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UNGA 2022: Pace yourself

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This story was published on our Need to Know: UNGA 2022 newsletter, A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC..
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Greetings, UN delegates and UNGA watchers!

There are a dozen or more UNGA and UNGA-sideline events to choose from today, plus a handful this weekend should you be inclined.

Consider this your warmup. The calendar goes from manageable to absolutely chaotic starting Monday.

With that in mind, we sought the advice of Scott Curran, the founder of social impact consulting firm Beyond Advisers and former general counsel of the Clinton Foundation, where he learned a lot about getting the most out of very big conferences. Here’s what he recommends:

  • Plan the work, work the plan. Set aside time to peruse the schedule, pick a manageable number of can’t-miss sessions each day, and then really commit to them.
  • Claim your spot. It’s hard to have the experience you want if you’re lining the back wall with the other late-comers, Curran says. When you arrive, grab your seat right away, before you get coffee or do any hallway mingling. (Just set a jacket or a notebook on the chair to save your place.)
  • Prioritize on the fly. You really might have wanted to hear that panel on food system resilience, but if a chance meeting in the hallway yields a promising connection, be flexible enough to go with it.
  • It doesn’t all have to be substantive. Leave room for a cocktail party or two. Curran’s firm is hosting one and he can’t wait to toast with old friends, and see clients he’s never met in person because of the pandemic. “We’ve all learned: connection matters, relationships matter,” Curran reminds us. “Fun should be part of it, too.”
  • No networking in the restrooms. “We’ve seen this happen,” Curran laments. Seriously, just don’t do it.
  • Bring business cards. Can we not just trade LinkedIn QR codes? “It’s not an either-or,” Curran says. “It’s a both-and. It doesn’t matter if I’m old-fashioned or not, it matters if the person I want to connect with values that.” Ok. But we note that hardly anyone had business cards this year at Davos. “Which I might argue makes them even more valuable,” Curran says, as you’ll be more likely to stand out. Touché.

In every Need to Know: UNGA 2022 email, our “What to watch for” section will highlight a handful of official sessions and sideline events scheduled for the coming days. Meanwhile, at, the risk of overscheduling ourselves, we invite you to send us tips, along with your argument for or against business cards.


What to watch for

Friday, Sept. 16 (all times local to New York unless otherwise specified)

🧑‍🏫 UN Transforming Education Summit. Convened by UN secretary-general António Guterres, this three-day event (Friday/Saturday/Monday) at UN headquarters is intended to help put education at the top of the global political agenda as schools and students around the world try to recover from learning losses in the pandemic.

🧭 Data and development. Learn more about the UNDP’s new Digital Development Compass, a dashboard built by GitHub volunteers. The tool aggregates all publicly available data on countries’ digital development, with the goal of furthering digital transformation. The hybrid event, at 1 Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza if you’re attending in person, begins at 1pm.


Saturday, Sept. 17 (all times local to New York unless otherwise specified)

🎭 Political drama. If the Bells Would Ring is a two-act play about corruption and climate change. The youth-led, youth-run production at The Tank (312 W 36th St.) follows a fictional US senator’s career. Tickets ($6-$12) are currently still available for performances at noon and 9:30pm.


Sunday, Sept. 18 (all times local to New York unless otherwise specified)

💪 Unstoppable Africa. Sunday’s lineup at this two-day event focused on African investment, trade, and resilience includes UN secretary-general António Guterres, Microsoft president Brad Smith, Dangote Group founder Aliko Dangote, Econet Global founder Strive Masiyiwa, UN Women head Sima Bahous, Barbados prime minister Mia Mottley, and Sundial Group founder Richelieu Dennis.

🏡 Goals House opens. Tavern on the Green in Central Park is the perfect setting for five days of discourse about the UN’s sustainable development goals.


Monday, Sept. 19 (all times local to New York unless otherwise specified)

🩺 Get ready for gridlock. New York City’s Department of Transportation has already declared today an official “gridlock alert day.” Expect tough conditions all week. Try public transit or walk to avoid congestion. It’s better for the planet, anyway.

🗣️ The 3Cs. Climate Week, Concordia, and the Clinton Global Initiative each kick off multi-day gatherings featuring a range of speakers from business, philanthropy, and the public sector. Will one conference conquer the rest, or does UNGA bring enough VIPs to town that all three events can co-exist?

💨 Where there’s smoke. The inaugural New Approaches to Tobacco Control conference, co-chaired by two former WHO officials, will examine new approaches to bring down the number of tobacco-related deaths (currently 8 million a year). It runs from 8am-6pm at the Harvard Club in midtown.

🔆 UN Private Sector Forum. The renewable energy transition is the focus of this invitation-only event (invites can be requested) from 3:30pm to 6pm. Expect to hear from UN agency heads and CEOs who have pledged their support for the cause, including Enel’s Francesco Starace and Kenya Electricity Generating Company’s Rebecca Miano.


GOOOOOOALLLLLLLLL

Image copyright: Ritchie, Roser, Mispy, Ortiz-Ospina. “Measuring progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.” SDG-Tracker.org, 2018

In 2015, the UN member nations agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals, a series of ambitious targets meant to reduce poverty, fight inequality, and halt climate change by 2030. Throughout UNGA, we’ll dive into a few of them and let you know how they’re going (spoiler: overall, not great).

Today let’s look at Goal 4, which is “quality education.” It aims to ensure equitable access to high-quality learning environments. This goal took a huge hit during the covid-19 pandemic, when global lockdowns meant approximately 147 million children missed out on in-person instruction.

Since then, learning poverty, or the proportion of children who cannot read and understand a basic text by the age of 10, has increased in every region of the world. Before the pandemic, the rate of learning poverty was 57% in low- and middle-income countries. Projections suggest that number is now 70%.

Image copyright: Amanda Shendruk

Of course, learning poverty isn’t the only way to measure the effectiveness of the goal, but other indicators don’t look great either. For example, math and reading proficiency for boys and girls continues to fall short of levels needed to meet the 2030 target.



News from elsewhere

Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russian president Vladimir Putin met in Uzbekistan. Both leaders expressed willingness to work together. It was their first meeting since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Biden administration increased its offshore wind power target. An additional 15 gigawatts of new floating offshore wind power capacity should be added by 2035.

Adobe is spending $20 billion to buy its biggest rival. The part-cash, part-stock deal for design platform Figma would represent the largest-ever purchase of a private software company—if it survives regulatory scrutiny.

London’s Heathrow Airport canceled over one hundred flights. About 15% of its schedule will be changed on Monday (Sept. 19), the day of the Queen’s funeral. An air traffic strike in France has also led to over 1,000 flight cancellations.


She’s back

Image copyright: Remko de Waal/ANP/AFP via Getty Images
Little Amal in the Big Apple.

The 12-foot puppet known as Little Amal has arrived in New York. The project aims to bring attention to the plight of refugees, especially children, with the character of a 10-year-old girl from Syria, a country devastated by an ongoing decade-old civil war. Her message is simple: Don’t forget about us.

Amal, whose name means “hope” in Arabic, has been traveling the world to raise awareness about the plight of displaced people. She has visited 12 countries so far, including Ukraine. Her home for the next few weeks is the Big Apple, where she plans to tour all five boroughs and meet artists, civil leaders, and young New Yorkers.

Today (Sept. 16), she makes an appearance during the aforementioned Transforming Education Summit, where youth-led groups will use “Mobilization Day” to convey their priorities in reimagining education to decision-makers.


Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next week with more UNGA 2022 news. Meanwhile, it’s not too early to register for Gauging the Goals, an Oct. 6 virtual event where Quartz and the Gates Foundation will share impressions of this year’s proceedings and look ahead at the work still to come.

-Heather Landy, executive editor; Amanda Shendruk, things reporter; Sofia Lotto Persio, deputy editor, news and email; and Morgan Haefner, deputy email editor

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

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