Highlights in New York City - HLPF 2019

More than 2,000 participants from governments, civil society, academia and business attended this year's High-Level Political Forum in New York City - July 2019.
Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities for Sustainable Development

Magdalena (Maggie) Kern, Advocacy Coordinator at Light for the World, was our eyes and ears at this year's High-Level Political Forum (HLPF). Maggie shares the highlights of this event with us below:


It was a hectic, hot and humid two weeks in New York at the United Nation's biggest meeting on progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

Light for the World was there to advocate for disability-inclusion, education for learners with disabilities and full participation. 

We acted as a part of the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities which is the official representation of the disability movement at the United Nations. The delegation was the biggest so far, with more than 80 women and men from different parts of the world. We were also involved in the work of the Stakeholder Group on Education and Academia.

 High Level Political Forum 2019


Inclusion – progress, but not fully there yet 

On a positive note, progress on accessibility and inclusion was clearly visible, a good sign that awareness on disability as a human rights issue is increasing. 

At the same time, it was more than frustrating to see how many official sessions and events still lack inclusion and that civil society voices were often undermined by time constraints and rigid procedures.

Particularly shocking was how many side events with a focus on inequality, women with disabilities and participation were organised without any sign language interpretation, live captioning or other accessibility requirements.


sustainability goal 4: Quality Education Icon

In focus: The right to inclusive, equitable and quality education for all 

The major focus of Light for the World in the first week of the HLPF was the education goal of the 2030 Agenda, SDG 4. This sustainability development goal is under review this year. 

“I am so glad how much attention education got at the HLPF – as it should be, with SDG 4 being under review.

What really struck me was the commitment to inclusive education.

So many member states mentioned it and the stakeholder groups reinforced the need to have inclusive education for children with disabilities and to leave no one behind.”

-Nafisa Baboo
Director for Inclusive Education 

Inclusive Classroom

Together with the Global Campaign for Education and RESULTS, we held a full-day event at the Ford Foundation on “Unifying the Playing Field - Local and Global Movements to Advance the Right to Education.” 

We were absolutely delighted with the turn-out – at some point, we had to turn people away because the room was too full and we were not allowed to surpass 150 participants.

Ambassador Jan Kickert, Permanent Representative of Austria to the UN, shared experiences from Austria’s Development Cooperation on disability inclusion.

Light for the World Representatives along with the Permanent Representative to Austria in the High level political forum
From left to right: Magdalena Kern (Advocacy Coordinator)
Ambassador Jan Kickert (Permanent Representative of Austria to the UN)
Nafisa Baboo (Director for Inclusive Education)
Martin Ledolter (Director of Austrian Development Agency)

“I was delighted to witness a formalisation of the collaboration between education and disability stakeholders and that we could repeatedly count on the fantastic and professional support of the Austria Permanent Mission."

Portrait of Sabine Rehblichler
-Sabine Rehbichler
International Director Programmes and Advocacy

An absolute highlight was the keynote speech by Ms. Haben Girma, a disability rights lawyer, activist and writer, which left no one in the room untouched at our side event in the Ford Foundation for Social Justice. She – and her gorgeous service dog Mylo – showed us how inclusive settings benefit everyone. A young woman in the audience who asked Haben a question through her Braille keyboard summed it up perfectly: 

“I am usually apprehensive about asking questions, but this format has been so inclusive. It makes me very happy, I stand in solidarity with you.” 



Haben turned heads and minds and I was just so impressed with her kind and humble demeanour, her humour and active interest in every person she talked to. Her autobiography “Haben” will be released in early August.


Spotlight on Burkina Faso

Among the countries which reported was one of Light for the World's focus countries, Burkina Faso. The government report held an impressive number of references to disability. In the presentation, the Delegation expressed its commitment to support marginalised and at-risk groups. However, girls and boys with disabilities were not mentioned. Still, a long way to go.

I was so happy that my colleague Elie Bagbila, Light for the World, Country Director - Burkina Faso, was able to join us with his vast expertise on eye health, inclusive education and country-specific developments.

I followed the Voluntary National Reporting of my home country and was very pleased by the meeting we had with the Delegation of Burkina Faso: the Minister for Finance and Economy, Minister for Environment and the Permanent Representative.

They ensured us that they would carry our concerns back to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education – on training and placement of ophthalmologists in the country, the national strategy for inclusive education, inclusive budgeting and the upcoming World Report on Vision.

Portrait of  Elie Bagbila
-Elie Bagbila
Country Director Light for the World Burkina Faso 

Reports from the country level: (self-)critical assessment on progress or just info-mercials?

Light for the World’s focus on the second week of the HLPF was the reporting from country-level on the progress of implementing the SDGs. 

This year, 47 governments presented their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). However, with only thirty minutes per country, you can imagine that this time is mostly used to show glossy videos and offer impressive figures on economic growth, social development and climate change action. 

Some states were refreshing in their approach. Iceland, for instance, spoke freely about challenges on gender equality and climate change and gave a big part of its time to youth delegates. 

In summary, attending the High-Level Political Forum is a wonderful way to meet new allies for inclusion or get new people on board the inclusion bus. However, I also saw that there is still a long way to go until the "Leave No One Behind" principle of the SDGs is fully realized.

 Advocacy Coordinator - Magdalena Kern

-Maggie Kern
Advocacy Coordinator