Insights, inspiration and moving stories- Isabellas firsthand insights into sustainable development at a unique event.

Isabella Miller, a Dual Degree in Business Administration and International Relations student, has a passion for learning about the world from an international perspective—one of the factors which led her to choose IE University, where she could be part of a diverse, global community. She’s also the current president of the IE Debate Club and has participated successfully in several Model United Nations competitions across the globe.

In October 2023, Isabella attended Development2030 in Geneva, an event dedicated to bringing together global development actors to help achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). We caught up with her to learn more about her thoughts on the event, her main takeaways and how attendance at such events can benefit students interested in sustainable development.

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Were there any sessions at Development2030 which you found particularly inspirational or insightful? 

I was particularly inspired by a panel on the topic of “reparative justice,” led by Dr Dhananjayan (Danny) Sriskandarajah, CEO of Oxfam. He had posed the question: why should countries that haven’t contributed to climate action at all, be the ones that have to beg for money? This brought up the idea of required climate action aid, a provocative take. He took the perspective that the countries and corporations that cause the largest damage, rather than charities, should be funding justice. 

Another important insight was that there is an unbalanced dynamic between the private “funding partners” (donors) and the humanitarian organizations. In multiple panels, the donors stated that there is no problem raising capital for climate finance.  On the other hand, Gian Carlo Cirri, a director at the UN World Food Programme, said that his organization asked for $56 million to combat hunger, but only received $18 million. This was not the only time such things had happened. I found it very interesting to see this large discrepancy between the two parties who are meant to be working together, but do not see eye to eye. 

Was there a speaker who made a particularly strong impact on you?

There were a few moments that impacted me greatly. In one of the panels, Unni Krishnan from Plan International told a very moving story about a mother in Somalia. It dealt with the psychological effects of starving your own children, due to the lack of food. He talked about how mothers have to choose which child is the most important to feed, and whether killing their camels is worth feeding their children. This demonstrated the importance of reducing the hunger crisis, not only from a nutritional viewpoint, but a psychological one as well. 

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The main theme of the event was how to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). Did the speakers provide any actionable suggestions?

One of the first speakers, Nathalie Olijslager, Director of Stabilization and Humanitarian Assistance at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, commented on the current status of the SDG goals, saying “we are halfway in time, but not halfway in implementation.” Noting that there is a need for change, she brought up the idea of the requirement for companies to publicly report their global implications. 

Others also commented on this topic. Michael Capponi, founder and president of Global Empowerment Mission, spoke about how we have been tackling the SDGs “backwards.” He emphasized that simply responding to crises or global issues will not move us closer to the SDGs as a whole, and suggested the formula “equality, preparedness, response” in order to reach these goals. Without equality, there will always be people who fall through the cracks; without preparedness, the amount of capital it takes to reach the goals will exponentially increase, and response is the final step. We have to reduce the need for foreign aid, but this involves localizing the humanitarian actors and processes so that citizens can benefit without the intervention of international organizations, as existing crises are sometimes forgotten when new ones arise. 

One interesting take on this was from Arjun Tasker, New Partnerships Initiative Lead from USAID, who said that as large financing organizations are not themselves localized, they cannot create localized solutions. This stresses the importance of humanitarian actors who are already in the crisis country. 

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How do you anticipate that this event will contribute to your personal and professional growth, especially in the context of your career aspirations in the field of sustainable development?

I believe that this event gave me a wide range of options in different areas to help sustainable development. I was able to see that international organizations are not the only way to help, but there are options within nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), entrepreneurship ventures, donation-focused campaigns, political lobbying and others. I was also to gain some valuable networking connections that I hope to use further in my career. 

Finally, how do you think attending events like Development2030 can inspire and influence other students and professionals interested in sustainable development?

The event featured not just panel discussions, but also booths of inventions or businesses aiming to help develop the SDG goals or humanitarian relief. There were many products that I would not have thought of; it expanded my understanding of what solutions are possible. These included contraceptive implant removal, on-demand anesthesia machines, mobile hospitals in containers, and even an automated water disease detection machine. These were all ideas that, no matter how small, will help mitigate the impact of humanitarian crises.

Seeing these inventions can help inspire and influence other students and professionals interested in sustainable development: the inspirational stories and innovative ideas showed me what is actually happening in the field to make change. When we work with sustainable development in class, it can all seem rather abstract. However, seeing those who are pioneering the change, such as local humanitarians who are seeing the crisis firsthand in countries such as Somalia and Syria, made the situation more real and brought home the need for urgent action.