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(From left) Eric Smith from Rural Action, Elaine Goetz from the Office of Sustainability, and Doug Schmaltz from Good Works pose for a photo at an ISU panel discussion on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

(From left) Eric Smith from Rural Action, Elaine Goetz from the Office of Sustainability, and Doug Schmaltz from Good Works pose for a photo at an ISU panel discussion on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

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ISU panel discusses local efforts to match UN Sustainability Goals

Ohio University’s International Student Union (ISU) celebrated United Nations Day on Oct. 24 by hosting a panel discussion on the UN’s newly developed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The UN has developed 17 SDGs, and the ISU panel focused on these five goals: No Poverty, Good Health and Well Being, Gender Equality, Climate Action, and Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. 

ISU invited speakers from organizations on and off campus to present at the panel. Zamzam Jama, the host of the panel, introduced Geneva Murray, the director of the Ohio University Women’s Center; Elaine Goetz, the sustainability specialist in the Office of Sustainability; Eric Smith from Rural Action; Doug Schmaltz from Good Works, Inc.; and Evan Vargo and Autumn Sprunk from the Ohio University chapter of AIESEC. They each spoke about how their organizations relate to these goals and emphasized that in order to make an international change we need to work at the local level. 

Murray spoke first, opening with the UN’s definition of gender equality and how the Women’s Center is already working toward that in our community.

The UN’s definition of gender equality is “providing women and girls equal access to education, healthcare, decent work, and representation in political and economic decisions making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large. This is one of the things that I very much believe in,” Murray said. 

The Women’s Center provides programing that addresses three different themes concerning gender equality: personal, professional and academic.

The Women’s Center also organizes programming concerning women in political leadership. The UN states that in 46 countries women hold more than 30 percent of seats in national parliament in at least one chamber. However, “the United States is not one of those countries,” Murray said.

“We’re one of only 50 campuses nationwide that is able to offer national training called ‘Elect Her,’ which is offered by the American Association for University Women and Running Start,” Murray said.

Through its Elect Her program, the Women’s Center trains and encourages college-aged women to run for student government because there is a direct correlation between successfully running for student government and later deciding to run for government offices. 

The Women’s Center also heads the Women Leading Ohio weekly group program for faculty and staff, as well as a similar program for college-aged women called She Leads Ohio.

Goetz spoke next about sustainability on campus and internationally. She emphasized the major change in global temperature from the 1880s to the 1980s, which has affected agriculture, eco systems, species and more. 

“[Ohio University] was one of the charter signatories of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, and we also had the first Office of Sustainability in the state of Ohio,” Goetz said.

The Climate Commitment was signed in 2008 and OHIO founded the Office of Sustainability the same year. The office then created the Ohio University Sustainability Plan and the Ohio University Climate Action Plan. Goetz said that the University wants to do its part to reduce carbon emissions and impact on the environment and become climate neutral.

There will be a public meeting and process to revise the Sustainability and Climate Action plans, which anyone can attend. You can learn more about the meetings as well as take a survey where you can suggest goals and plans here

Smith, the chief program officer for Rural Action, spoke about his organization’s approach to success.

“Rural Action believes that you have to have all cylinders running at the same time,” Smith said. “You have to have the environment, sustainability and justice aspects. If you’re going to build prosperity, it can’t be just for today, but for all future generations.”

Rural Action runs the Zero Waste program, which assists companies, organizations and events to develop a recycling and sustainability plan in order to produce little to no waste. In the past, the organization has consulted with events such as the Nelsonville Music Festival, where 90 percent of the waste was recycled.

Another Rural Action program is the restoration of watersheds affected by mining.

“In streams that had nothing a couple decades ago, now we are seeing 26 species of fish,” Smith said.

Smith also talked about the Sustainable Forestry and Sustainable Agriculture programs and how they, and their other programs, are powered by volunteers and memberships. If you interested in helping with these programs, you can find more information here

Schmaltz began his portion of the panel by going over some of the history of Good Works. The organization began 35 years ago by combating homelessness. Today Good Works serves a nine-county area and organizes initiatives such as the Transformation Station, which provides access to resources such as a food pantry, vehicles, appliances or bicycles, and Good Works Gardens, a program that takes volunteers into the community to teach families how to start and maintain a fresh vegetable garden.

“People are generally pretty shocked at what you can grow in a small garden,” Schmaltz said. “What we’re doing is trying to empower people that we care about, not just give them a resource. We want them to stand on their own two feet and feel the dignity that comes from working in your own garden and feeding your own family.”

Good Works also started Friday Night Life, which is a program that provides a free meal and community get-together once per week.

“Some folks that come to Friday Night Life need a meal; it’s the only decent meal they are going to get all week,” Schmaltz said. “Some need the socialization; they need to come to a safe place just to talk to folks and feel a part of a community.”

Good Works runs on volunteers, so if you are interested in contributing to its programs, you can check out the website here.  

After the presentations, Jama opened the floor to questions by asking, how can we each get involved with the SDGs and with the organizations’ initiatives?

Each member of the panel emphasized that its organization accepts volunteers. Goetz also stated that you can conserve electricity by unplugging electronics when they are not in use and by making sure that your heating and cooling is working properly. Even if you live in a residence hall, you can do your part by alerting facilities if you are too cold or too hot.

AIESEC representatives were also invited to speak after the panel about their study abroad programs and how they relate to the SDGS. 

“I went to Romania over the summer for six weeks and I worked on [SDG] number four, which is Quality Education,” Vargo said. “I basically delivered sessions to high school students about soft skills: communication, presentation, and personal development. I had the time of my life. I really thought that I made a difference in some of their lives.”

The two AIESEC programs that will be going on this summer are trips to Buenos Aires. One is the “Educar” trip, which focusses on teaching English to Argentinian adolescents. The other trip, “Andes Way Marketing,” focuses on development and leadership skills as well as market research. On both programs students will work 25 hours per week, live with a local host family, and have the opportunity to travel on weekends. In addition, transportation to the workplace with be provided, and two meals per day will be provided.

If you are interested in the programs offered by AIESEC you can visit aiesecus.org or email them at aiesec@ohio.edu.

The panel wrapped up with closing remarks from ISU Vice President Alena Klimas and attendees were encouraged to make a personal pledge to work toward accomplishing the SDGs.