Hundreds of students from the Kigali Mount Kenya university, attending the 2019 Social God Summit.

Launched 10 years ago by Mashable, United Nations Foundation, 92nd Street Y, and the United Nations Development Programme, the Social Good Summit (SGS) brings together global thought leaders, new media and technology experts, grassroots activists, and influential voices from around the globe for constructive dialogue and on-stage activism.

This year, on the 22nd September, the 10th annual SGS celebrated a decade of activism, during the United Nations General Assembly week. This year’s Summit focused on the catastrophic threat of climate change with the theme “We only have one planet. At SGS 2019, we’ll rally to save it”.

For the 8th time, UNDP hosted the Social Good Summit in Rwanda. The Summit brought together leaders, development partners, young change makers, civil society organizations, academia, and influential voices for constructive dialogue on possible solutions to step up climate action.

The event served as a platform to promote deeper public awareness of climate change effects and focused on finding practical solutions that can help protect the environment. Four questions were at the center of the dialogue including: What are the practical solutions that organisations and individuals can take to help mitigate and adapt to climate change? How can we better engage the youth in fighting climate change? How can we advance research and technology to find long term solutions to this global issue? What is the role of the private sector in protecting the environment and preventing climate change?

Prof. Edwin Odhuno, the Vice- Chancellor of Mount Kanya University commended both the Government of Rwanda and UNDP for prioritizing climate change awareness and action particularly among the young people and academia. He further made a call to the youth to take a leading role in tackling the most important issue of our time, climate change.

While delivering her keynote remarks, the Guest of Honour and Keynote speaker, Hon. Germaine Kamayirese, Minister in Charge of Emergency Management (MINEMA), said that there is a need to join efforts to find practical solutions that can help mitigate and adapt to climate change. The Minister added that economic losses were experienced at different levels: damage to infrastructure, crops and livestock; disruption of economic system in communities where people were displaced; and fiscal transfer to disaster response. She also noted that disaster response often results in a ‘crowding out’ of other functions given that the State’s manpower becomes concentrated more on disaster response than on providing other services and performing routine functions.

The guest of honor, Hon. Germaine Kamayirese delivering her remarks during the 2019 Social Good Summit

In Rwanda we are facing disasters because of climate change. We lost about 209 Billion Rwandan Francs due to disasters in 2018, which is 7.3% of our Government budget. To prevent such climate-related disasters, it requires everyone’s effort, especially the young people. They say youth are the strength of the nation. This is indeed true, and Rwanda is expecting young people to provide solutions to climate change. So please take action,” the Minister said.

Also speaking at the Summit, the UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. Stephen Rodriques, held an open discussion with the students and started off by asking them to consider why, if everything they see in the news (on television, social media, newspapers, etc.) is true and that there is a crisis and that the planet is being destroyed, so little is being done to stop this crisis.

“I think a lot of us will not understand the effects of climate change until it happens to us, as the things that have been happening in the Amazon forest, as Africans here we are not there, we don’t feel the fire we don’t feel the smoke, until the damage unfortunately comes to us we can’t really understand what other people are going through and we cant help in saving the planet and the environment,” responded Esther Ruth, a student at Mount Kanya University.

UNDP Resident Representative addressing the 2019 Social Goos Summit participants

“When we perceive that things are far away, it doesn’t immediately concern us, whether it’s the amazon forest or the glaciers that none of us has ever seen, we don’t feel the immediacy of it. It is not impacting on us. So, when we leave our light switchers on, we don’t see the sea level rising in the Pacific, when we keep our engines running in the cars, we don’t see the potential impact on the farmers, communities and so on,” Mr. Rodriques stated, confirming the statement made by the young student, Esther.

“Another factor is: many of us don’t believe in the power of individual action. People often do not take action because they don’t believe that what they can do as individuals will make much of a difference. But when we take action, we set examples, and slowly other people and institutions begin to follow. I want you to take action today,” Mr. Rodriques said.

The UNDP Resident Representative further underlined that although there are dedicated efforts to address climate change in Rwanda, there are things the public and private sectors, civil society and all of us can do to reduce the threat of climate change and be prepared for its impacts.  By working together and supporting each other, we can ensure Rwanda develops in a way that is sustainable for generations to come.

During the panel discussion, Grace Ineza, the founder and CEO of The Green Fighters, a youth-led environmental Non-Governmental Organization, underscored the point that it was everyone’s responsibility, especially the youth, to find solutions to step up climate action. She also urged young people not to wait for others to take action and not to wait for opportunities to present themselves before they make changes that are needed. Ineza saw ‘individual action’ as the most important ingredient in creating change.

Ms. Grace Ineza rallying her fellow youth to start engaging in protecting the environment for a better tomorrow

 “If you want to see an achievement put yourself in the position that you are acting towards that achievement. Just be in the position to make things happen,” she stated.  

At the end of the two-hour panel discussion the audience was encouraged to leave with a commitment to join the fight against climate change, global warming and biodiversity and to start adopting sustainable production and consumption habits.

The 2019 summit was attended by hundreds of students of the Mount Kenya University (Kigali Campus) together with representatives from government institutions, academia, Un agencies, Development Partners, and civil society organizations. The Summit also involved technology experts, young activists, and investors in green technology. 

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