Monday, 8 June 2015

ONE and G7 summits in Munich

It's been about three years since I first heard about ONE, an international campaigning and advocacy organisation of more than 6 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. If you have not heard of ONE, you may remember the 'Make Poverty History' campaign in 2005 that ONE was involved in organising. Last autumn I was accepted to ONE's Youth Ambassador Programme, which brings together 250 young campaigners from 7 countries (UK, Ireland, Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, and Italy) to lobby decision makers, work with the media to raise the profile of ONE's campaigns and encourage the public to sign petitions through online activity and local events.  Ithe run up to the UK general election ONE's 'Just Say Yes' pledge was central to Youth Ambassador (YA) campaigning. This involved asking our local prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) to sign a pledge promising to ensure that most UK aid goes to the poorest countries and empowers women. I asked PPCs in both Reading and Chester. Reading's Rob White and Chester's Bob Thompson and Chris Matheson agreed to sign. Chris Matheson is now Member of Parliament (MP) for Chester.

Bob Thompson

Chris Matheson

Last Thursday I headed down to Westminster with other YAs to a 'Lobby Day' in parliament. There we spoke to our MPs about international development issues and the G7 summit which has just occurred in Munich in Germany. The G7 summit is an annual meeting of a group of world leaders from seven powerful countries to discuss issues such as global economic governance, international security and energy policyAfterwards we met Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening at the Department for International Development.

Secretary of State for International Development
Justine Greening

In the afternoon we all set off to Munich for the ONE summit to make our voices heard by world leaders attending the G7, meet our fellow YAs and activists from other parts of the world and learn about future campaigns. We arrived in Munich in the evening and all went to a restaurant together. Understandably it was rather chaotic because there were so many of us!

On Friday we did a 'More than hot air' demonstration at Odeonsplatz. This involved inflating large balloons with the faces of each G7 leader on them because we were asking them to produce more than hot air (empty, exaggerated talk). The demonstration caught the attention of the media and has appeared in the news across the world, including the Daily Mail, Yahoo and the Guardian.

In the afternoon each country presented their recent achievements and we met other activists from the US, Canada and Japan. We learnt about the history of G7 summits, ONE's Poverty is Sexist campaign and (RED), a brand which encourages companies to sell products that raise money to support programmes combating AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. I think this is a good initiative, as we cannot always rely on the donation of money and resources to help poor countries. Companies that operate in poor countries have the potential to help them because they provide jobs and improve their economies. However, I do not believe that helping poor countries should always be associated with excessive consumption as that is often the source of the problem. Companies often provide bad working conditions, extremely low pay and destroy the environments in which they work. I believe that more laws should be introduced to prevent companies from exploiting the poor. As they are profit-orientated, they cannot all be expected to voluntarily respect the rights of vulnerable poor people.

On Saturday we assembled in Marienplatz wearing masks of the G7 leaders and holding balloons, flags of the G7 countries and banners in the G7 languages. We then distributed leaflets and spoke to the people in the square, inviting them to the United Against Poverty concert later that afternoon.

The United Against Poverty concert involved various speakers and celebrities including Usher, Afrojack and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia. Lots of charities had organised stalls and a Ben & Jerry's van giving out free ice cream, which was an added bonus!

Yesterday we learnt about the importance of finance and data in helping the poor, as money is often lost due to corruption and many people are unregistered so therefore do not officially exist. We also learnt about Project Everyone, which increases awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals, a series of targets to end extreme poverty and tackle climate change by 2030We were then organised into groups to brainstorm ideas for these campaigns. Finally we took some group photos and said our goodbyes before parting ways.

Using our voices can be scary sometimes and there will always be people who will try to knock us down. Some people think posting online is egocentric and we only do it to make ourselves look good. Whilst that is often the case, it is not the reason why I write blogs and share things on social media, at least not consciously. I'm sure anybody who takes the time to get to know me realises that. I tend to share more things related to awareness raising and campaigning than my personal life because I believe my personal life is often insignificant in comparison to world issues. I cannot recall sharing anything related to the awards I have won for my volunteering. I share things because I think the media is a invaluable tool for educating people about issues such as poverty, particularly as they are often overlooked and insufficient in the school curriculum. Nowadays a campaign will not get much attention until it is shared in the media. I understand people's scepticism as it is not always easy to see the direct impact that campaigning has on those suffering from poverty. However, the more people who sign petitions, take action and join movements, the more decision makers notice them and consider their views. Personally I believe it is very important to hold decision makers accountable because they are supposed to represent us. Corruption is less likely if we protest against it than if we remain apathetic and ignorant to what's happening in the world around us.

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