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UN reforms important to create a sustainable future: Dr Anantha Duraiappah

Youth need to be at the core of decision-making for a more collaborative approach by the UN, said Dr Anantha Kumar Duraiappah in response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s take on UN’s approach in the pandemic

Written by Jayashree Narayanan | Pune | October 28, 2020 6:20:30 pm
International day of kindness, MGIEP, UNESCO MGIEP director, indianexpress.com, indianexpress, 75 years of UN, Second world youth conference on kindness, mahatma gandhi principles, Dr Anantha Kumar Duraiappah,The Gandhian principles of selflessness and non-violence is as essential today as when he first discussed them in early 20th century, says Dr Anantha Duraiappah. (Source: PR Handout)

Focusing on a peaceful and sustainable co-existence, the second World Youth Conference — a two-day event — on kindness, was recently held virtually, in line with various events planned to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the intergovernmental organisation United Nations (UN) this year. Highlighting the power of the youth and harnessing it for “world peace”, the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (UNESCO MGIEP) urged the world to declare a new United Nations International Day of Kindness.

In an email interaction with indianexpress.com, inaugural director UNESCO MGIEP Dr Anantha Kumar Duraiappah, speaks about the role of UN in the wake of PM Modi’s criticism, the need for youth to understand kindness, and the importance of the 75th milestone year.

Excerpts:

How important is the 75th milestone year for the UN?

The United Nations System turning 75 is a milestone for us all. It not only marks for us the impact the UN has created in its member states over the past 75 years, but also serves as an important reminder to the challenges that lie ahead, which need immediate and urgent interventions. There are relevant and important conversations that the younger generation is leading around such issues like climate change, peace, inequalities, and sustainable development. For these issues to be addressed, there is a requirement for a strengthened and more collaborative approach by the UN to put the youth at the core of decision-making.

In the future, we will need a networked multilateralism in which young people, governments, international financial institutions, regional organisations and the UN work together more effectively with stronger institutional links.

Why do you think there is a need for an International Day of Kindness for Humanity, considering that so many days are already dedicated to a lot of such causes but fail to generate the much-needed awareness?

The world is currently grappling with various issues – including the global COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, violent extremism, and xenophobia, amongst other challenges. An emerging key message from many of these problems is the need for understanding the “other” and realising how inter-connected and inter-dependent we all are.

The Gandhian principles of selflessness and non-violence is as essential today as when he first discussed them in early 20th century. Kindness, a selfless and helpful action motivated by the desire to help another person without the expectation of any reward or even an avoidance of punishment in return is actually a natural instinct in humans, which if practiced can help create a society where peace and compassion takes centerstage. We have to look at society as a space that permeates sustainable co-existence.

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Therefore, being individualistic and self-centered will not work especially in a world with an expected population of 9.7 billion by 2050. We must learn to share and to share, a first step is to inculcate the competency of kindness.

The youth who attended the first World Youth Conference on Kindness 2019 in New Delhi, were inspired to set up the Global Youth Alliance for Kindness – which is a group of young changemakers dedicated to kindness – who have also drafted a declaration this time, calling upon governments to declare a day of kindness. The institutionalising of such a day will serve as a reminder and celebrate the importance of kindness in today’s world.

Why is the International Day of Kindness going to be different? The term kindness invokes action. Imagine, 1.8 billion youth over a period of 365 days producing a potential of 657 billion acts of kindness. Imagine a social media platform that collects these acts on a daily basis and reports these acts. These can act as catalysers and just like the “Broken Windows” theory, these can mobilise more acts as kindness. As we know from science, these are self-reinforcing as they release endorphins and oxytocin – the feel-good neurotransmitters. It will also be a day led by the youth as opposed to being driven by senior policymakers/UN officials.

UNESCO MGIEP and Life University (USA) have collaborated to bring the world’s youth (18-34 year olds) to enroll for Compassionate Integrity Training (CIT) – an online course which cultivates skills such as empathy, mindfulness, and compassion, so “youth are well-equipped to deal with the day-to-day issues that they face as well as contribute to developing more peaceful and sustainable societies”. What prompted such an initiative?

The global COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense disruption of our routine lives as well as adding to our stress and anxiety with fears of a looming economic crisis, uncertainty, and the mental pressures of being confined to a closed environment. Maintaining physical and most importantly mental well-being during these difficult times has become paramount. The importance of social and emotional learning (SEL) at such times cannot be stressed upon enough. Partaking in basic SEL activities can help us recognise and appreciate qualities that are innate in human nature – such as empathy, compassion, attention, emotion regulation and mindfulness.

So far, over 4,000 learners from more than 120 countries have registered for the course – which is live on MGIEP’s indigenously developed learning platform, FramerSpace. MGIEP provides support for learners through a dedicated CIT Community of Practice including live masterclasses and Q&A (question and answer) sessions, and full-featured discussion forums.

How have you been reacting to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reading of UN’s role in the global Covid crisis where he said that “Without comprehensive reforms, UN faces ‘crisis of confidence’”.

The honourable Prime Minister’s address at the United Nations’ General Assembly in September 2020 raised a number of important ideas in the international diplomatic space, including the hopes and aspirations of the UN to generate renewed support for multilateralism whilst also seeking to make global decision-making and governance more inclusive and accountable. During the COVID-19 crisis, it has become even more important that cooperation among nations becomes a reality, in order to unite and fight against the pandemic. The Prime Minister’s address brought a majority of the nations to a common platform who agree to unite for a common goal and who also feel that UN reforms are important to create a sustainable future.

Over the past few years, we have seen the youth leading conversations from the streets to the web – calling upon policymakers and governments to re-look at and rethink their decision making on critical issues such as climate change, human rights, etc for a more sustainable and peaceful future. Through this conference, we brought together young leaders in debates and discussions with policymakers and senior officials to voice their opinions on critical topics such as youth and UN multilateralism and youth and kindness for the SDGs.

But what kind of reforms are you looking at?

In order to cultivate kindness to affect collective action beyond kin, race, proximity, geography, identity, ideologies etc., it is important to look at education as a means to reform. Thus, education requires a transformation where social and emotional resilience, pro-social attitudes and competencies are present in the curriculum in addition to academic and intellectual skills. Children at a young age should be shown how to foster empathetic tendencies towards their peers. These are the foundational ways to help create non-violent, peaceful, and kinder societies and achieve the SDGs, set out by the United Nations. Only by educating the youth on the essential qualities of kindness, can we presume to envision a world where multilateralism and peace can become a reality.

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