Think Globally, Act Locally: CGU Goes to the United Nations

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Colleen Bromberger, Nirshila Chand, Shari Bissoondatt and Lauren Shaffer in the United Nations Trusteeship Council Chamber in New York. They were representing CGU for the UN ECOSOC Youth Forum.

Few will disagree with the belief that the future belongs to young people, but it’s not often that young people get a global forum to speak about the future.

In January, however, about 500 youth delegates gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York City to express solidarity and unite their voices for the 2018 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum.

And CGU was there.

For the first time in its history, the university sent a student delegation consisting of Shari Bissoondatt (cultural studies), Nirshila Chand (public health), Colleen Bromberger (international studies), and Lauren Shaffer (politics and policy) to represent CGU at the international forum, which is held by the UN’s Economic and Social Council.

The forum provides a platform for youth from around the world to engage in meaningful dialogues with the UN’s member-state representatives to find solutions to sustainable development challenges.

CGU’s delegation had an opportunity to participate as well as learn about the many grassroots initiatives taking place in Sudan, Qatar, Morocco, Egypt, Spain, Italy, Germany, Papa New Guinea, the Palestinian territories, Somalia, Cameroon, and many other countries.

It was truly remarkable to see so many young participants working together to achieve a better future for the world,” Bromberger said.

Chand agreed.

“Going to the youth forum really just showed me, personally, that you have to think globally and act locally,” she said. “More than anything, my UN experiences have allowed me to be more socially conscious of my voice, the earth, the people, and how I feel to be a part of these communities.”

For Shaffer, her UN experience represents not only a step in the right direction for her future career but also for the forum’s overall objectives.

“It was so empowering to be included among so many bright young people, all of us trying our best to change the world,” she said. “The youth forum brought me one step closer to achieving this goal.”

CGU was invited to attend this year’s ECOSOC youth forum because of an earlier trip last fall that the four students made to the UN. That earlier trip was arranged by their instructor, Sallama Shaker, who is a clinical professor of Middle East and Islamic Studies at CGU.

Why did Shaker organize that first trip to the UN in the fall? For a simple reason.

To truly understand what is taking place at the UN, she will tell you, you cannot read about it in a textbook. You must go there and see for yourself.

“You cannot just study theory in the classroom, you have to apply theory to practice,” explained Shaker, whose career includes serving as Egypt’s ambassador to Canada and as the country’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Cultural, Educational Relations, Technical Cooperation, and Dialogue. “I have maintained my relations with the UN, and I wanted to use them to benefit our students and make them realize it is very important to think globally.”

CGU and the UN: Personal Connections

With Professor Shaker as their guide, the students spent four days last fall in New York City—which included meetings with top SDG spokesperson Matthias Klettermayer and with Neil Pierre and his team at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs—and received an unexpected invitation to return for January’s ECOSOC youth forum.

“One of the most important lessons I have learned from my experiences at the UN is that youth has a voice,” said Bissoondatt, whose area of research includes eradicating poverty in the Caribbean (specifically in her homeland of Trinidad and Tobago).

“Our UN visits and my work with Dr. Shaker have opened my eyes to the possibilities that are open to me,” she added. “I am most interested in bridging the gap between policy creation and implementation. I still have a long way to go before I narrow my area of research, but these experiences have helped me take further steps to find my passion.”

Shaker’s effort to build connections between students and the UN is one example of how the university is expanding its presence—and the possibility of internships and other networking opportunities—at the 70-year-old organization, which Shaker calls “one of the most complicated, hierarchical structures in the world.”

Colleen Bromberger, Lauren Shaffer, Shari Bissoondatt and Nirshila Chand with (center) H.E. Ambassador Pennelope Beckles,
Permanent Representative of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to the United Nations.

The university’s other UN connections include the Claremont Evaluation Center – New York, which is led by Executive Director Deborah Rugg, former Director of the Inspection and Evaluation Division in the UN Secretariat. CEC-NY and the UN Institute for Training and Research recently launched the Executive Leadership Programme in Evaluation.

Public policy analysis master’s student Manish Shrivastav also is currently serving in a second United Nations internship, this time at the UN headquarters in New York, where he is working in the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. During their first visit last fall, the students and Professor Shaker also met with him.

The SDGs: A Transdisciplinary Challenge

The UN delegation’s four students were all enrolled in the fall course “The Changing Role of Gender: A Global Perspective,” which is part of the university’s Transdisciplinary Studies program and was co-taught by Shaker and Professor Linda Perkins.

Using an anonymous application process, Shaker and Transdisciplinary Studies Director Andy Vosko chose Chand, Bissoondatt, Bromberger, and Shaffer for that fall trip, which was made possible by the support of Laila Pence, a member of the CGU Board of Trustees.

For Vosko, nothing better illustrates the need for transdisciplinary training than the issues posed by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Take poverty, for instance. Poverty, he says, isn’t an issue that belongs to any single discipline or area of focus: It is the product of a web of interconnected causes and circumstances.

“You’re doing a great disservice when you confine an issue like poverty to the norms and expectations of a single discipline. But when you place it in context, then you’re able to see an interconnectivity with many other wicked problems,” he explains. “The nature of the SDGs is really at the crux of transdisciplinary study. That is why sending our students to the UN to explore them made so much sense.”

Already the impact of the two UN visits is bearing fruit. Chand reports that she has opened up a dialogue with the UN’s representative from Fiji to discuss potential future projects there; Bromberger is now developing a GenUN chapter on the university campus to create a platform for students to learn more about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. She is also preparing to serve in a six-month internship with the UN in its Office of Disarmament Affairs.

“I am greatly looking forward to representing CGU during my internship,” Bromberger said. “I hope my work there will be seen as an example of the university’s high-quality professionalism and scholarship.”

Shaker’s desire to strike a balance between classroom theory and practical real-world experiences for her students epitomizes CGU’s transdisciplinary approach, Vosko said.

“Dr. Shaker is a true example of a scholar-practitioner, and we’re very lucky to have her at the university,” he said. “To understand scholarship and action from the same perspective is very powerful. It takes what is traditionally confined to libraries or laboratories and takes it into the real world. This is something she does very intuitively and very well.”

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