By Chenjiazi Li and Chiang Zhu, Master’s students at St. John’s International Communication program.
The topic of sustainable development within the frame of global development generates passionate conversations. However, in general, individuals in these conversations have their personalized understanding of sustainable development given their respective life experiences.
Why should we take this conversation of sustainable development seriously? What can individuals do to engage the younger generation? In an attempt to address this question Dr. Minna Aslama Horowitz, professor at St. John’s University, NY, arranged four graduate students of International Communication, to participate in 2017 Vienna UN Conference – Implementing the 2030 Agenda. At this conference, we had the opportunity to learn from the experts who came from different UN Vienna-based organizations discussing concrete solutions and perspectives on how to implement the sustainable development goals (SDGs), and we presented our own findings and views as how to promote them.
On January 16th, at the pre-conference, a workshop on Youth Empowerment for Agenda 2030 Action through Social Entrepreneurship and Digital Social Currencies took place. Over one hundred participants got involved in this workshop, and more than 10,000 viewers live streamed via Facebook. There were four sessions: the first one covered social entrepreneurship, youth and the SDGs, aiming to present the concept and a common definition of social entrepreneurship, and it highlighted the role of social entrepreneurs and youth in achieving the SDGs across sectors; the second session regarded digital currencies and block-chain as enablers of youth social entrepreneurship – moderated by our professor Dr. Horowitz – and we presented our paper Can Crypto Money Save the World; the third session discussed some core elements for establishing the Agenda 2030 Marketplace, including impact evaluation, the youth entrepreneurship ecosystem, accessibility and blending financing as well as access to technology; the final session was an action session. The participants were grouped in teams for designing a social enterprise for sustainable development using block-chain technology, then they gave a two minutes and one slide presentation on social, environmental and economic value presenting the ideas they had created. It was a great opportunity for us, coming from different areas of the world, to be connected like this. We were not only discussing and sharing thoughts during the event, but we also built a Facebook group that allows us to keep in touch and continuously share more information to promote ourselves and gather knowledge.
The following two days were more formal than the first day, which was hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). It was a major multi-stakeholder forum for Vienna-based organizations, civil society, the diplomatic community, and academics to discuss actions, potentials and challenges linked to the realization of the Agenda. Some experts, officers, and professors who represented these organizations raised several critical topics related to the implementation of SDGs and establishing structures for a new vision for future development, including safeguarding the environment, health and well-being, cleaner industrial production, science and technology. Most importantly, there were some young scholars’ sessions, which helped us understand how the young generation is engaged in global affairs, and it revealed us their ability as well as their determination for devoting themselves to human welfare.
The active participation in this conference created high impact learning. It allowed us to build contacts with people who come from all around the world, to get involved in society and discuss some real issues with key individuals who are already immersed in this critical issue of sustainable development.
After three days of fast-paced conference, we took time to look around the well-known historical city, Vienna. We walked on the old streets and visited the churches with their inspiring architecture. Sometimes we just stood at the side of the road and watched people coming and going while wondering about what their lives might look like. Did they think the same as we did?
To be honest, once we had left the classroom and attended the workshop and the conference, it was hard to associate our grand research topic with the social reality. Does our research of digital currencies really help achieve the SDGs, and wake the young generation to change the world? Later, we found the answer from looking around the old but vibrant city. The answer is definitely YES! Visiting the magnificent buildings in Vienna, we observed native citizens, too. We traveled to Salzburg, a famous historical town and had a lot of conversations across cultures during this trip. Even though we are only six members in our digital currencies research team, it was a culturally diverse team. We talked about what we learned, saw and heard from America, Europe, and China. We were surprised to find that the young generations around the world are surprisingly similar. No matter what kinds of educational backgrounds or personalities we have, due to globalization we share more and more common grounds. Therefore, we can boldly speculate in the conclusion that what we have done, in terms of research or the conference, has a real meaning for social reality, even though this was not instantly clear to us. Truly, our research cannot change the world but our action of spreading the concepts of digital currencies can. On the one hand, more and more young people like us are concerned with it and start to be interested in it. On the other hand, the project gave us an opportunity to stand on the international stage and it showed us that the young people who live on the other side of the world are the same as you.
We learned from the experts at the conference, we exchanged our ideas in the workshop, and we experienced a different culture in the streets of Vienna. We appreciated this opportunity, which allowed us to learn in the classroom, from real society as well as from practice.