[2021-02-05] Global Forum on Sustainable Development (GEEF) 2021: Special Conversation with UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie

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Source: GEEF

On February 5, Chairman Ban Ki-moon attended the 3rd Global Engagement & Empowerment Forum (GEEF) organized by Yonsei University, where he had a special conversation with Angelina Jolie about the impacts of COVID-19.

Source: GEEF

In response to the worsening inequalities towards women, adolescents and refugees, Chairman Ban stated that in 2021 there must be a sustainable response from international communities and the UN for adolescents suffering from mental illnesses caused by COVID-19. “We must do more to engage and empower the youth as they are the enablers to achieve the global goals and forge a brighter world for all.” He said.

Source: GEEF

Jolie’s stance on refugee protection was also highlighted, as she stated that refugees should not be considered a burden. The Q&A session was ended with questions about Jolie’s biggest difficulties in carrying out her activities as a UNHCR envoy.

Source: GEEF

Lastly, Chairman Ban Ki-moon concluded the special conversation stating that “the challenges before us may be vast, but by elevating political will and working together, we can create the future we want; one driven by inclusion, empowerment, and sustainability for all people and our planet.” He concluded.

If you would like further information, please visit the GEEF official website

Below is the full script of Chairman Ban Ki-moon’s special conversation with Ms. Jolie.

Ms. Angelina Jolie, UNHCR Special Envoy,

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is my great honor to welcome you to today’s Special Conversation on “Leaving no one behind in a Post-Pandemic World” as part of the Third Global Engagement and Empowerment Forum on Sustainable Development.


I am confident that GEEF 21 can assist ongoing efforts to re-imagine the global community, expand partnership, and elevate solidarity in the post-COVID-19 era.


To achieve this, however, it is essential that we fulfil our promises to the world’s refugees, children, and women who have too often been marginalized in the international response to COVID-19.


Under this backdrop, it is my great honour to introduce my distinguished co-panelist today. Ms. Angelina Jolie is one of the world’s foremost humanitarian champions and unwavering advocates for the rights and empowerment of refugees, young people, and women.


Since 2012, she has served with distinction as the Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees where she focuses on mass displacements and their precipitating crises.


Ms. Jolie undertakes critical field missions around the globe, amplifying the voices and helping to expand the rights of the world’s nearly 80 million forcibly displaced people. Her work as Special Envoy has taken her to Iraq, Bangladesh, Colombia, Kenya, Jordan, Greece, Peru, and beyond. Prior to her time as Special Envoy, she worked with UNHCR as a Goodwill Ambassador.


In addition to her essential work on behalf of displaced persons for the UN, Ms. Jolie is also a fierce advocate for the rights of women and young people everywhere.


A committed humanist and environmentalist; she also serves as a contributing editor for Time Magazine where she writes passionately about refugees, gender empowerment, education, and the ongoing pandemic. In addition, Ms. Jolie is a celebrated Academy Award-winning actress and acclaimed director.


A true global force for good, I’m incredibly excited to learn from her insights today on how we can elevate our concrete actions to leave no one behind in a post-pandemic world.


Ms. Jolie, thank you so much for joining me today on the occasion of this exciting GEEF 2021 Special Conversation.


Q1. 2020 was a difficult year and really elucidated not only the converging crises and pressing challenges that we collectively face, but also our interconnected nature.


Over the last 12 months now, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended our entire world. Our lives, work, and relationships are vastly different than before. At the same time, the climate crisis has worsened and conflict continued, both of which exacerbate displacement.


Technological advancement is occurring at a dizzying pace and helping us stay connected through social media and video conferencing technology such as this.


However, such technology has also contributed to misinformation, amplified xenophobia and sexism, and eroded trust in democratic institutions in many societies.


Inequality, both between and within nations, was already one of the leading global crises prior to the pandemic. Now, in our pandemic and post-pandemic world, we have seen an unprecedented magnification of such inequalities.


Your work for UNHCR and your advocacy for the rights of women and children has done so much to shed light on the unique struggles that marginalized communities face.


As UN Secretary-General, I worked tirelessly to champion these same communities through my work, and I’m deeply concerned about the fact that their lives have been acutely impacted since the pandemic hit. Indeed.


  1. Pre-existing inequalities have exacerbated due to COVID-19, especially for women, youth, and refugees. How has it exacerbated and what are viable solutions that can be done in the year of 2021 specifically?


Q2. With just under ten years left until their 2030 target date, achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals was always going to be a serious challenge.


The SDGs continue to represent one of multilateralism’s crowning achievements, as well as one of my proudest personal achievements during my tenure at the UN.


But conflict, inequality, climate change, and now, especially, COVID-19, have all hindered progress on hitting these goals to ensure that no one is left behind.


At the same time, the pandemic has demonstrated just how important it is for all people and our planet to achieve these benchmarks and realize sustainable development. The 17 SDGs are all interconnected, and making concrete progress on goals such as health, education, and hunger are now especially vital.


Leading up to the world’s countries agreeing to the SDGs in 2015, I knew that prioritizing mental health, particularly, could enable cross-cutting progress on so many of the other goals beyond SDG 3, “Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all.”


The SDGs highlight mental health as a priority for global development, but we must elevate our efforts and allocate more resources to this essential yet often overlooked sphere. Everyone is entitled to a life of dignity.


Indeed, mental health programs empower local communities, reduce stigma, make sound economic sense, and crucially bridge treatment gaps. At the same time, …


  1. Mental health is a serious yet often neglected topic, especially for youth and refugees. How did COVID-19 worsen mental health and what is being done?


Q3. Ms. Jolie, the humanitarian missions that you take for UNHCR and your advocacy on behalf of displaced people have always been quite meaningful for me.


As a young boy, I was also a displaced person during the Korean War, and this experience continues to haunt me to this day. I remember the hunger pains in my stomach, the smell of munitions, and the sounds of conflict.


I should have been playing with friends and going to school, but instead I was fearful for my family’s survival in one of the most destructive wars of the last century.


For this reason, I have always seen a bit of myself in those displaced by conflict and humanitarian crises all around the world; especially young people such as the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and the Syrian refugees in Iraq and Jordan that you have so memorably met with on some of your recent missions abroad.


In a recently-published piece for the Financial Times, you wrote that, “We should seize this moment to rethink our approach to humanitarian aid and development, from the bottom up: placing displaced people at the centre of our response, and putting more power in the hands of the people most affected.”


These words particularly resonated with me as a formerly-displaced young person. I think they also really convey not only your commitment to improving the lives of refugees and internally displaced people, but also your gift for coupling messages of hope with specific policy recommendations. Ms. Jolie, in this regard …


3.What are some specific actions that should be taken for youth and refugees, and important discussion points in the year of 2021? Do you have any message you want to send out to the world?


Q3.1 Thank you. As a follow-up, let’s stay on the topic of youth. During my time as UN Secretary-General, I understood that young people are absolutely essential to solving so many of the world’s biggest challenges.


This includes achieving sustainable development, tackling climate change, fighting pandemics, securing gender equality, and building peace and resolving conflicts.


So, I strongly feel that we must do more to engage and empower the youth as they are the enablers to achieve the global goals and forge a brighter world for all.


For these reasons, I’ve been trying to help elevate global citizenship and empower young people in recent years through my work with the Institute of Global Engagement and Empowerment at Yonsei University, as well as with the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens and the Ban Ki-moon Foundation for a Better Future.

Unfortunately, however, the current outlook for young people as a result of the pandemic is rather troubling.


According to UNICEF, the number of children without access to education and health services globally will increase from 46 to 56 percent in the post-COVID world. 370 million children may miss school meals. And the digital divide is growing, with at least 31 percent of schoolchildren worldwide not reached by remote learning.


Considering such realities, and based on your own humanitarian work, how do you think we can empower the youth to help meet today’s challenges, specifically…


3.1. What are the roles of the youth to address inequalities caused or worsened by COVID-19 (health, education, housing, and employment, for example)? What can the youth do?


Q4. I’ve always been a big proponent of elevated cooperation and expanded partnerships to holistically address critical development and humanitarian issues.


As the pandemic is pushing more economies into recessions and the UN budget, already overstretched, is threatened with additional cuts, broadened and innovative partnerships are now more necessary than ever.


Due to the time constraint, I now ask you two brief questions which are rather personal. Among diplomats and humanitarian professionals, we often hear the term “burden-sharing” when discussing refugees. …


  1. [personal question] In numerous interviews, you have emphasized the resilience of refugees and that they should not be seen as a burden. Could you explain more about this with an example?


Q5. Thank you. To follow-up, is it difficult to get these types of key messages through to international stakeholders, and …


  1. [personal question] What is the biggest challenge in carrying out UNHCR Special Envoy work?




Thank you for insightful view. It seems as if we are now running out of time, so I want to show my deep appreciation to Ms. Angelina Jolie for joining me for this active and enlightening GEEF 21 Special Conversation on “Leaving no one behind in a Post-Pandemic World.”


I believe that the insights she has shared today have truly enriched this year’s GEEF, which is being held entirely online under the guiding theme of the “3Ps Beyond Security: Peace, Prosperity, and Partnership.”


I take this opportunity to thank all of the viewers who have tuned in from all around the world. I also commend the vision and leadership of Yonsei University for synergizing its academic resources and commitment to global engagement and empowerment through this world-class Forum.


Ms. Angelina Jolie, UNHCR Special Envoy,

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,


Today’s conversation focused on some of the most pressing challenges that marginalized groups currently, and will continue to face, in the post-pandemic world.


However, despite these challenges, I do believe we also have a generational opportunity to illuminate the path towards a more peaceful, sustainable, and inclusive world; one that is underpinned with global cooperation, partnership, and solidarity.


And we all have a role to play in this process. Leaders must do more to resolve the longstanding conflicts that cause forcible displacement and build sustainable peace. Wealthier nations should expand resettlement efforts to more equitably boost the hosting share of the world’s 80 million forcibly displaced people.


And at the individual level, we can all become stronger advocates for refugees and the displaced in our daily lives. We can raise awareness of their unique struggles; speak out against xenophobia and racism in our societies; and, if we are able to, donate to UNHCR and their essential local partners. We are all global citizens.


The bottom line is that without prioritizing refugees and displaced people during ongoing COVID-19 recoveries, we won’t succeed in ensuring that no one is left behind.


The challenges before us may be vast, but by elevating political will and working together, we can create the future we want; one driven by inclusion, empowerment, and sustainability for all people and our planet.


My gratitude once again goes to Ms. Jolie for her timely and inspiring words; and I thank you all for your attention and active efforts to forge a better world for all.