News / Meet Alumna Aqeelah, Delegate to UN & SDG Summit

Meet Alumna Aqeelah, Delegate to UN & SDG Summit


F&BF Communications

19 / 10 / 16

ParliaMentors Alumna Aqeelah Malek attended a global summit addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals

As an Active Citizen with the British Council I was given the fantastic opportunity to attend a global summit addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) with World Merit in New York. I was excited to be working on the second SDG; Zero hunger, which had been one of my long term aims from the start of my degree in Nutrition at the University of Nottingham.

The summit bought together young change-makers from across the world, all interested in and already working on social action projects within their own communities. The range of participants at the summit was remarkable. The most valuable voices were of those who lived in developing countries and exp
erienced some of the issues being discussed first hand. These participants often had an understanding of the infrastructures and policies on the ground which would provide our discussions with the relevant context and compassionate perspectives.

Empowering people

However a common theme which came across in many of theAqeelah at the UN discussions throughout the summit was the need to elaborate and amplify the
voices of these people coming from a familiarity of these relevant situations. These were the people who understood what would work and what wouldn’t in addressing some of the fundamental issues at the very core. The key here (in my eyes) was not to liberate those on the ground, but to enable change through their own devices, to empower them by providing knowledge and resources, yet giving them space to their own independence.

What I learnt about development

The experience as a whole was able to teach me so much and was unlike anything that could be learnt in a classroom. People are the most valuable asset to any situation, and so listening to stories and perspectives of peoples’ experiences was the most impactful part of this journey. I have learnt that development is not something a developed nation can impose, and for that development must be defined. To each nation (and individual for that matter) development is expressed as something different. One person’s definition of development will never be the same as anothers. 

Initially I began thinking that the solution to ending world hunger was to focus on long term solutions. Sustainable agriculture was surely the way forward, focussing on heat resistant crops and hitting one of the absolute core issues; climate change. This perspective was easy to take coming from a developed country, where we often do not see the real extent of hunger and malnourishment on the ground.

In my time at Merit360, I met two remarkable individuals. Yug and Anuj from India shared a story which surely put things into perspective. Whilst enjoying some ice cream on a quiet evening out, the boys were approached by some unclothed street-children, who in their distress and hunger asked for (not even the entire ice cream) but just the end of the cones. This sheer desperation to eat anything (even though it would be insignificant in providing energy or expelling hunger) exhibited the true extent of the problem.

Yug and Anuj had started a fantastic initiative in India where they would utilise excess food in restaurants as a means to feed hungry people. The initiative addressed both food waste and shortage, and was a model which could be easily implemented in other regions due to its simple yet effective concept.

Coming from a country where we do not see this extent of hunger (albeit there are many other concerns) it would be ignorant to try to deal with the secondary issues before addressing the primary issues where people simply do not have food.

The best approach would be a mixture of the two; addressing hunger on the ground now, whilst also investing in long term solutions to the global food crisis. 

How my experience as a ParliaMentor aided my journey

aqeelah-world-merit-individualAs one of the 360 young leaders from across the world, I couldn’t express how much I was able to appreciate the different cultures that had come together. At times there were difficult encounters within the group, this was most likely due to working across cultures and coming from such diverse values. However by the end of the process we had gathered a mutual respect for each other as both professionals and as friends. Facilitation during discussions was crucial to the development of the group, and the training ParliaMentors had provided me with on mediation and team building proved exceptionally useful during this process. It was central to understanding different viewpoints and the rich experiences delegates had come from, and how we could best utilise this for the benefit of our projects.

Many were also interested in my experience as a ParliaMentor and my work within interfaith relations. I was also asked many times by many curious minds about my faith as a Muslim. Many of these people had never before met anyone so open to talking about their faith, and I can honestly say that over a cup of tea we were able to form friendships that could last a lifetime. Kindness and compassion were exhibited throughout, and the cohort as a whole had this understanding that we were one humanity. One humanity here to work on making the world a safer and kinder place to live in. 

It was overwhelmingly refreshing to be amongst so many like minded people from such an incredible diverse background. Our desire to work across the 17 SDG’s was testament to our passion for the issues at hand alongside our common concern for future generations.

‘We Are the First Generation that Can End Poverty, the Last that Can End Climate Change’, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

The issues at hand are not going away, and our best hope is for the next generation of leaders to be open to each others views. The last thing we want is a repeat of the millennium development goals, where we had a half hearted attempt to address the problems. We need to pull together and view each other as equals if we are to make a difference before its too late. We have a set target of 2030, can we reach this?  


Hear more from Aqeelah, continue this conversation, and start new ones at the UK Interfaith Summit on 17 November 2016, 15.30 – 21.30, Space Studios, 129-131 Mare Street, Hackney E8 3RH

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