UN Commission for Social Development (CSoCD62)

At the start of the year, excitement was building for the UN Commission for Social Development (CSocD). CSocD is an annual gathering that takes place at the UN Headquarters in New York and brings country representatives and civil society members together to discuss social issues, including poverty eradication and the implementation of social policies globally. This year’s event was the 62nd gathering, and it looked like a great theme with interesting sessions. Several members of the Sisters of Charity Federation NGO Liaisons’ group would be there, along with Jimmy Walters, the NGO Representative. As we have done in previous years, I planned to attend CSocD62 in person the first week of February, along with Joanne Tompkins from our Martha Justice Ministry Core Group. However, February travel means you never know what you will get, and we got the biggest storm in years! So, we ended up stormed in for four days at the airport hotel, waiting for safe conditions to travel home. We did manage to join what we could online, so all was not lost.

NGO Committee Orientation

On Sunday, February 4, ahead of CSoCD, we joined a helpful NGO Committee Orientation session for civil society participants that included a panel of officials and experts who outlined the background and context of this year’s gathering. They raised concerns about progress on implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with none currently on track to be achieved by 2030. They also reiterated the importance of the voice of civil society in pushing forward strong social policy recommendations and holding countries accountable for the commitments they have made.

Opening Session of CSocD62

The next day, the Opening Session of CSocD62 had a panel of officials from UN bodies speaking to how we make progress on social development globally, including making investments in peace, bridging the digital divide, equitable and inclusive economic growth, and addressing structural barriers in ways that are socially just. It was surprising to see that Canada’s Ambassador to the UN, Bob Rae, was one of the panelists, attending in his role as Vice-President of the UN Economic and Social Council.

The NGO Committee President, Jean Quinn, also spoke at the Opening Session. It is quite remarkable to have a civil society representative as part of this panel of officials – a testament to the hard-won achievements of those pushing for a strong civil society voice at these events. It was an opportunity to highlight the priorities of civil society, such as recognition of intersecting factors in social development, new approaches to social policies, inclusion of people with lived experience in the design of social policies and including the voices and perspectives of youth. These priorities and others were part of the Civil Society Declaration that was signed by over 1000 individuals and organizations, including Martha Justice Ministry, and submitted to the CSocD Bureau at the start of the event.

The rest of the week involved a series of High-Level sessions with country representatives, side-events on issue areas, and the Friday day-long Civil Society Forum. At these sessions, we heard about social policies, practices, and priorities in a range of countries to address social challenges.We heard about the growing gap between the rich and poor globally, the frustrating inequities that continue, particularly for women and girls in accessing education and economic independence, and weakened social protections, including a lack of affordable housing, secure work, and income security. We also heard stories about what is working to promote well-being and sustain communities.

The Civil Society Forum

The Civil Society Forum was an important day of panels and networking for civil society members. Although we missed being present, it was great to have the forum livestreamed on UN Web TV (the recording is available for anyone interested: Part 1 and Part 2).

Speakers at the Civil Society Forum touched on themes and priorities raised throughout CSocD62. The panelists in each of the sessions talked about the importance of people-centred sustainable development and about civil society and grassroots organizations as essential partners holding governments accountable. There was a sense of the urgency of the time, both in needing to increase efforts at achieving the SDGs, and in the growing challenges the world is facing. We heard about making the UN more open to civil society, and the important role we will have in the coming World Social Summit, set for 2025. We heard that the world needs large-scale reforms in social policy and in the global financial structure to meet the SDGs. We heard about the need for governments to make social protections a political priority.

I was particularly interested in the call to go “beyond GDP” as a measure of a country's wealth, as it undermines real development, well-being, and the planet.

As always, it is most powerful to hear from those with lived experience of poverty about what supports made a difference for them. Katriona O’Sullivan from Ireland started her story from where she is now – a professor and mother in a happy household, and then shared her story about growing up in deep poverty and not thinking she could achieve much in life. What made a difference for her was having access to free (government supported) therapy, education, childcare, and rental assistance, as well as caring people who believed in her. Supportive policies, practices, and a caring community made all the difference for her.

We also heard from Ananda Lee Tan of the Just Transition Alliance about the importance of centering Indigenous knowledge, wisdom, and values, to go beyond social protections to elevating the voices of those most impacted and looking to real solutions to repair relations with each other and the Earth.

While we didn’t get the full experience of CSoCD62, we were able to get a sense that it was an important gathering that strongly reinforced the importance of civil society engagement on social policy issues. Jimmy has written a bit more about this in his latest UN & You newsletter.

As we approach the 2030 SDG deadline and see that the world is in so much need for people and planet-based policy and action, we will certainly continue to engage in these UN activities as part of a strong civil society voice.

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