56 million people mobilized across the world for a just and green recovery

UN SDG Action Campaign
11 min readNov 3, 2020

As COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the lives of many people all over the world, we risk reversing decades of progress on the SDGs. Regardless, millions of participants and convening partners have come together during this year’s Global Week to Act for SDGs to show that it’s still possible to #TurnItAround and create a greener and sustainable future, where no one is left behind. Organizations and leaders from all sectors of society, including individuals, NGOs, local governments, international and faith-based organizations, youth groups, the private and creative sectors, academia and the United Nations have joined the collective call, established in collaboration with Action For Sustainable Development, Global Call to Action Against Poverty and Global Goals Week, to #TurnItAround for a better recovery and the Sustainable Development Goals.

This year, from 18–26 September, the Global Week to Act for SDGs mobilized more than 56 MILLION PEOPLE in 175 COUNTRIES, while world leaders gathered virtually at the United Nations General Assembly for the first time. The campaign reached over 223 million people, through inspirational actions demonstrating our commitment to #TurnItAround and accelerate action towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

This year’s participants and convening partners adapted their advocacy efforts to suit the “new normal,” highlighting our collective will and effort in ensuring a healthier and more sustainable planet for the generations to come.

Here are some of the key trends and actions that emerged from the 2020 Global Week to Act for SDGs:

1. Leaving no one behind in the COVID-19 response

In addition to the pandemic claiming the lives of millions of people around the world, its repercussions have led to the growth of inequalities. In order to #RecoverBetter, we need to reduce such inequalities amongst marginalized and vulnerable populations. The slogan, “Leave No One Behind,” has thus become more relevant than ever.

Action for Sustainable Development has been a key supporter of the Global Week to #Act4SDGs since 2018. This year, Action for Sustainable Development partnered with other civil society groups to create a just COVID-19 recovery plan. Together with their partners, this organization is also co-developing a letter with a series of suggested actions for both national and local groups.

350 Fiji volunteers harvest from their urban garden for their new community fridge / 350 Fiji

We owe a debt of gratitude the Global Week to #Act4SDGs to the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) — an incredible network of over 11,000 organizations that fights for poverty eradication and global justice. In 2017, GCAP organized the Global Day of Action with us, which soon became the Global Week to #Act4SDGs! This year, GCAP organized virtual People’s Assemblies in over 25 countries to mobilize COVID-19 recovery planning for marginalized people. The Assemblies advocated for debt relief, universal social protection, a vaccine for all, and much more!

The closure of schools during the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities, leaving many vulnerable children unable to access #QualityEducation. The Dream Again Foundation Ghana’s mission is to empower youth with down syndrome and autism through meaningful education. This NGO stepped up to the challenges accompanying COVID-19 by providing valuable IT skills and digital education to children in remote areas of Ghana. To keep communities safe and children in school, the Almajiri School in Kaduna, Nigeria has implemented a personal hygiene action plan as a part of their new curriculum.

Vulnerable children being moved out of schools and into situations involving child labour has been another devastating consequence of the pandemic. The Rotaract Club Malang Kutaraja raised awareness about the dangers of child labour. The triangular relationship between child labour, poverty, and illiteracy is one we must break!

2. Empowerment through the Development of Digital Skills

As societies are increasingly dependent on online forms of interaction in these uncertain times, organizations have stepped up to empower individuals and communities to enhance their digital skills. The Namibia University of Science and Technology’s Media and Communication Society collaborated with the New York Film Academy to host virtual documentary-making workshops for students interested in mass media.

Torre Barrina, a social innovation hub, teamed up with Garage Stories to share how innovation and XR technologies can help us meet the SDGs at the online L’H-XR Festival. Creative and technologically driven, these two organizations use disruptive thinking and collective intelligence to influence social impact.

Have you ever heard of open source (OS)? OS is publicly accessible code — anyone can see, modify, and share it. Open Hack organizes collaborative coding hackathons to address the world’s most pressing societal and humanitarian challenges. In support of the Global Week to #Act4SDGs, Open Hack hosted a panel discussion on how the open source movement can help achieve our Global Goals, and what current projects are helping us get there.

3. Cleanup Campaigns

This year’s Global Week to Act for SDGs witnessed cleanup actions taking place all around the world. The largest cleanup was organized by World Cleanup Day, which occurred on 19 September and mobilized more than 11 million individuals in 164 countries to tackle our planet’s mismanaged waste problem. To avoid mass gatherings, World Cleanup Day focused their mobilization on individual cleanups and digital cleanups, which are geared towards reducing the carbon footprint of the internet and our systems supporting it, which accounts for approximately 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions.

World Cleanup Day — Bhutan
JCI Syria participating in World Cleanup Day
Vamos a Hacerlo Perú participating in World Cleanup Day
The Hejaz Ploggers from Saudi Arabia participating in World Cleanup Day
World Cleanup Day Egypt

Action participants also organized cleanup campaigns on national and municipal scales. The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Barbados joined the Barbados chapter of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network to mobilize a series of beach cleanup actions across the country. Youth protected #LifeOnLand and #LifeBelowWater by collecting trash and recording waste data for research purposes. Guaravito, a proud action participant based in Costa Rica, mobilized community leaders to support cleanups, demonstrations, exhibitions, conferences, innovation labs, art installations, radio shows Twitter chats and more, all to promote the SDGs and be part of building a better future. Additionally, Footprints on the Globe, an organization base out of Australia, encouraged their network to engage with educational materials focused on reducing plastic pollution and protecting life underwater.

4. Protecting our Environment through Sustainable Interventions, Education and Activism

All sectors of society came together this year to highlight how they have been protecting our planet, while adapting their mobilization strategies in response to COVID-19. A popular action carried out this year by individuals was tree planting. The National Association for Sustainable Development of Pakistan has made significant contributions to achieving the SDGs by launching a tree planting drive across the cities of Islamabad, Mardan, and Rahimyar Khan. Over 500 trees were planted in areas affected by deforestation. In a similar action in San Lucas el Grande, Mexico, volunteers at Convenciones Puebla and FotoLife joined forces to plant 50 white cedar trees.

Through the tenets of nature, education, sustainability and transformation, West Coast N.E.S.T., based on Vancouver Island, Canada, explores and promotes experiential, outdoor-based learning. During the Global Week to Act for SDGs, this organization helped locals discover outdoor educational experiences in their region and hosted an SDG photo contest to raise community awareness about the SDGs.

West Coast N.E.S.T.

Greener is Cleaner, a student-led organization based in Seoul, urges stakeholders to establish the necessary environmental policies to adhere to the Paris Agreement and achieve net-zero by 2050. On 25 September, this organization initiated a climate strike to call for sustainable solutions to reduce our carbon footprint.

Greener is Cleaner

5. Harnessing the Power of Creativity and Entrepreneurship

Through the lens of the SDGs, Impact Hub and Accelerate2030 drive entrepreneurial innovation in developing nations. Impact Hub and Accelerate2030 were an incredible supporter of this year’s Global Week to #Act4SDGs– they published a 2020 Global Impact Report and hosted a number of Global Goals Jams and knowledge mobilization events, on topics such as the power of social enterprises, smallholder farming, and the link between entrepreneurship and sustainable health innovation. Impact Hub also fostered a Global Impact Campaign entitled “The New Economy Starts Here,” to share the successes and challenges of meeting the SDGs, and support impact entrepreneurship.

The Museum Pedagogical Centre, Munich (MPZ) partnered with the Bavarian Museum Academy to present digital expressions on the meaning of sustainability. They explored the ecological, social and physical elements of the term, and offered creative, unique activities to make sustainability fun and engaging for children. As part of their Upcycling! Fashion — Art — Design — Music initiative, guests are encouraged to share their interpretations through the hashtag #MPZupcycling.

To kick off the Global Week, Fundación VÁYALO in Venezuela hosted an online SDG photography contest. People from all around the world were able to view and vote for their favorite submissions through the organization’s Instagram page. The photo seen below is entitled “Wrapped in Consequences,” seeking to highlight the vast amount of garbage and pollution we create.

Art called “Wrapped in Consequences”
Art called “The world is ending”

The Academy of Youth Diplomacy in Russia encouraged people in the Republic of Tatarstan to share how they make the region sustainable. Using the hashtag #Sustainabletatarstan, community members shared their ideas, videos and photos.

The Academy of Youth Diplomacy
The Academy of Youth Diplomacy

On 21 September, the International Day of Peace, Peace One Day hosted a virtual event which included creative performances and inspirational panels to highlight and accelerate progress towards #SDG16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

6. Spotlight on Gender

One of the largest mobilizing partners this year was MYWorld México, which mobilized over 10 million individuals across the country. Among their 664 actions, MYWorld México published an infographic on the intersectional effects of the pandemic on the LGBTIQ community. In another action initiated by this organization, Lucía Alvarez, director of Instituto Nogalense de las Mujeres, made a tour of the Benito Juárez neighborhood to educate women about their rights and the importance of #GenderEquality. MYWorld Mexico also encouraged governments to reimagine education and accelerate change in teaching and learning. The group urged leaders to suppress the transmission of the virus, carefully plan school reopenings, protect the financing of education, and build equitable education systems for both boys and girls.

Sayed Raza Hussain Zaidi is an outspoken supporter of the Global Week to #Act4SDGs. In addition to distributing free masks and sanitizer to marginalized people in their region, they host an anonymous queer support group in Lucknow, India to ensure no one is left behind.

Sayed Raza Hussain Zaidi
Sayed Raza Hussain Zaidi

7. Youth-led Initiatives

The World Organization of the Scout Movement created a youth-based National COVID-19 Response Taskforce. The scouts organized three blood donation drives, raised awareness about COVID-19 prevention, supplied tuition for children, donated food to vulnerable community members, and enforced stay at home orders. But that’s not all — the Scouts committed to 4 billion hours of youth-led community service for the SDGs by 2030.

World Organization of the Scout Movement in Ethiopia

During the Global Week to Act for SDGs, The Millennials Movement launched their annual Agenda 2030 Citizen Ambassadors program — a strategy that mobilizes LAC youth to lead, participate and implement the Global Goals. They launched dialogues, conferences, workshops and promoted digital activism.

Economic progress must be combined with social justice and environmental protection. To make this possible, Zukunfts Region Zwickau launched a youth sustainability contest on behalf of the European Sustainable Development Week. They are offering a total of €20,000 to young people with the most courageous, practical or contagious sustainability ideas for the Leader region of Germany.

Despite the 2020 Global Week to #Act4SDGs coming to an end, the inspiring actions continue to build the momentum needed for our planet to #RecoverBetter and accelerate progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In the words of SDG Advocate, Forest Whitaker, “It’s a myth that every one of us doesn’t have the power to change the world dramatically and quickly.” We would like to thank all convening partners and action participants for showing the world that we do indeed have the power to drive positive change for the SDGs, while inspiring others to do the same.

We conclude our Global Week recap with a powerful film, “Nations United,” which tells the story of the world as it is, as it was, and as it could be. Directed by Richard Curtis and produced by the United Nations, the film focuses on the solutions and action we need to tackle poverty, inequality, injustice and climate change. Let’s continue to #TurnItAround #ForPeopleAndPlanet and a just, green, sustainable recovery for all!



UN SDG Action Campaign

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