions and Exhibitions Officer — Expo Pavilions and Exhibitions, that the Opportunity [sub-theme] at Expo 2020 is closely aligned with the objectives of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the globally agreed blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. She provides a comprehensive insight into how the Expo 2020, with its three pivotal sub-themes of Opportunity, Sustainability and Mobility, will enable visitors to become more informed, empowered individuals capable of making a positive difference to the world.

WHAT IS OPPORTUNITY?

When we wish to truly understand the meaning of opportunity, we first need to recognise it and then, seize it.

“We tend to use the word ‘opportunity’ without thinking — an expression to convey a remote chance or possibility — but the official dictionary definition is more precise: ‘A set of circumstances that make it possible to achieve something’”, says Faraidooni. “This is what is known in development speak as an ‘enabling environment’. As one of Expo 2020’s three key sub-themes (the other two are Mobility and Sustainability), Opportunity means unlocking the potential of individuals and communities to shape their future.”

$100m

Expo Live Innovation Impact Grant Programme for creative solutions

It means, she says, “creating an equal playing field where everyone has access to a conducive environment where they can fulfil their potential, make a difference, and create a more prosperous, sustainable future.”

What will be offered at the Expo is an enhanced understanding of opportunity and how to use it.

“While the 17 Sustainable Development Goals will cut across Expo in all manner of ways, it is within Expo’s Opportunity Pavilion that they will be brought to life for visitors,” says Faraidooni. “Here, Expo aims to show how each and every one of us has the opportunity to make their contribution, how small steps can lead to big changes, and how unlocking opportunity at a local level can be used for the greater global good.”

‘WHAT CAN I DO’? EXPO 2020 WILL TELL YOU

Out there in the everyday world, the larger picture of global imperatives for change seem too distant for most people. For example, take the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the world so desperately needs to reach. What can you do to help?

At the Expo 2020, visitors will get a clear idea. “The aim of the Opportunity Pavilion is to create a connection between visitors and the SDGs, so they understand the topics and feel their spirit, so these ambitious, transformational targets become less remote and more relatable,” says Faraidooni. “Our goal is to boost awareness of these crucial objectives and make visitors care — and care enough to take action.”

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An aerial view taken after the recent crowning of Al Wasl dome shows the progress of construction at the Expo 2020 site in Dubai.

Awaiting visitors at the Expo is an immersive experience that will make it easy, and clear, for them to understand how they can grab the many opportunties.

“To achieve that, we will take visitors on a journey of self-discovery to better understand the challenges we face, and instil the message that collaborating on solutions, with everyone playing a role, can have an enormous wider impact,” says Faraidooni.

Having been a part of the exploration of opportunities, it is time to make a pledge. “The experience will end with a pledge that demonstrates our ability to make a difference and celebrates the possibilities that can arise if we all work together, so visitors leave with a sense of optimism, hope and commitment to a brighter future for everyone,” she says.

EXPO 2020: UNDERSTANDING THROUGH EXAMPLES

Let’s take food as an example. It’s one of the most critical areas in our collective pursuit for sustainability and we need to seek every opportunity that will get us to that goal. The Opportunity pavilion will provide relatable ways of getting there.

“Access to the three basic needs of food, water and energy is essential to the development of societies,” says  Faraidooni. ‘This will play a significant role in the Opportunity Pavilion experience, where visitors will dive into the lives of three ordinary individuals who have devised their own solutions to these challenges and made extraordinary differences within their communities. Through these inspiring, immersive journeys, visitors will grasp how small, individual actions can unlock further opportunities and how, even with the global population set to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, the demand for food, water and energy can be met through the collective actions of everyone.”

YOU CAN BECOME AN AGENT OF CHANGE

When it comes to making a difference, many of us are daunted by the larger picture. But the larger picture is but a sum of all the small dots connecting. “It would be very easy to look at the challenges we face and feel despondent, pessimistic or even helpless about our ability to change our future for the better,” says Faraidooni. “That’s not what Expo is about. We believe that humanity has made some tremendous strides, and that the state of the world is not as bad as we might think. Extreme poverty has halved in the last 20 years, water access has dramatically increased, child mortality rates have plummeted, and there have been huge leaps in literacy and the number of children in school.

These successes should not only be celebrated, but they should also drive us forward to seek creative solutions in those areas where we need to do better.

“For example, there will be whole areas dedicated to showcasing our Global Best Practice Programme — pioneering projects that are already providing successful, tangible solutions to some of the world’s pressing challenges. All of these projects – which can be replicated, adapted or scaled for enhanced global impact — will work towards one or more of the SDGs.

“We will also look to innovative new solutions, with the Expo Live Innovation Impact Grant Programme already proving that, given the right opportunity, clever solutions can come from anywhere, to everyone. The $100 million [Dh367.8 million] programme supports creative projects that solve pressing issues that affect people’s lives or help preserve the planet, and has already backed 120 projects from 65 countries — with more to come.

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We have achieved a lot – and we can achieve so much more. Yes, there are challenges, but if we pull together, if each and every one of us takes one small step, we can build a better and brighter tomorrow for us all, says Marjan Al Faraidooni, Chief Pavilions and Exhibitions Officer — Expo Pavilions and Exhibitions.

On a country level, Expo is an unprecedented opportunity for 192 nations to come together in one place for six months, where they can swap ideas and learn from each other. On an individual level, Expo is a chance to actively engage, inform and inspire the millions of visitors who will walk through its gates. This is ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ in action,” she says.

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS: BIG PICTURE IS ALL ABOUT SMALL STEPS BY YOU AND ME

“The SDGs are often seen as lofty targets that only governments and international organisations need worry about, but this is absolutely not the case. The SDGs are for everyone, and about everyone. They are the closest thing we have to a global plan of action, and the 17 key targets reflect crucial issues that are relevant to us all,” says  Faraidooni.

“This is Expo’s huge opportunity. For six months, from 20 October 2020, the world is coming to Dubai. Expo 2020 expects 25 million visits: that’s 25 million opportunities to amplify the SDGs goals, 25 million chances to make a lasting change, 25 million opportunities to take positive action.

The Opportunity Pavilion will emphasise the power of our collective actions to unlock unprecedented possibilities for humanity: Every one of us has the power to make a difference because small actions, when pooled together, can have a huge impact on making the world a better place. “

HEARD OF 20,000 SUNS?

“Not one of our sub-themes exists in isolation — there is common ground and crossover between all three,” says Faraidooni. “Many of these linkages will be explored in the exciting and immersive programme at the Opportunity Pavilion — more details of which will be unveiled early next year.

“Let’s take the example of 20,000 Suns, highlighted in Expo’s Global Best Practice Programme. This India-based enterprise trains women from East Africa and Latin America to become solar engineers, innovators and educators. 20,000 Suns teaches women how to build, install and maintain clean, renewable solar panels. This has a snowball effect, because when these women return to their communities and switch on the power, people can continue working or learning after the sun goes down. Empowering one woman not only changes her life, it transforms the lives of those around her and helps communities prosper. This is the kind of impactful and effective best practice that we want to champion at Expo.”

OBJECTIVES OF OPPORTUNITY AT EXPO 2020

To unlock the power of the individual.

To make people care.

To inspire them to make a conscious difference, during Expo and beyond.

The Expo theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ is underpinned by the belief that we can achieve so much more when we work together, and that small actions can have a huge, positive impact on our collective futures.

“We have achieved a lot — and we can achieve so much more. Yes, there are challenges, but if we pull together, if each and every one of us takes one small step, we can build a better and brighter tomorrow for us all.”

Marjann Faraidooni’s message on UN SDGs Action Day

“Every one of us has the power to make a difference because small actions, when pooled together, can have a huge impact on making the world a better place.”