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Forest Whitaker and UNESCO Chief exchange on key challenges and opportunities for peace and development at the 2017 Concordia’s Annual Summit in New York

On September 17th, our CEO Forest Whitaker shared his views with Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, on how to shape a future of hope at the 2017 Concordia's Annual Summit in New York in a session dedicated to the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the world leaders in 2015 for 2030. 

Held in the context of UN Week, Concordia’s Annual Summit is a 2-day convening of over 2,000 leaders, influencers and decision makers working to drive transformative action by building partnerships for social impact.

Together, heads of state, U.S. administration officials, CEOs, and non-profit leaders explore innovative avenues to address the most pressing issues impacting the world at large.

The session on "Building Peace: security and Development for the SDGs", featured Forest Whitaker and Irina Bokova and was moderated by Michelle Caruso-Cabrera is CNBC’s chief international correspondent.

Forest Whitaker's intervention drew on his experiences as CEO of WPDI as well as UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation and UN SDG Advocate. 

On the central issue of education, a key cross-cutting area, he and Ms Bokova agreed that significant progress had been made in terms of access to education in general and in literacy in particular but that renewed efforts were needed to meet the SDGs on time. Forest Whitaker signaled in particular a remaining gap in youth literacy, which affects around one in five countries. In these countries, mainly located in Northern Africa and Western Asia, Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, young women aged 15 to 24 lag behind young men in terms of basic reading and writing skills. He saw that as a main challenge both for the present and the future. As CEO of a youth-empowering peace-building organization, he voiced his satisfaction at the growing interest of local and national governments in South Sudan and Uganda in the teaching of peace education and conflict resolution. 

Forest Whitaker stressed, however, that governments could not meet the targets of the SDGs without mobilizing civil society at large and consult with their citizens, adopting an attitude of learning and openness. In the same vein, he also insisted on the role of the private sector as crucial for people to engage in income-generating activities that will empower them and afford them economic freedom. Ms Bokova emphasized that "partnership is the new leadership," noting that national ownership of the SDGs is key, together with citizen responsibility to craft new paths to development and peace.

On the issue of ICTs raised in the debate, Forest Whitaker exposed a key aspect of the philosophy behind the work of WPDI, namely that peace is best practiced by individuals integrated into thriving communities, and that communities thrive when their members exchange among themselves and communicate with those outside. ICTs clearly have a role to play in the development of societies, he implied, concluding, nevertheless, that technology can help us become better people if education teaches that communication must be a means for genuine dialogue.