International Engagement Begins with You

Sean Schrader speaking at UN Civil Society Townhall

A few years ago, if you would have told me I would have the privilege to speak at the United Nations (UN), specifically a Civil Society Townhall with the President of the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly, I would not have believed it. However, in late June, that’s exactly what happened.

Until a few years ago, during my undergraduate program at the University of South Florida, I never had a significant interest in the inner-workings of the UN, and more specifically the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, through various involvements getting to learn more about these goals, it became clear to me that we could all do something to create impactful change.

In terms of direct experience with the UN, until this past year, my knowledge was very limited. I had seen many photos and videos of the UN headquarters over the years, and enjoyed following along during general assembly meetings from time to time, as it was a great way to stay abreast on world affairs.

However, in the late spring of this year, my perspective, and relationship with the UN quickly changed. I was honored to join a delegation with the Millennium Fellowship Organization (MCN) as a US delegate for the 2023 Economic and Social Council Youth Forum. As a former fellow for MCN, attending this conference in late April was a great way to learn more about the work being done to address the SDGs, while also learning about the action steps that need to continue in many areas around the world to ensure our future is on the right track.

At this conference, I had the opportunity to meet with so many incredible youth leaders, all incredibly accomplished, and passionate about uplifting their community. This also served as a great opportunity to learn how I could remain more engaged with the UN moving forward. As such, I began subscribing to various email lists, and connecting with different global organizations to see where I could be of most assistance.

In the middle of June, I saw an open call from the UN in which they were looking for participants to attend a Civil Society Townhall. Throughout my life, I have always strived to live by a mindset of knowing the worst answer you can receive is “no” and with that in mind, I applied to attend the townhall. Around a week later, I received confirmation from the UN that I was accepted to attend. However, that meant a very quick turnaround to find a flight and a hotel to travel to New York City in just a few days’ time. Thankfully, everything worked out, and I had the incredible privilege to ask a question to the President of the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly about the role civil discourse could play in addressing progress towards the SDGs.

I share my experience as I hope it serves as an example of what is possible through the mindset of just asking a question or applying for an opportunity, as the worst possible result is “no”. However, the alternative, is that the opportunity may be possible, and without asking, there would never be the ability to know otherwise. 

Progress continues to be made towards addressing the SDGs all around the world, and having spaces where everyone feels welcome to share their input and valuable perspectives is critical. Thanks to the many opportunities offered by the UN, and many other organizations focused on equitable access, the moment to get involved is now.