SDG Global Festival of Action — Day 1 highlights: How can we all #TurnItAround?

UN SDG Action Campaign
5 min readMar 26, 2021

As the world is still grappling with the effects of the pandemic, and with many countries still in lockdown, this year’s SDG Global Festival of Action (March 25–26) gathered leaders and changemakers to explore how we can #TurnItAround and accelerate action for the Sustainable Development Goals and for a just and sustainable recovery.

The virtual Festival program was even more engaging and diverse than previous editions — as we were able to virtually bring in more speakers from across the world! Talks, performances, interactive workshops and exhibitions engaged more than 20,000 people across the two days. The platform also featured a digital connection space where people could meet and network with each other from wherever they were. With over 20,000 remote participants tuning in from 203 countries and territories, this has been the Festival’s largest and most geographically diverse edition ever!

Missed out on the first day of the Festival? No stress! Here are five highlights from Day 1 to bring you up to speed:

1. Let’s #TurnItAround: The time to act is now

The theme for this year’s Festival is “A Turning Point for People and Planet.” How can each of us take action at this critical moment to turn it around for the people and the planet?

The High-Level Opening Plenary set the tone on the discussions on shifting systems. It was followed by the Big Picture Plenary, addressing the top priorities on the world’s agenda from the global health crisis to the climate emergency from the threats to biodiversity to the threats to human rights and the deepening of inequalities and gender disparities. Big questions were explored during the session, and speakers agreed — that these issues are not unsolvable. They simply require urgent action at all levels, including by each one of us — as even individual actions, no matter how big or small, can add up to great impact.

2. Need inspiration to act?

If people were interested in taking action for the SDGs, but were unsure how they could contribute, the Festival featured 12 short conversations and lightning talks, as well as 6 knowledge-sharing panels, to take participants through the complexity of current global challenges, whilst identifying bold and transformative actions.

Notable speakers for the conversations and talks included UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, who discussed the impact of the pandemic on women and youth in particular, and the silver linings that kept her optimistic; Filipino climate activist Mitzi Jonelle Tan, who delivered an impassioned plea to recognize and empower the marginalized that are bearing the brunt of climate change; Director of 4SD David Nabarro and Special Envoy on COVID-19 at the World Health Organization, who highlighted what we need to do to come through this pandemic and set the world on the right path.

3. The Festival went local: Japan joins the force!

This year, Japan became the first country to host a local edition of the Festival — the SDG Global Festival of Action from Japan — where amazing content and local solutions were featured to inspire, not only nationwide, but also worldwide action for the SDGs.

The Japan Stage opened with a “Lightning Talk: Message For Our Future,” where UNDP Goodwill Ambassador Misako Konno shared powerful messages from youth in Japan on how we can “turn it around” for people and the planet, in Japan and beyond. Youth voices were further amplified in the two Japan workshops, as young leaders shared their personal journeys of creating positive change for their community through action, innovation and entrepreneurship.

4. Engagement with the Festival: just one click away

If you were looking for some hands-on learning experiences, the Festival had you covered! Various organizations and experts helped organize a total of 27 workshops spanning the 2 days, with a focus on ideation, upskilling, campaign activation, and well-being, creating an interactive and personalized experience for those who want to get started on taking concrete action.

In between conversations, workshops and panel discussions, there were also musical performances featuring Kety Fusco, Miss Tati, Ben Harper, and Anaiis, among others.

You could always drop by the Experience and Action area for street art, photography, the new MY World 360° immersive media selection, and much more by artists like Yoko Ono, Uğur Gallenkuş, Google Arts&Culture, La Triennale Milano, Lavazza Group — all you needed to do to attend this virtual exhibition space was to register to join the Festival!

5. Celebrating the #SDGawards winners

Back in March 2020, a call went out to the international SDG Action Community, inviting people and organizations to share the most impactful initiatives to inspire, mobilize and connect for the SDGs. Despite a ranging pandemic, thousands of submissions poured in, proving yet again that even a global health emergency cannot hold back changemakers.

The ceremony celebrated the achievements of SDG Action Awards Finalists and Honourable Mentions, shining a spotlight on bold and impactful initiatives at a time when we most need hope, creativity and collaboration.

Meet the winners of the SDG Awards:

Watch the Awards Ceremony

Looking ahead: Must-watch sessions for Day 2

After a day of inspiration for action, it’s time to take a deep dive into the solutions and the harder conversations we need in order to create real impact for the SDGs. Check out the program for Day 2, register for a workshop, or start off by exploring some of our recommended sessions below:

Day 1 Must watch List: Will be available on the Festival on-demand library in the coming days

Share with us YOUR ideas on how we can #TurnItAround

Don’t forget to continue engaging with the SDG Global Festival of Action on the virtual platform (it’s not too late to register!) and share your ideas, inspirations and favorite moments on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, and LinkedIn, using the hashtag #TurnItAround!



UN SDG Action Campaign

Official account of the UN SDG Action Campaign, aiming to mobilize, inspire & connect a movement to #FlipTheScript for the #GlobalGoals