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One Plus One Equals Three: Thunderbird and the United Nations Global Compact

December 3, 2020

In order to achieve “peace and prosperity for people and planet,” the United Nations Member States adopted The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, at the heart of which are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Achieving these significant global goals will require the cooperation and support of organizations in the private and public sectors. That’s where the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) comes into play. 

UNGC is a sector of the United Nations that deals specifically with the role organizations play within the UN and supports those companies and nonprofit enterprises in their endeavors to make progress on the SDGs. Organizations from all over the world have joined the Global Compact to show their support and commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals. In February 2019, Thunderbird School of Global Management became one of them. 

Within the UNGC, there are 70 local networks. “The local networks are where the rubber meets the road for organizations and where they really start to see value,” said Kellie Kreiser, Executive Director of Thunderbird for Good. “Thunderbird was assigned to the U.S. local network, through which we’ve realized many unique opportunities.”

“The United Nations Global Compact local networks are where the rubber meets the road for organizations and where they really start to see value.” ~ Kellie Kreiser, Executive Director of Thunderbird for Good Click to Tweet 

Institutional Partner for the U.S. Local Network 

“After Thunderbird signed on to the UNGC, the U.S. local network recognized that they could benefit from having an institutional partner,” said Kreiser. “They put out a request for proposal and we eagerly responded. To our great delight, they approved.” Over the past year and a half, Thunderbird has supported the local network by helping with clerical tasks such as the newsletter, board meetings and other events, along with several larger projects. 

One of those projects is the Young SDG Innovators Program (YSIP), a prestigious Global Impact Initiative (GII) that gives young professionals the opportunity to work on an SDG within their organization. Any UNGC member company can apply; 10 are accepted. Those 10 companies then send three young professionals to participate in the program. “The participants have to be 35 years old or younger, they must come from different sectors at the organization and more than one gender must be represented,” Kreiser said.

These young professionals then participate in a 10-month fellowship to develop a breakthrough technology that can help achieve an SDG within their company. At the end of the program, the innovators showcase their idea to their organization’s senior leadership, and they decide whether or not to approve it. If it’s approved, it is implemented in the company and often, the project is showcased at the UN. 

Thunderbird ran the Young SDG Innovators Program for the first time last year and will be kicking off the second round in December. Due to COVID-19, this year’s program will be virtual. Kreiser said, “We’re already coming up with some innovative ways to run the program and take advantage of advanced technologies.”

As an institutional partner, Thunderbird has also had the opportunity to work with the SDG Pioneers program. This program celebrates “business leaders who are doing an exceptional job to advance the Global Goals through the implementation of [the UNGC’s] Ten Principles on human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption.” 

Employees of UNGC member companies can apply or be nominated by their organization to join the program. “All of the local networks select an SDG Pioneer and put them forward to participate in a global selection process,” Kreiser said. “The winner becomes the global SDG Pioneer. Thunderbird runs the behind-the-scenes work, managing applications, voting and so on.” The global competition will be held in January 2021. 

“Over the past year and a half, as the United Nations Global Compact U.S. local network institutional partner, Thunderbird has helped run programs such as the Young SDG Innovators Program and the SDG Pioneers Program.”  Click to Tweet 

United Nations General Assembly 

In September, Thunderbird partnered with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory at ASU as a top-level sponsor of the 2020 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The annual event is typically held in New York City, bringing about 400 UN members together to discuss the SDGs and the challenges and opportunities they present. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNGA 2020 was held virtually. The online format facilitated attendance by 12,097 people from 163 countries, including five heads of state, 12 government ministers, the President of the UN General Assembly, the UN Secretary-General, the heads of 15 UN organizations and more than 50 global CEOs.

Thunderbird and the Global Futures Lab produced 89 hours of thought leadership programming over the 3-day event, including 34 hours on the UNGA main event virtual stage. “The collaboration and partnership between Thunderbird and the Global Futures Laboratory were perfect,” Kreiser said. “The Global Futures Laboratory was able to speak to the science aspect, and Thunderbird was able to speak to the business aspect.”

“The UN Global Compact sessions offered a unique platform to engage in questions about the future of our planet with people and organizations whose decisions have significant impact globally,” said Peter Schlosser, Vice President and Vice Provost of Global Futures Laboratory. “Each of our conversations has provided insight into the critical issues we jointly have to address, and how the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory and Thunderbird can most effectively inform the decision making around our future. This convening is proof of the increasing commitment of corporate and policy stakeholders to a deep engagement in the question of what our futures can and should be.”

Hosting the event virtually presented unique opportunities for UNGA, Thunderbird and the Global Futures Laboratory. “This pandemic year presented a very different experience for us all. This year’s Global Compact meetings and sessions presented a unique opportunity for ASU, through both the Global Futures Laboratory and Thunderbird, to be seen as a primary convener of the vital issues that we are facing as a global community. The theme was the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and it was wonderful to see the depth and breadth of ASU expertise across all 17 UN SDGs showcased,” said Amanda Ellis, who is Director of Global Partnerships for the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory and former ambassador to the UN for New Zealand.

In addition to hosting 30 times more attendees than in years past, the UNGC determined that holding a virtual event saved a total of 1.1 million kg (2.5 lbs.) of CO2 –  equivalent to eliminating the greenhouse gas emissions from 4.5 million kilometers (2.8 million miles) driven by an average passenger vehicle or the energy-related CO2 impacts from 192 homes over an entire year.

The topics covered during UNGA included climate and sustainability, business and entrepreneurship, diversity and inclusion, COVID-19 and much more. All of the conversations were recorded and are available at: https://thunderbird.asu.edu/unga/videos.

“The collaboration and partnership between Thunderbird and the Global Futures Laboratory at this year’s virtual United Nations General Assembly was the perfect combination science and business.” ~ Kellie Kreiser, Executive Director of Thunderbird for Good  Click to Tweet  

After the success of UNGA 2020, Thunderbird and UNGC are exploring more opportunities to work together. “The partnership with UNGC has offered some really unique opportunities for Thunderbird to expand its global footprint and impact,” said Thunderbird’s Dean and Director General, Dr. Sanjeev Khagram. “We’re eager to see what other opportunities lie ahead.”

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