On Friday, 17 May United Nations Academic Impact hosted a conference entitled Unlocking Your Emotions to Achieve the SDGs in which experts in the fields of emotional intelligence, mindfulness and nonviolent communication explained how these tools could be implemented in education and used to help achieve a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Alison Smale, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, welcomed attendees to UN Headquarters and noted that the foundational document of the Organization, the UN Charter, has as its basis dialogue, collaboration and cooperation to achieve peace, justice, and prosperity.  Bintou Keita, Assistant Secretary-General for Peace Operations in Africa, shared her personal insights from her vast experience in peacekeeping operations, where she has learned that one must listen and create space for people to express their emotions as keys to ensure no one feels they are being excluded, marginalized, discriminated or devaluated.  

The conference looked at the many intersections between the skills emotional intelligence can provide and how these can be employed to reach common goals such as the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.  Daniel Goleman, author of the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence, provided audience members with an overview of what emotional intelligence means, its benefits and how people can cultivate it in their own lives.  He also noted that emotional intelligence skills are key to the jobs of the future and a better predictor of work place success than IQ and other measures of intelligence. After I wrote Emotional Intelligence I looked at more than a hundred competence models from corporations, NGOs and governments and I found out that the common set of abilities that identified people who were outstanding had nothing to do with cognitive abilities, but with emotional intelligence, he noted.

Michele Nevarez, head of Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching and Training Programs for Key Step Media, led an interactive segment that allowed attendees to learn practices to strengthen emotional intelligence and self-awareness on a day to day basis.

The power of emotional intelligence raises the question of how this can be taught more broadly, in any language and any culture, to empower citizens with the skills to make changes in their personal lives and communities.  Patricia Freedman, Director of Marketing for Six Seconds, explained the many benefits of introducing this curriculum in schools and the work her organization does to scale up adoption by educational institutions using online toolkits and in-person training. 

The NGO community and education sector are not the only stakeholders who can benefit from the techniques of mindfulness, nonviolent communication and emotional intelligence; businesses are key contributors to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals and Rich Fernandez, CEO of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, walked audience members through the work that is happening in the private sector in terms of teaching employees these skills, business leaders who are developing their knowledge in this area and how this can be leveraged to advance the global community's work on the SDGs.  He noted that companies were no longer primarily concerned with their internal metrics around shareholder value add, they're much more concerned now with stakeholder value add trying to make an impact in the world in a larger ecosystem with an external focus. Mr. Fernandez noted that this new focus of many companies on social good and not just increasing profits could be harnessed in service of the SDGs.  

People attending the conference were also given a firsthand account of what happens when emotional intelligence is underutilized in society and how it can be used to help people recover from traumatic experiences.  Liliane Umuhoza is a survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.  She gave a moving account of what it was like to lose her father and other family members during a time in which an estimated 1 million people were killed in one month.  She described the emotional issues she began to have in her teens as she tried to come to terms with what she, her family, and her country had experienced and how being introduced to emotional intelligence to cope with trauma changed the course of her life.  She went on to create the Women Genocide Survivors Retreat, a program that helps women who suffered from rape during the Rwandan genocide process their feelings and help in the healing and reconciliation process.

The speakers' interventions were all relevant to the work of the United Nations as they provided a lens through which to view the work of the Organization and ways to increase collaboration among peoples and countries.  Alan Seid provided insight into the value of Nonviolent Communication which is based on understanding your emotions and motivations as well as understanding the emotions of others to have meaningful and impactful dialogue rooted in empathy and caring for the needs of others. When put into practice, nonviolent communication can improve interpersonal relationships, organizational performance and more just and sustainable communities. 

Someone who has put the techniques of mindfulness into practice with lawmakers and within governmental bodies is Chris Ruane, a member of the British Parliament since 1997 and founder of the Mindfulness All Party Parliamentary Group (MAPPG), a cross-party group dedicated to developing public policy on mindfulness in health, education, criminal justice, and the workplace. He has helped implement mindfulness practices into more than a dozen parliaments and legislative bodies around the world, and different MPs have said they've gotten different benefits from mindfulness, including a more considered approach to an exchange of differing views, gifts of compassion, of awareness, of patience and it helps them focus on how to reduce suffering and to promote human flourishing. Mr. Ruane was also a primary school teacher for many years and he experienced firsthand the positive impact mindfulness had in the classroom.  

The presentations and interactive sessions were followed by a moderated panel discussion with questions from the audience about a range of issues including the role of emotional intelligence in artificial intelligence, how to implement this tools in a digital world in which people communicated largely via platforms and not in real life, and concrete actions people could undertake to implement mindfulness in their lives, offices and organizations once they left the conference. 

The conference ended with a meditation exercise led by Jamie Bristow, Director of the Mindfulness Initiative, in which he asked attendees to close their eyes, focus on their breathing, be present in the moment and acknowledge their feelings and sensations. He noted this was an exercise that could be done anywhere at any time when people felt the need to center themselves.

If you couldn't attend the conference in person or watch it live, you can view it on demand here.  Also check out the list of attached resources to learn more about the tools and techniques covered in the conference here.