UN Conference Day 1: My thoughts on community conversation and creating a more civil, sustainable society

Today was an exciting day for Salt Lake City!

Today we opened our doors to the world, hosting the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference.IMG_3656

This is an historic opportunity for Salt Lake City. This conference has never been held on U.S. soil and I am so honored to have the UN and all of its global partners here in our home.

The three-day event is centered around a conversation about our changing world and the need to build sustainable communities that leave no one behind.

That includes addressing some big challenges, like the growth of urban communities, access to clean water and education, ending poverty and the impacts of climate change, which daily are forcing changes on the  planet that have very real consequences no matter where we each make our homes.

In our local communities and around the globe, we need to act diligently, efficiently, effectively and quickly if we are going to meet the challenges we face. We have started much of that work in Salt Lake City and I believe that is one of the reasons the UN wanted to gather here.IMG_4061

This conference is also historic in that it has drawn a record number of participants — over 5,000 — from 138 countries, along with representatives from nearly every state in the nation. There are also non-governmental organizations (NGOs), charitable groups, government representatives, universities and youth organizations here — each bringing their inspiration and ideas to the conversation in dozens of thematic session and workshops. I am learning so much!

Even just walking through the halls of the Salt Palace convention center is thrilling.  The diversity and expressions of cultural heritage are rich and wonderful. The faces here tell the story of the world and at the same time are connecting us as one community with a common goal.

One of the most inspirational things about the Civil Society Conference is the many young people who are here from every corner of the world. Our future depends on them and I am so impressed by their ideas and determination. These next generations are wired for the conversation we are having.

They are committed to saving our planet. Inclusion is in their DNA and they are eager to get to work. I feel certain they can lead us toward building more sustainable communities.

I have also been gratified to hear from so many UN representatives and conference participants that they have felt warmly welcomed and accepted here in our great state and in Salt Lake City.

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Ali Mustafa one of the UN’s youth representatives said he felt “hugged” by the state as soon as he arrived. Even just one day into the conference, Ali says his experience, has been beautiful and provides a role model for the world.

What has stayed with me throughout this first day, however, are the words of Rami Damadara, Chief of the United Nations Academic Impact Initiative, who was part of a panel discussion about the ways that education can provide a pathway toward inclusivity.

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Rami told the panel and audience that before the conference he had struggled to understand the meaning of the word Utah. He thought the four letters — U, T, A and H — were an acronym for something. Unable to unravel the mystery, Rami said that on his flight to Salt Lake City, he decided to give it a meaning of his own.

Here’s what he decided: Utah should stand for “Unleashed Truth and Hope.”

As I listen to the wisdom and vision of those gathered here, I feel the sentiment is apt.

And I could not agree more.

Mayor Jackie Biskupski and organizers of the 68th UN Civil Society Conference.

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