Most of us have heard on the radio and seen in the news about the Pope’s visit to the United Nations (“UN”). Historically, this is the fifth time a Pope has addressed the United Nations. Yet, what makes this a very special visit? Is it because he was the first Latin Pope? Or was it his message to the UN General Assembly? Also, just as news catchy as the Pope’s visit was, the UN also made major headlines with the announcement of the new Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”). It is a remarkable accomplishment for an organization that was founded in 1945. Finally, how does John D. Rockefeller, Jr. relate to all of this?

To answer these questions, we need a history refresher. How did the UN come to exist? Why is it located in New York? Why do we have new SDGs? And what happened to the old sustainable goals?

The forerunner of the UN was the League of Nations, an organization conceived in similar circumstances during the First World War, and established in 1919 under the Treaty of Versailles “to promote international cooperation and to achieve peace and security.” The League of Nations ceased its activities after failing to prevent the Second World War. Prior to the League of Nations, in 1899, the International Peace Conference was held in The Hague to elaborate instruments for settling crises peacefully, preventing wars, and codifying rules of warfare.

The first time the name, “United Nations,” was coined was by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Declaration by the UN of January 1, 1942, during the Second World War, when representatives of 26 nations pledged their governments to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers. After the devastation of World War I and II, in 1945, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization to draw up the United Nations Charter. Those delegates deliberated on the basis of proposals worked out by the representatives of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States at Dumbarton Oaks, United States between August-October 1944. The Charter was signed on June 26, 1945, by the representatives of the 50 countries. Poland, which was not represented at the Conference, signed it later and became one of the original 51 Member States.

The UN officially came into existence on October 24, 1945, when the Charter was ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and by a majority of other signatories. United Nations Day is celebrated on October 24 every year.

So, once the UN came to exist, a debate ensued on where to host it. The major European powers lobbied to locate the UN on the European continent. Yet, supporters of the plan acknowledged the difficulty of locating the new organization in the midst of the wreckage of a world war. Even though Geneva was a possibility, it carried associations with the ill-fated League of Nations and was, therefore, omitted from further consideration.

When a vote on the location of the headquarters was taken in London in 1945, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, and Canada voted for a European headquarters. The rest, from Latin America (Brazil, Chile, and Mexico), the smaller nations of Europe (Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia), the Pacific (Australia and China), the Soviet Union, and Iran voted for a new start for the new organization in the United States. What is interesting here is the role of Latin American countries (Pope Francis should come to mind) and the idea of a new start.

The idea of a new “capital of the world” was enticing to many US cities. San Francisco and Philadelphia were frontrunners for a while. Detroit had a strong showing. Even Black Hills, South Dakota mounted a bid. By the way, New York City, and Manhattan in particular, was something of a last minute compromise solution after all other sites had been rejected. I will talk later how New York won the bid. Now, I have to focus on this odd city, what does Black Hills, South Dakota have to do with bidding to host the United Nations?

A successful South Dakotan business man, Paul Bellamy, learned that his 22 year old son, who was an air pilot for a B-17 Flying Fortress, died in an air collision over England. He channeled his suffering from the loss into action once he heard about plans of a post-war security organization to lessen the possibility of another global war ever happening again. Paul Bellamy galvanized the business committee to submit a proposal that promised to build a headquarters structure that featured 1 million square feet of office space, an auditorium that could seat 20,000 people, and a soaring tower topped by a globe as a symbol of the UN mission. Why it is important to mention this story is to showcase how one person (a businessman) can mobilize a whole city into bidding to host a new ‘capital of the world’. Unfortunately, Paul Bellamy’s bid was rejected because the committee wanted the UN headquarters to be in the Eastern United States. Imagine if we have 1000 ‘Paul Bellamy’s’ in the world – could we not solve the current major social ills?!

Talking about the world social ills, a little history is needed to understand how the UN SDGs came to be. We need to learn about its predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (“MDGs”). In September 2000, the largest gathering of world leaders in history, adopted the UN Millennium Declaration whereby committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets, with a deadline of 2015. The MDGs goals were:

Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty

Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education

Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women

Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality

Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases

Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability

Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development
So, did the MDGs work? Did the world get better? The answers are yes and no.

Between 1990 and 2002, average overall incomes increased by approximately 21 percent. The number of people in extreme poverty declined by an estimated 130 million (to learn more visit the (UN Millennium website). Child mortality rates fell from 103 deaths per 1,000 live births a year to 88. Life expectancy rose from 63 years to nearly 65 years. An additional 8 percent of the developing world’s people received access to water. And an additional 15 percent acquired access to improved sanitation services.

But progress was not uniform across the world–or across the Goals. There were huge disparities across and within countries. Sub-Saharan Africa is the epicenter of crisis. Asia is the region with the fastest progress, but even there, hundreds of millions of people remain in extreme poverty. Even fast-growing countries fail to achieve some of the non-income Goals. Other regions have mixed records, notably Latin America, the transition economies, and the Middle East and North Africa, often with slow or no progress on some of the Goals and persistent inequalities undermining progress on others.

As the MDGs time frame was coming to an end with mixed results, a high-level UN Open Working Group was established in January 2013 to craft a new set of goals that would stand for another decade and a half through 2030. Seventy UN member states shared 30 seats on the committee (meaning most seats were shared by two or three countries, a so-called “troika” arrangement). At its final meeting, on July 19, 2014, the Group unanimously approved a draft set of 17 SDGs. These SDGs, taken up by the UN General Assembly at a Special Summit on Sustainable Development from September 25-28, 2015, are:

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all
  5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all
  8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

What are the major differences between the SDGs and the MDGs?

The new list largely keeps the MDGs intact while updating and expanding on some of them. For example, there are new goals related to water and sanitation, energy, climate change, and inequality. The biggest change is that the MDGs only applied to countries in the developing world. The SDGs, in contrast, will apply uniformly to all countries, in the developing and developed worlds alike. Thus, they will aim to hold the entire globe accountable for their development efforts.

Another major difference and this is where the ‘Paul Bellamies’ and now, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. comes into the picture. The SDGs make a big push to integrate all stakeholders in the community. They are governments, non-government entities, non-profits (ICSB should be on your mind), academia, large businesses, and yes – finally small and medium enterprises (“SMEs”). The world just realized (or is admitting) that SMEs account for 98% of economies. They are the engine for growth, and political and economic stability. Remember when I mentioned what a county or the world can do if we had 1000 entrepreneurs like Paul Bellamy? Well, with the SDGs this is not just an invitation, but also a challenge for entrepreneurs and small and medium business owners to step up.

So, back to my previous question: how did the UN headquarters finally end up in New York? Well, an entrepreneur/business owner/philanthropist named John D. Rockefeller, Jr. recognized the importance of this new international organization’s role in world peace – and yes – commerce!  The committee overseeing the UN location was considering Boston or New York City as the host. The site committee ruled out any urban locations because of the organization’s sizable land requirements and their fear that the UN would be limited in ability. So, they eliminated all sites within 10 miles of Manhattan. However, when millionaire philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. surprisingly offered a gift of six blocks of Manhattan real estate along the East River in December 1946, the committee reversed itself in a New York minute and found its new home.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (an entrepreneur, a business owner, a philanthropist, and a human being) was the final piece to the puzzle to bring the UN to its final destination and home.

So, what does the Pope have to do with the UN and Rockefeller Jr.? The Pope, in his UN address, stated, “a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity” that misuses natural resources and degrades the environment also leads to social ills by excluding those who are physically, economically or politically weak. “Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment.”

The UN, the Pope, and Rockefeller Jr. have something in common. It is about humanity and its wellbeing.

We, at ICSB, advocate for HumanEntrepreneurship as part of the solution of the world’s ills and challenges.

Of particular importance is the need to incorporate plans for the long-term maintenance of natural resources.HumanEntrepreneurship not only recognizes the value and importance of humans, who are the ultimate clients and customers, but it also focuses on the equal importance of the entrepreneur and entrepreneurial innovation’s crucial effects on people and society.HumanEntrepreneurship incorporates the concern for the sustainability, replenishment of natural resources used by entrepreneurial organizations, and the inclusion of all parts of society. In sum, HumanEntrepreneurship can be the driving force for a new and practical approach to entrepreneurial activity in both developed and developing nations.

We need all hands-on-deck to make it happen. The SDGs are an excellent blueprint. Government, big businesses, and yes finally, SMES and entrepreneurs are the actors. The world youth, seniors, and the marginalized need us desperately.

Let us not disappoint them.

Written by:

Dr. Ayman El Tarabishy
Executive Director of ICSB
Associate Professor, The George Washington University

Important note:

We would like to congratulate Mr. Georg Kell for his tremendous contributions and exceptional leadership as the Executive Director of the UN Global Compact. We wish you all the success in your next role. We would also like to warmly welcome Ms. Lise Kingo as the new Executive Director. Your focus on innovation and inclusion of all stakeholders resonated well with the ICSB organization.

Resources used for this article: