Human Security Excursion to the UN City

This is a post from The Human Security Angle: the newsletter of the Master’s degree programme in Human Security at Aarhus University.

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On the 29th of March, 2019, Aarhus University’s Human Security students traveled from Aarhus to the Copenhagen UN City. Human security can partially trace its conceptual roots back to the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) 1994 Human Development Report, making a visit to the Copenhagen UN City a clear field trip opportunity.

Leaving at 5AM, the students boarded a bus and headed to the vehicle-ferry in Aarhus which crosses the waters between Aarhus and Copenhagen. Throughout these early hours, students intermittently chatted and napped as they awaited the day ahead of them. After arriving to the island of Zealand, the sun began to rise, and the students continued their bus ride, finally arriving to the UN City at 10AM. After showing their IDs and crossing the security checkpoint, they stepped foot “outside” of Denmark and onto the small, autonomous island the UN City was built upon. Once inside the impressive building, the students were met by their welcoming host, and were led to a conference room where they settled in with coffees and awaited the presentations that were prepared for them.

The World Food Programme (WFP) was first to present to the Human Security students. Because regular access to quality food is a fundamental component to human survival, a number of human insecurities quickly arise when food becomes unavailable or inaccessible. WFP works towards the Sustainable Development Goal of “Zero Hunger”, and often collaborates with other organisations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in order to make progress toward this goal. What makes WFP a unique organisation, however, is their area of expertise in providing support aid during times of disruption and uncertainty, such as war, famine or the aftermath of a natural disaster. Overall, the students learned a great deal about WFP’s position in alleviating hunger and their work in 83 different countries, reaching 91.4 million individuals each year. They even had the opportunity to taste “WFP” stamped nutritional biscuits that are sent to food poor locations around the world. Students also learned about the complexities involved with funding and earmarked funding, the influence media has in creating visibility and stirring funding, and the challenges that can arise in meeting the nutritional needs of individuals who are not visible in the media landscape.

Public Diplomacy and Communications (PDC) provided the next presentation on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The SDGs are a set of goals which act as a blueprint for developing initiatives toward peace and prosperity. These goals were adopted by all 193 UN member countries in 2015, with the target completion date of 2030. The goals stem from the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which began in the year 2000 and focused on the elimination of hunger, poverty, disease, discrimination against women, and illiteracy by the year 2015. When these goals were not met, a new set of goals were crafted with an entirely new approach: In order to create durable change, a holisticapproach was taken rather than focusing solely on the problem itself. The idea is, in order to address something like poverty, strategies which improve the livelihoods of individuals must alsobe met, such as health, education, and reduced inequality. From this, the 17 SDGs were made (the MDGs only had 8) and are seen as interlinking and complimentary toward one another. Although a majority of the Human Security students were already well acquainted with the SDGs, the presentator created an engaging discussion on the feasibility of the SDGs, the difficulties with indexing and measuring SDG progress, and how much influence one individual has in working to fulfill the SDGs.

The last presentation was given by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and focused on including the private sector into the SDGs. The UNDP works globally in 170 countries and focuses on developing policies, partnerships, leadership skills, institutional capacity, resilience and sustainable development, and the presenter argued that an untapped resource in the promotion of the SDGs is the private sector: Due to the capital, creativity, adaptivity and incentivisibility of the private sector, an enormous amount of pragmatic problem solving capacity alsoexists in the private sector. Thus, the UNDP created the SDG Accelerator. The SDG Accelerator is a small segment of the UNDP which works in consulting small/medium sized enterprises (SME) in developing innovations which promote the well being of individuals and the environment. Currently in Denmark, consultation partnerships exist among companies such as AUGULUS and Plastix. During their relationship with the UNDP, AUGULUS developed a children’s shoe exchange program and a practical way of changing out the soles of these shoe, all with the purpose of reducing waste while serving public needs. These SME/UNDP relationships act as open source laboratories which may be adapted and applied to other parts of the world dealing with similar challenges, accessible to anyone interested. From here, the Human Security students had a critical discussion concerning the ethics of involving the private sector and market growth, as well as future job opportunities the MSc Human Security programme is well preparing them for.

Last, the students took a walking tour of the UN City building and learned about the architectural cues and the energy technologies incorporated into it. When walking into the UN City building, the centerpiece is a large and bold black staircase that traces its way upward and splits off toward the 6 floors in feeds. As pedestrians enter into this common area, they are architecturally encouraged to use the staircase, since the elevators, although existing, are not immediately visible. This design promotes interaction between organisations in the building as individuals traverse the building, and it symbolically exemplifies the shared and interconnected goals of the UN. Innovative, sustainable and efficient energy technologies exist throughout the entire building structure as well. For example, as the sun changes position in the sky, external shades open and close to either increase or limit solar radiation into the building. Another interesting innovation can be found in the air conditioning system utilising the surrounding seawater as coolant. As the students walked through the building, they noticed an incredible amount of used language diversity, and as they toured the building, they examined the signs of various UN departments that they have read so much about, but have not “seen” until now.

Overall, the students had a fantastic trip to the UN City Copenhagen, and are thankful for the opportunity to visit and for the exceptional hospitality and intellectual engagement that was provided to them.

Text by Adam Custock

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