Breaking new ground at the UN: Sustainable development in practice

Last year, 8 Macquarie students had the opportunity to participate in a short term exchange program in New York City that focused primarily on the inner workings of the United Nations (UN). The United Nations Summer Study Program was a three-week intensive course where we tackled global issues through the lens of UN policy and with the advice of expert speakers from Rutgers University, NGOs, UN agencies and professional industry.

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Luke, Denise and Perri with the 2016 United Nations Summer Program cohort, United Nations Headquarters, New York, 2016

One of the highlights of the program involved, not only studying the inner workings of the UN, but attending briefings and conferences at the UN headquarters in New York as representatives of the United States Human Rights Network. As a result, we were able to be granted a special status and attend the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, which focused on the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the mantra of ‘no one will be left behind’. Having the opportunity to be able to represent the United States Human Rights Network allowed us to receive an understanding of the functions and ideals of the UN in practice and go behind the scenes at the UN headquarters as the forum was underway. We were able to observe voluntary contributions by nation states surrounding the implementation of the SDGs, attend conferences on issues of indigenous affairs, human rights and development, and witness passionate debates on the role of public-private partnerships within the UN and the critical part funding plays in the practical implementation of human rights, peace and security.

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Perri and Denise at the United Nations headquarters, New York, 2016

The program chose to focus on the SDGs, as the goals are considered revolutionary new ground for the UN. The SDGs – unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) before them – task all nations with the responsibility to work towards the prescribed goals by 2030. The significance of this is that historically less developed nations have been placed under the spotlight to manage situations of poverty, corruption and inadequate health systems while the role of developed nations has been that of a donor. Now, the SDGs place developed nations under the same scrutiny as less developed nations. We found being able to witness the voluntary reviews of nations, such as France, Germany, Switzerland and Norway, was incredibly refreshing and insightful. For this reason, the adoption of the phrase ‘leave no one behind’ is revolutionary because it highlights an understanding of the intersectionality and trans-boundary nature of the world’s affairs.

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The Manhattan skyline from Roosevelt Island, New York, 2016

In conjunction with this opportunity to attend the HLPF, we were also able to meet with a variety of individuals who have worked directly with the UN. One of the highlights of these meetings was the opportunity to attend the Australian Permanent Mission to the UN, and meet with the Australian Ambassador, Gillian Bird. Through this unique opportunity we were able to discuss Australia’s approach to the SDGs and the nation’s perspective on the challenges in achieving Agenda 2030. Ambassador Bird also provided us with a unique perspective on the role that individual nations play in the UN on a day to day basis.

Ambassador Bird represents a small selection of the wide range of speakers that discussed a diversity of issues that the UN engages with. They provided us insights into how the UN operates as well as their respective career paths, and how we could reach similar goals.

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Luke and Perri at New York City Yankees vs San Francisco Giants game, Yankee Stadium, New York, 2016

This United Nations Summer Study Program provided us with a greater perspective of global issues, and equipped us with the ability to become more informed citizens. One significant concept that we learnt from this program concerns the intersectionality of global issues and the necessity of international participation in efforts to enact global action. We learnt that through multilateralism and notions of peace and security, human rights and development may be achieved effectively.


Written by GLP students Perri, Luke and Denise, all studying a Bachelor of Laws with a Bachelor of Arts. Perri is majoring in Criminology, Luke in Politics and Denise in Psychology. 

The United Nations Summer Study Program is one of many short term exchange programs offered by Macquarie. If you don’t have a full semester to spend overseas but would still like the experience of studying abroad, consider one of these programs. Programs vary from degree specific to language study.

If you are thinking of studying abroad, Perri, Luke and Denise has some top tips:

  1. Plan early. It’s a good idea to plan ahead before applying for a short term exchange – try looking at the Macquarie Exchange website and see which programs interest you and how much they cost so you can plan accordingly. Also watch out for their application deadlines! 
  2. Some programs do not attract credit for your degree. Make sure you check with an academic advisor or talk to Macquarie Exchange to see whether you can receive credit for your exchange.
  3. Take a deep breath and go for it! Going on exchange is full of exciting, thrilling and terrifying experiences that you will never be able to experience without throwing yourself into the deep end – plan, apply, and go! 

If you are interested in applying for the 2017 United Nations Summer Study Program, visit the Macquarie short term exchange page for more information and eligibility criteria.

The United Nations Summer Study Program is applicable for GLP credit and can be claimed for undergraduate students as an overseas short course, GL X06 or GL X07, depending on if the program is credited to your degree and for postgraduate students as your Cross Cultural Practicum. 

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