Amizade at the UN for the NGO Committe on Social Development

by Amizade Global Service-Learning

Chad is holding the 2013 Civil Society Declaration in front of "Non-Violence" (also known as "The Knotted Gun"), which is a pro-peace sculpture by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd designed in late 1980 and inspired by the shooting death of his friend, John Lennon. It was given to the UN by the government of Luxembourg in 1988.Last week the NGO Committee on Social Development affirmed its 2013 Civil Society Declaration at its annual Civil Society Forum. Amizade Board of Directors Chair, Chad Martin, was in attendance and took part in the affirming vote of the Declaration in his role as Amizade delegate under our recently granted Special Consultative Status with the United Nations ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council).

The Forum kicked off The Fifty-First Session of the Commission for Social Development, 6-15 February 2013, in New York, which Chad attended in portions. Here was his reaction to the first day:

Even the airport-worthy security at the UN couldn’t damper my enthusiasm for representing Amizade for the first time at this event. (And it helped that I was not required to take my shoes off through the metal detector.)

The priority theme for this year’s Commission is: “Promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration, and full employment and decent work for all.” One of the opening plenary speakers, in light of the theme, noted that “social protection is a prerequisite to empowerment.” The statement caught me off-guard a bit and forced me to reconcile it against Amizade’s mission to empower individuals and communities through worldwide service and learning.

While the notion that social protection* is a prerequisite to empowerment is undoubtedly true for long-term, widespread, and sustainable empowerment, I would argue that in many cases the chicken-and-egg paradox applies. Who are we (even as dozens of NGO delegates at the UN!) to determine that social protection is needed before empowerment can flourish? Maybe a healthy dose of empowerment would lead to lasting social protection, at least in some individuals and communities. Obviously, social protections (shelter, food, etc.) are paramount to “everyone [having] the right to life, liberty and security of person” (Article 3. of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). But empowerment can be a good step in that direction, also.

“Good Defeats Evil,” by Zurab Tsereteli, the Georgian-Russian artist, is a sculpture that combines traditional-style bronze work with a more contemporary material including American and Soviet missiles. The dragon lifts his head with one last attempt at resurgence, but it is clear that this is the dragon's last breath: the dragon's body, which is made of an American Pershing II missile and a Soviet SS20 missile, has been torn apart by St. George's spear.

Amizade empowers children to learn, women to enter into business, and communities to thrive, as a few examples. In addition, Amizade empowers people to engage in an ancient, universal, and cross-cultural social right: friendship.

I write this not to quibble with the plenary speaker’s theory that social rights must precede empowerment, but to reaffirm Amizade’s purpose and point out that the organization has been helping to make the world a better place for nearly 19 years. Ask yourself how you have seen Amizade empower a person or persons. I’m sure it’s a story worth going through airport security for…

*See the Social Protection Floor Initiative, which has been adopted by the International Council on Social Welfare as its major policy agenda.