Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative founder and CEO Forest Whitaker played a major role in the opening ceremony of the UN General Assembly’s High-Level Thematic Debate on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on Thursday 22 April 2016.
He addressed the more than 30 heads of state and hundreds of international participants who had gathered in New York to discuss how the global community can work together in making progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Whitaker was invited to deliver a keynote address at the event in his capacity as a member of the Secretary-General’s SDG Advocacy Group. He spoke to delegates and world leaders about the holistic, interconnected nature of the 17 SDGs and told them that none of the goals could be accomplished if the others were not also achieved.
“We cannot end poverty everywhere if we do not also ensure inclusive education for all. We cannot promote peaceful and inclusive societies if we fail to empower all women and girls,” he said. “Building a true, lasting peace requires that all of the people’s needs—not just some—are met,” he said.
Whitaker also urged world leaders to engage their fellow citizens in the 2030 Agenda and to inspire them to work together toward achieving the SDGs. He noted several major movements for positive change throughout history that saw millions of people coming together around a common cause, and he said that similar mobilization would be required now. Whitaker told the assembled leaders, “It’s up to you to shape this movement and to demonstrate to your fellow human beings that achieving these goals will require not only tremendous feats of courage and ingenuity, but also small acts of conscience and kindness.”
Following his speech, Whitaker participated in a Digital Media Zone discussion with Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General in the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, to talk about specific ways that ordinary people could contribute to the SDGs. During the discussion, Whitaker stressed that individuals had to consider their obligations to their fellow citizens around the globe.
“We have to remember that we’re citizens of a country but also citizens of the world,” he said. Whitaker encouraged people to come together toward achieving the goals, “We need a swarm of individuals to make a change. Everybody has a role to play, and I am here today to help people feel empowered to take action on the Global Goals.”