Big Change in New York for UNGA

18 September 2023

Our intergenerational team heads to New York for the UN General Assembly: Why?

This week, three members of the Big Change team will be in New York at the time of the 78th United Nations General Assembly. As we head to the Big Apple, here’s an insight from Caireen Goddard, Aliyah Irabor-York, and Eloise Haylor, into why we are there and what we will be up to.

What is the UN General Assembly (UNGA)?

“The United Nations General Assembly, also known as the UN General Assembly or UNGA, has been called a lot of things. But, for better or for worse, it’s the only place in the world where 150 heads of state and government gather together to debate international policy issues and make key decisions.” Tess Lowrey, Global Citizen

The thing that’s interesting about being present at UNGA is not so much the official meetings of world leaders, but all the events and conversations that happen in the margins: the side events. And, because of last year’s Transforming Education Summit, where education was on the main agenda for UN leaders, a lot of key global education funders, policy, research and advocacy organisations will gather in the city, alongside youth leaders and innovators.

As all of these people and organisations come together through a wide range of roundtables, dinners, receptions and seminar style events, the city becomes a melting pot of opportunities for conversation, learning and insight.

Why is the Big Change taking part?

At Big Change we talk about what it means to “think global and act local”. So, although we act in the UK by finding and backing people and ideas with the potential to transform education, that action is informed by a wider set of perspectives. Since 2017 we have been looking globally for different ideas and practices that can shape and inform how we act as a catalyst for transformation. Being in New York alongside so many other people and organisations doing this work in other contexts keeps us learning, challenged and inspired.[1] 

And we hope to inspire them to. By bringing people with diverse perspectives together and holding space for them to connect their thinking and ideas, we are shaping the conversation on how to transform education. And, crucially, that thinking has flowed back into the way we are acting as an organisation and funder. As we have learned more about what it means to shift purpose, power and practice in education, we have:

  • Begun to work more intergenerationally within Big Change – which means changes in how we act day to day and the role that young people play within and alongside our team. We now work closely with a group of Associates who are young people we have built relationships with over many years who contribute to all aspects of our work. Aliyah-Irabor York, one of those Associates, is with us in New York this year.
  • Led the Big Education Conversationsince 2021 we have been working with partners to support diverse communities to come together to talk about what education means to them, what it is really for, and how changes to education systems can be made. Last year at the UN Transforming Education Summit we took the Big Education Conversation global and it is now being taken up in over 30 countries around the world. In England, we have supported hundreds of conversations many of which are led by young people and are now influencing policy proposals through a partnership with IPPR.
  • Put resources in the hands of young people through the Big Education Challengelast year we launched a £1m prize fund to find and support people with bold ideas with the potential to transform education in the UK. Of our 15 Challenge Finalists, who are now being supported to develop and test their early stage ideas, 13 are aged under 25.

What exactly will we be up to this year?

“Shared power multiplies strength. By distributing authority and responsibility for transforming education among individuals and groups, you unlock a collective force that far surpasses the sum of its parts.”

Aliyah Irabor-York, Founder of Pupil Power and Big Change Associate

Following last year’s Transforming Education Summit and the Youth Declaration, many reflected on the exclusion of young people from the spaces where discussions and decision making on education were taking place. As is often the case, there are good intentions, but young people’s perspectives and actions are still often kept at the margins of where traditional power really lies.

So, alongside more than 10 global partners, Big Change is leading a call to Unite Generations and Share Power to Transform Education. Because with every education convening that excludes young people, existing power imbalances within our education systems are perpetuated.

We have co-created a guide which offers a starting point for all those committed to sharing power and taking an inclusive approach to transforming education. Whatever your role in shaping change in education, whether you are a teacher, activist, student, caregiver, government or community leader, researcher, innovator, or funder, this guide is for you. The guide makes the case for uniting generations and sharing power, explores definitions, provides examples, and offers a co-created checklist for organizations and leaders to consider in their events.

“I think Big Change is taking the lead on this – actually uniting generations to work together, there are a lot of beautiful speeches but I want to be a part of turning this into action, of making it happen. I don’t see anyone else bringing people together to do this specficially, so I’m really excited to be a part of it and I want to help share this guide. I’m going do a workshop with my community in Argentina to share it further.”  

Sofia Bermudez, UNESCO SDG4Youth and Student Network Representative

Here’s a look at our itinerary, which includes events we are attending as well as hosting or leading. The week culminates in a special Big Change dinner where we will bring together an intergenerational group of leaders and thinkers for a frank and open discussion following a busy week of events. We will consider why and how to share power so we can transform education, focused on question such as: Who has the power to transform education and learning? Why should power be shared, and how can it happen? What do we have to lose and gain when power is shared?

Follow us on the Big Change socials across next week for updates and learnings.

19th September: Elevating Education as a Win-Win for the SDGs, hosted by Project Everyone and the UN Office for Partnerships

Following up on the Transforming Education Summit in 2022, this session will explore priorities to boost ambition and progress action for education everywhere. As we reach the halftime mark of the SDGs, we must mobilize ambition, innovation, and a comprehensive approach to keep the promise of Goal 4. The session will bring youth voices to the front and centre, joining together with education advocates, government, civil society, and the private sector leaders.

20th September: Shaping the Future – What is education systems transformation and how do we achieve it?, hosted by Cambridge Partnership for Education, Brookings Center for Universal Education and Global Partnership for Education, at Goals House

This will be a breakfast discussion with global education peers. Drawing on the insights from last year’s Transforming Education Summit, and with both COP28 and the ReWirED Summit ahead of us, we will delve into actionable strategies for education system transformation, focusing on key themes such as resilience, preparedness, climate impact, gender inclusivity, and digital evolution. Together, we’ll explore how government leaders can build momentum for this transformative work, and how other key stakeholders can support this effort.

20th September: Accelerating localization through the power of networks, with Teach for All and Results for Development, at the Carnegie Corporation

There is growing recognition of and support for locally-led development and systems strengthening — but questions remain about how to achieve these goals. As the global development community looks for promising pathways, we must consider mechanisms that already exist, such as networks, for accelerating peer-to-peer learning and locally-led, globally-informed development. At this event we will hear directly from local partners, network managers and funders about the power of networks to accelerate localization — and also their limits.           

20th September: Uniting Generations to Transform Education

Afternoon workshop and evening Reception co-hosted by Salzburg Global Seminar, Big Change and YouthxYouthat the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation

These two events will launch the Guide that Big Change and Salzburg Global Seminar have co-created with Cambridge Partnership for Education, LearningPlanet, Restless Development, Teach for All, YouthxYouth, and many more. We will be calling on participating organisations and individuals to commit to applying the checklist for more inclusive and intergenerational convening within their own events – both during UNGA and beyond.

21 September: Knowledge Exchange: Gathering resources across networks for education transformation, hosted by NCEE and the Brookings Institute at the Institute for International Education

This meeting will reflect upon the progress of a group of organisations which formed for the first time at UNGA 2022, with a focus on sharing knowledge, exchanging best practices, and harnessing the collective power of diverse organizations to further our individual and collective agendas on transforming education.

21 September: WISE Agile Leaders of Learning Innovation Network, with the Qater Foundation and WISE at the Institute for International Education

Network members will be sharing their latest research looking into how different countries are advancing the education transformation agenda through leadership, and exploring the conditions for success, as well as the connections between global samples, and the importance of collaboration and intergenerational leadership.

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