Interview: Florencia Librizzi
Sustainable Development Goals: 4, 9
- SDG 4 - Quality Education
- SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
Florencia Librizzi is a sustainability and education professional as well as an international attorney, licensed to practice law in Argentina and New York State. As Head of Program and Partnerships, she leads the SDG Academy, flagship education initiative of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UNSDSN). Previously, she devoted over 6 years to building the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), an initiative of the United Nations Global Compact. Previously, Florencia served as a consultant for the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) advising on issues of human rights. From 2006-2011, Florencia practiced law advising business and non-business clients on a wide range of legal and sustainability issues. She has prior research and teaching experience at several universities. She holds a Juris Doctor (J.D.) magna cum laude from Universidad Nacional de Córdoba and Masters of Laws (LL.M.) from NYU School of Law.
What is the SDG Academy?
The SDG Academy is the flagship education initiative of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global initiative for the United Nations.
SDSN was set up in 2012 under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General and with the direction of Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, to mobilize global scientific and technological expertise to promote practical solutions for sustainable development, including the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement.
SDSN works closely with United Nations agencies, multilateral financing institutions, the private sector, and civil society to promote integrated approaches to implement the SDGs, through education, research, policy analysis, and global cooperation. In addition, SDSN’s National, Regional and Thematic Networks mobilize over 1200 members, in more than 100 countries, to develop long-term transformation pathways for sustainable development and promote SDG implementation. The SDG Academy aims to be the premier source of high-quality educational content on the SDGs, with the mandate to enrich the field of sustainable development and advance the UN’s Agenda 2030. The SDG Academy engages a community of education institutions as well as individual learners, offering educational content and peer exchange and learning to advance sustainable development. In its first years of operation, the initiative has garnered roughly 280,000 enrollments across its platforms, from more than 180 countries. The SDG Academy aims to reach millions of learners around the world.
How does the SDG Academy engage and connect youth with the SDGs?
I believe that young people are the cornerstone of the sustainable development agenda. Youth people are by nature forward-thinking, innovative, and the next generation of leaders. For that reason, youth is extremely relevant to the SDGs. When it comes to the SDG Academy resources on the SDGs, children and youth is a recurring topic, given their importance for sustainable development. As part of our course offering, we have produced content specifically focused on children. For example, our Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) “The Best Start in Life: Early Childhood Development for Sustainable Development '' addresses how to ensure we provide childrens with the best beginning for a happy and healthy life. This is one of our most popular courses featuring leading experts in the field. On the other hand, when it comes to engagement, our SDG content aims to empower current generation and future generations to advance sustainable development. In that sense, our audience is to a large extent constituted by youth. Generally, our learners' age oscillates between 16 to 60 years old, being the SDG Academy average learner 26 years old. However, many of our learners are younger, including high school students which can certainly digest our content with the guide of a teacher. As part of our engagement efforts with learners, we are growing an Alumni Network with over 4500 members.
Going forward, the SDG Academy aims to convene a global task force of experts on education for sustainable development to mobilize the leading policy and technical experts in the field of education and sustainable development to support the implementation of SDG 4.7 in all levels of education, including children and youth education.
As part of this aim, we would also like to highlight positive stories of what a career in sustainable development might look like in order to provide young people with inspiration that perhaps can serve them at the time to make their career choices.
How can an organization like UNICEF support the SDG Academy?
Just as children and young people are crucial to sustainable development, UNICEF’s work is therefore key to progress these issues. There are many ways in which UNICEF and SDG Academy can collaborate and partner together. First, when it comes to content creation, the SDG Academy convenes the world’s experts, partnering with global universities, the UN system, and other relevant institutions, to create and deliver educational content on key issues for the future of people and planet. In this sense, UNICEF is a crucial actor in the space and could work together as a partner in creation and curation of content along the SDG Academy. Whether it is the creation of a MOOC, contributing to a webinar on a current issue, or a piece for our upcoming Online Encyclopedia on Solutions for the SDGs, UNICEF’s expertise is highly valued. Secondly, regarding dissemination of the SDG Academy’s content, UNICEF could support drawing attention to our resources to academics, policymakers, development or civil society workers, private sector employees, UN officials and UNICEF staff.
How has the SDG Academy successfully been able to connect youth and leading experts? More specifically, around the theme of sustainable development?
Our learners range from age 16 to 60+ and come from all walks of life, but we see more learners in their late 20s or early 30s who are academics, activists, or practitioners in a field related to the course they are taking, looking to scale up their global knowledge in order to impact their local communities, draft legislation, or reduce their personal footprint. As part of the MOOC experience, our learners often have some interaction with leading experts whether through an online discussion forum, webinars or other student targeted activities.
The SDG Academy tries to keep our learners close, so we can learn from their experiences with our content, how they have used it, what was the impact, etc.
For that reason, in 2018 we have launched an Alumni Network which gathers together learners from all our courses. The members are 20% between the ages of 25 and 34 and 30% of them come from India, the US and Nigeria. Learners share feedback on courses, personal takeaways as well as SDG related opportunities. Going forward, we would like to continue to grow our network and with this, the opportunities of further engagement. By the end of the year, we aim to have appointed SDG Academy ambassadors from this group that can help us with advice, feedback on the courses, as well as highlight our content globally.
How can someone join SDSN Youth?
In 2015, the SDSN officially launched its youth initiative called SDSN Youth, to empower youth globally to create sustainable development solutions. SDSN Youth is based at the SDSN New York office and supported by 182 volunteers based around the world to achieve the important mission of empowering youth to achieve the SDGs. SDSN Youth has established 20 regional and national networks for a global reach to mobilize action by young people through education, communities, and innovation.
The application process is listed on the website and prospective candidates will also find there an FAQ covering what we are looking for. Candidates are asked to send a CV and fill out a written application and if selected, they are then contacted by the recruitment team to move to the next steps: an online assessment (small writing samples or video questions), a phone call with the recruitment team and finally, a phone call with the Project Lead of the team they will be joining.
How do you think UNICEF and universities can work together to create a better world for children, globally?
Children and young people are the cornerstone to sustainable development and should be more present when it comes to policy and decision making. Moreover, the awareness of the next generation and how the impact of our decisions affect them, should be something that comes much clearer in the content delivered as well as the research conducted at the universities. In other words, sustainable development —including issues related to children and youth— should be integrated across curricula, research and organizational practices so students can acquire the knowledge, skills and mindset to understand the complex interrelation among the SDGs, how to minimize and address negative impacts and bring innovative solutions to our global challenges. I think there is an important opportunity of collaboration among universities, as knowledge-base organizations, and UNICEF when it comes to research, teaching and sharing technical expertise. In addition, universities should seek experiential learning opportunities for their students, such as community based learning, mentoring programs, internships and other, some of which UNICEF perhaps can help to facilitate. An example of this, I experienced first hand when I visited the campus of a university in the Mumbai area. I had the opportunity to meet in person with many of the MBA students and teenage students that participated together in a mentoring program. Basically MBA students mentored the teenage students for several years throughout the program in order to help them succeed in high school, teach them sustainability, leadership skills and prepare them to apply and enter college. Both MBA students and high school students were enriched through the experience. MBA students reported that they had broadened their perspectives by stepping out of the comfort of the classroom and engaging in this real life exercise. The teenager students, in turn, benefited from the support and care of the mentors, as well as the knowledge shared and skills developed working together.
What do you see as being important for the next generation and their potential to improve the state of the world’s children?
When it comes to the next generation, I guess I’m also thinking of what I wish for my children and all the children of the world!
I would like to see a much happier world for everyone, present and next generations. In order to make this happen, we need to build a sustainable, just and inclusive world for all. One very important aspect to this is ensuring that our children are able to develop adequately, and we enable them to thrive and become healthy individuals and good citizens.
For children’s proper development there are many conditions that are important, from having a peaceful environment to adequate education, nutrition and health care– all things UNICEF is very much aware of. From my perspective, in order to fulfill all SDGs as well as to improve the state of the world’s children, undoubtedly, education is crucial. Good quality education enables children to reach their full potential and prepares them to become active contributors to society. I would like to see a world in which all children have access to quality of education —apart from access to proper food, shelter and health care— and they can live life with purpose and happiness, bringing their talents forth for sustainable development. In order to make this happen, we need to ensure significant progress on achieving the SDGs —to fulfill the needs and rights of children and youth— which is the best we can —and ought to— do.
What do you envision the SDG Academy to look like in the future?
Education is crucial to achieve all SDGs, since every single goal in the 2030 Agenda depends upon education as the vehicle that can ultimately empower people to obtain the skills, knowledge and mindset to implement them. For that reason, our materials focused on advancing the SDGs, are global in nature, based on science, taught by experts in their fields, accessible online, created in partnership with SDSN members and other organizations from around the world, and built to scale, having reached hundreds of thousands of learners around the world. In the future, I would like to see the Academy reaching out to millions of learners around the world. For that reason, we will continue to focus on serving an ever-growing repository of high quality content on the SDGs, as well as nurture collaborative spaces to share good practices and learn together. In that sense going forward, the SDG Academy will continue to create and curate high quality educational resources on the SDGs such as additional courses, podcasts, webinars and more, to further diversify and expand our offerings. Other important initiatives underway are professional certifications and an Online Master’s program in sustainable development, which will aim to offer valuable credentials at a price and scale not currently available to learners. In addition, an important focus of our work will be on the dissemination of our already robust repertoire of content through partnership, strategic outreach, and community-building. To give you an example, we are convening a global task force of leading experts to advance education for sustainable development at the highest-levels, and to ensure that through key partnerships we are able to integrate sustainability in the curricula in all levels of education. We are also in the midst of launching a new Community of Practice to create a space for peer exchange and learning, and provide the opportunity to leverage the expertise of our networks to create additional content, as well as to amplify our impact.
Our vision is a world in which the SDGs are achieved; and through the efforts of the SDG Academy, we want to empower the current and future generation of educators, practitioners, and citizens and provide them with access to relevant educational content and communities so they can advance sustainable development everywhere.