Aaron Sherinian 14 Jun 2016 // 4:59PM GMT
Last year, after years of discussions with people and communities around the world, world leaders gathered at the United Nations to roll out the most important to-do list of all time in the form of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. If we can meet these global goals over the next 15 years, we can achieve gender equality, reduce hunger, fight poverty and transform our world by 2030—“we” meaning all 7.4 billion of us, each and every one. In other words, the global goals represent the cause of a lifetime.
Yet they also posed an enormous quandary for me and those of us at the United Nations Foundation: How best to reach and engage everyone in the world so they are invested in change for the better?
Communications and public engagement are an important part of the solution. In fact, Goal 17 urges partnerships—big and small, between government, the private sector and civil society, and between you and your neighbor. Partnerships, coalitions and networks of networks are what spur movements (online and off), and movements are what drive progress.
I know this to be true because I’m seeing it in action. Last year this goal inspired and mobilized a groundbreaking communications partnership between marketers, PR professionals and digital media experts—many of them competitors who put their egos aside and checked their arms at the door.
Almost every single major comms firm in the world was and is represented in one way or another in the United Nations Foundation Communications Corps. And this large-scale collaboration has quickly fed and amplified even larger and more impactful partnerships—e.g., action/2015, a global coalition for change that ultimately gathered more than 2,200 organizations, and Earth To Paris, a coalition of more than 110 NGOs, corporations and media partners. Both of these coalitions urged ordinary people to action, and through the participation of these thousands of organizations, companies and leaders, the United Nations has been able to reach many millions of people with its message that we each have a role to play in achieving sustainable development.
The Communications Corps is ramping up in a big way—meeting again this month at the Cannes Lions—with this in mind: While one person can drive change on an individual level, an entire sector of people can change the way people talk and think about advocacy issues and public affairs crises.
Though this is especially true in our industry, I believe it carries across industries. What I hear over and over again from Communications Corps members is that the experience of working without agency borders has allowed them to return to their paying clients feeling inspired by best-in-class thinking. After all, brands nowadays must have a point of view on global issues. Brands are either seen as one of the good guys, one of the bad guys, or as suspiciously silent, which frankly does not make them one of the “good guys.”
That is the new ethos: It’s not coming, it’s here. Social impact and cause can’t be the frosting; they have got to be baked into the cake. The smartest professionals, companies and agencies are the ones that have realized this.
We are also realizing that the best communications partnerships take time to marinate. This is all the more true because we’re talking about 2030 and global progress on global issues. But that doesn’t mean that, along the way, we should miss out on the short term, pop-up opportunities that create spark around the world when it comes to social change.
Today's individuals and brands can have multiple bumper stickers on their virtual cars, so to speak, because they support multiple causes. It doesn’t make us any less loyal to issues, but it means we have the ability to focus on multiple things (even 17 things) at the same time. I welcome that approach because we live in an era where digital media allows for it. We have to work on multiple problems at the same time, which means we need expertise in multiple areas. This is where partnerships come into play.
We as communications professionals need to be aware of, and need to lead, this new ethos as we move toward 2030: Together we can get people to clamor for issues they may not have thought about before. This is the new era of movement-making in which we live. This new ethos of cause and social purpose is all around us. Communicating together is how we will make the world a better place.
By Aaron Sherinian, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer for United Nations Foundation.