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COVID19 Recovery Through Digital Technology – Event

September 14, 2021

COVID19 Recovery Through Digital Technology


Live Event: Learn from global Local Authorities and their Covid19 recoveries through digital transformation as we invite Emilia Saiz – Secretary-General United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and Marina Ponti -Director UN SDG Action Campaign to offer their insights at our Covid19 Recovery Through Digital Technology event.


Meet the speakers


Ismael VelascoHead of COVID Response at BookingLive

Ismael will share technology insights and tools for achieving COVID security and crisis preparedness, gathered from BookingLive’s collaborations with local authorities across the country.


Emilia SaizSecretary-General United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG)

Her mission as Secretary-General of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) started in 2018. When asked about her priorities for the coming years she mentions: ensuring that the global agendas are built from local priorities and that international action of local governments is understood as indispensable.


Marina PontiDirector UN SDG Action Campaign

As one of the main architects of the UN Millennium Campaign – the predecessor of the UN SDG Action Campaign – Ms. Ponti served as Global Deputy Director and Regional Director for Europe for over a decade.

Event Notes:



The global pandemic has presented a heartbreaking worldwide challenge, yet it has also acted as a stimulus for global innovation. What has been learned about good practice in the use of digital technologies to achieve crisis preparedness and community resilience? What opportunities does accelerated digital transformation present to our cities and communities and their guiding institutions? What specific tools may assist you to meet the next stage of the Covid challenge?



In addition to the keynotes from experts in the political, policy and technological arenas, we gathered cross-sector best practices through interactive workshops with attendees from a wide range of local authority digital transformations and local government departments. The data from all participant contributions provided a snapshot of the “state of the art” in local authority digital transformation preparedness, and together with the keynotes, has provided actionable and practical next steps for many that attended. The event also provided valuable opportunities for networking, collaboration and partnerships which have continued to flourish post the event taking place.



This round table was aimed at senior decision-makers and influencers in local authority digital transformation and has provided strategic intelligence that is improving decision making across departments and organisations. However, anyone who is interested in how large structure organisations reacted, and continue to react to a global and local catastrophe, the digital transformation successes and lessons learnt, this has been an event full of insight and education and we strongly recommend you watching or reading the full round table event.


Discover more about local government digital transformation tools and solutions below.

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Full Transcript:


– [Ismael] Welcome, I think we can begin to introduce the event. This event is being live recorded and we anticipate it being shared with our organizations, local authorities in the 1000s, around the world after this, but we are very, very happy to have you all with us. This is obviously a really critical time, a moment of profound change and challenge for the world today. And if ever, there was a need for our vision to be world embracing even as we’re dealing with our local challenges, this really is it.

All our local and national interactions are affected by global processes and global policies. And vice versa, the actions that we take locally, and nationally, affect the situation worldwide. And we are all anxiously concerned with the needs of the world, that’s around us at the moment. So we are very privileged to be able to have some truly fantastic perspectives from around the world. And in terms of gathering some of the learning as to how we have up so far now address the challenges of COVID-19. And the role in particular that digital technology has played. And we have a particular focus, of course, on local authorities and local communities and how this perspective aggregates.

The bad news, of course, is that we are in the throes of a revival of COVID around the world and lockdowns are resuming and consider that the viruses are spreading. We’re talking about second waves, we also have the advantage that we have some learning and we have gone through some experiences and that we are not reacting to the same kind of vacuum. So this is the context for this event, is to try and derive some lessons from these processes and frame them in the wider global challenges. So I would like to begin by inviting Emilia Siaz from the United cities and local government. And we are extremely fortunate to have such a fantastic speaker in such a fantastic organization.

The United cities and local governments is the largest network of sub national governments on the planet. They represent something like two thirds of humanity. And Emilia, who is a jurist by profession, has devoted her life to promoting the role of local governments in development, as well as fostering relations between cities and their associations worldwide. Her mission as Secretary General, United cities and local governments started in 2018. When asked about her priorities for the coming year, which is something we will explore in more detail. She mentions that, in particular, she’s motivated by ensuring that the global agendas are built from local priorities, and that international action of local governments is understood as indispensable. And we certainly at BookingLive consider it indispensable, and are extremely fortunate to be able to welcome Emilia. Emilia welcome.


– [Emilia] Thank you very much Ismael. It’s exciting to be with each other in these trying times, isn’t it? I mean, also very uncertain times. We actually do not know what hit us and I don’t think that we comprehend really what is going to happen with us and how this whole thing is going to affect us. So I think that it is very important to keep talking to each other and to keep analyzing what the different priorities are.

Because if we don’t do that, we might not use the crisis as we should, let’s see, this, this is a context, as I was saying that none of us expected to be in is not the first worldwide crisis that we are facing. So it’s not even the first big pandemic that we are facing, but this is probably the first one that is truly universal. And in this context, we have put a magnifying glass in many of our priorities, many of our weaknesses as well, I mean, we knew that there were things that we were not doing well in equality, this persisting inequality that is the is a building block of all of our societies and I say building block, because many of our societies are built on the notion that are actually maintaining the structure.

And so, it has shown those weaknesses, we see it now more clearly. And we have also seen clearly what some of the ways out can be. Now, the big challenge is going to be now whether we are going to actually make use of these things that we are learning and my organization as you say, we’re very broad very diverse very attero genius, over 250,000 members across the world, has been trying to get together and make sure that that we learn from it. Among the priorities that we have identified, which is combating inequalities, making sure everybody has a home, a decent home to live in.

So we stop evictions basically. And then continue delivering public services such as water sanitation and waste, but there is also a very strong perspective that has I mean, the world kept turning because public service delivery was there, but also because technology has been there. We have started to look at technology from a very different perspective. Both in the global north and and the global south. There are many, many, many good things about technology that we are now putting into practice. And I say we have maintained our communities.

People have been building on culture through technology, we have continued to school, many of our children through technology, we have kept the job market going because of technology. Because technology has been working well for the formal sector of our societies. And guess what, the formal sector of the world is less than 40% actually mean, the biggest part of us of all face of humanity is informal. And that informality is making use of technology, but not for the mainstream that we are looking at in the rest of the world. And I think this is very important for our conversation. Yes, technology is good. Yes, technology is allowing us to teach children. Yes, we need to make sure that we distribute tablets, yes, we need to learn online, yes, all of this: Yes.

But how do you approach that in the informality sector and those times the people that do not have a house and cannot stay there to learn or to work. And that is the part that I think an organization like united states and local governments needs to look at. Obviously, we are a company that champions, you know, the Amsterdam, the Helsinki, the Barcelona, the New York’s all of these great local leaders that are looking at how to open up algorithms. And Helsinki and Amsterdam have taken a very important step in this; they have closed the algorithms that that they are utilizing to govern. groundbreaking if you ask me. In Spain, municipalities such as Barcelona are pushing for government to guarantee access to internet for everybody, for everyone, for every single one and pushing the providers to deliver on that before they sign the contracts.

They are developing in Spain also with the support of cities, new digital rights charter and What does it all entails? These are the champions right?

And we need to follow that and these are societies that have a mainstream access even if not equal to technology, but there is a very harsh reality that is not there. Yeah, I think we need to take responsibility for that part, we need to support the champions, but we need to look at that at that part of informality and how are we going to deal with that and how are their rights protected? If we go too fast into a technology society? That’s the part that is concerning me most, we are also convinced by the international municipal movement that we need to answer some tough questions about what does a technological world mean for citizenship?

Can you maintain that same type of citizenship concept in a world where the borders are not existing, like we are experiencing now, time sounds are diffused, my job does not relate to a one timezone only because we are a global organization and I am still in one timezone which is Barcelona. Can we say that people need to answer to the logic of territorial borders, when in fact, they can be seen as global citizens when they shop on a global platform. So, can they have more rights as buyers than as citizens globally, is that acceptable for the future? We think not. And so, these are the types of things that we are starting to look at.

And if we come down to reality, now to watch what we are going through now, and all these broad ideas are very much part of reality, because we are faced with this type of problems every day. But if if we look at at various specific issues, access remains a big, big problem. So we need to have a different type of dialogue within the private sector. And this is not happening yet is happening in some places, but not broadly enough. We will also need to define privacy in a different manner, and disclosure on algorithms and their backstage of technology will be very important before our governments and in particular the local governments that can actually put to use everything that is available.


The third thing is the development of applications, just like we’re seeing now with a vaccine, willingly need to be much more open, particularly applications that are related to the use of the comments and to public service delivery. So that’s another very big concern that we have. And then well with definition a new generation of human rights related to technology, which is related to all of the above, but also a new concept of, of being of considering humanity. So there is where we are and I think these conversations are very relevant at this very moment where we are hit very hard by a health crisis that is becoming a full fledged social crisis and is questioning our whole system.

The good part of the news is we’ve got an excellent framework. I think an ambitious global framework, which are the Sustainable Development Goals, which we are convinced are still valid. And if we make sure that that framework is looked at as a guideline, and we invest more in it, I think we can go very far. Then the second good news is, wow, we have a great coalition of the willing. There are so many people that want to change it and I want to do it right. That gives us a lot of hope. And then thirdly we can simply not afford to because it is not only about what we are doing in this generation, but we are actually using the resources of many other generations to come. So we actually need to make the right investments. And if you ask me, a different approach to technology will be very critical. So I will stop there for now, because I can go on for hours. Thank you very much for the opportunity.


– [Ismael] Thank you, thank you very much indeed. That’s been a really  profound and fantastic overview. And of both the strengths, but also the challenges, that element of the set of substantial informal economy really, and sort of the the elements of access and the importance of the need for sort of private sector and technology companies like ours, to have those dialogues at the level of Policy and Planning with local authorities and governments, and you know, national as well, and international, but also the relevance and significance of the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework that actually allows all of these sort of diverse actors to come together and coordinate in systematic way that sort of that integrates organically and adds up.

And I think that that closing note of the significance of those Sustainable Development Goals is such a fantastic opportunity. So I think sort of what I what I will do now is begin by giving our own presentation, which follows quite closely, I think, with Emiila’s presentation, because we are in essence coming to this from the from the other end of the of the spectrum, we are are coming to this from the perspective of technology actors who have been engaging with local authorities and other bodies around the world. So this has allowed us to gain an element of learning about the challenges from our industry where and what we have observed from our partners, what are the systemic challenges that are facing local authorities, and I think other actors as well, but primarily, we’re focusing here on local authorities. And it kind of echoes some of the dimensions that have been raised already.

And what are the challenges ahead, as we understand them? So the first one is the Recovery Challenge. We have millions of people, our public services and businesses that have suspended work, safely reopening the economy depends on making services and venues COVID secure. So local governments or national governments around the world are facing this challenge. How do we maintain physical distance?

How do we limit the number of people that individuals come into contact with? How do we change shift patterns to reduce occupancy? So before you had 300 people in a building at the same time. How do you now rotate them so that not everyone is there at the same time. And obviously, minimizing the need to physically queue and have all of these elements that break social distancing and lock down policies are essentially ways of trying to foster this at scale.


But as we have fun now, when I began to sort of prepare this talk, we were still in the recovery stage. But really already, I had outlined the resilience challenge and actually, events have overtaken me. And from the top really, this should be the first slide and the other one, the second slide, because actually, we’re back to second waves and we’re back to second lockdowns and what we found in the last lockdown.

And in the last crisis recovery and Crisis Response stage was that the pandemic stretched the logistics of society to breaking points, and that out of all of the various societies and organizations and local authorities, the ones which had advanced digital transformation proved the most resilient, so local public services that depended on face to face on a large body of people taking phone calls.

Those who struggled with lockdown and public services were interrupted. Those that had successful digital services and digital access to citizens and digital citizenship in place, were much more resilient when it came. So crisis preparedness for second waves and future crisis involve partly automating processes for accessing essential public services.

So you are not broken by the fact that suddenly your staff have to work from home, or are sick and cannot come. So being able to access public services, digitally, has proven to increase resilience. Integrating fragmented supply chains, volunteer staff, medical supplies, donations, and having a way of processing all of these things at once, can be a great help. So one of the things that we found was that when COVID hit, there was a need, for example, personal protection equipment, or tests, or all kinds of things.

And there were hundreds of companies offering their services to governments. But governments were overwhelmed by their inability to deal with 100 offerings at once, or 1000 offerings at once, there was little cognitive bandwidth. So the ability to have integrated chains that allow us to respond quickly and harness citizen power and private sector contributions, became a key element of crisis readiness. And finally, the challenge of freeing up staff from routine queries to concentrate on emergency queries. This was another challenge that we found, our local government partners struggled with. So who are we and where to start learning about these issues, the presentation that I’m giving is what we have learned about how some of these challenges can be addressed. We are the number one public sector booking and scheduling and reservation provider in the UK and one of the top ones globally.

We work in around 63 countries. And we have over 11 plus and growing product solutions to assist this digital infrastructure and transformation. And we work with SMEs and with large corporations. So that means that our learning comes from interactions with a really diverse cross section of businesses, of governments and of corporations, who are addressing these issues of managing contact and proximity through scheduling and are turning to us for solutions. The kinds of diversity you can see here, anything you know, we have worked with Microsoft and Universal Studios, all the way to local authorities, all the way to tiny small businesses; gyms, sort of transport, leisure, etc. So the insights that I will share are aggregating this, learning from these diverse interactions that we have had.

So during our experience in through COVID, in particular, what we found was that there were certain these kinds of use cases. So one was automating public services; pest control, social housing, maintenance, bulk waste collection, registrar’s officers, childcare, taxi licensing, these were all things that people had to phone, the local authority number, get to a local authority person who would then sort of process all of these things and manually set up these bookings by automating all these essential public services.

What that meant is that when COVID hit, and local authorities found themselves understaffed, for example, citizens were still able to maintain all of these essential things. And this speaks to that formal and informal point that Emilia raised before, that if the main local authority has the systems that allow, whether formally or informally, the citizenship to have access and interact with local authorities, then this creates enormous resilience.

So likewise, being able to automate appointments for surgeries for counselling, for advice, being able to set up virtual meetings with your doctor or with your social worker, and being able to do all these without having to sort of flood the lines, at emergency times, greatly sort of increase that resilience. Being able to manage our solution has helped to manage capacity and density. So how to ensure that parks do not get over full, or your beaches or your sort of public squares. And if they are, being able to have notifications that help you direct away business, these were some of the innovations we were exploring with our partners, being able to allow small businesses to transition.

So for instance, one local authority disseminated knowledge of our app, to their local businesses, so they could go from, for example, tour operators that are sort of before we’re business to business, were able to transition through our app, through up being able to get direct citizen engagement. So these are the kinds of ways in which this digital technology has been used to innovate local government services and achieve crisis preparedness or crisis response. Other areas have been rota management around offices, and physical events and sort of hre bookings and supply chain management.

There’s a wide range of solutions. Now, in the process of making available the solutions of problem solving together as a private technology company, with local and national government partners, we found a number of challenges.

One of the key challenges was rapid, rapid reaction, how do local and national governments commission and integrate new solutions at speed? We found that often we had the right solution to the problem, but the systems in place were too slow. So that the local authority partners that we had were “This is what we need, and we need it now.” But we don’t have the systems to be able to process these offerings, not just from us, but from many other technology partners fast enough to make a difference to the crisis.

So creating more agile systems of local government and engagement with solution providers outside of the existing infrastructure is key. One of the things that we saw was that sometimes the wrong partners were commissioned, and this made headline news. But the reason these partners were commissioned was because they were already in their commissioning process. So even though there were better partners, better solutions out there, governments were not able to commission them at speed. So they went for trusted, big partners, who were improvising essentially new solutions that then came with side effects, whether that be in testing on or in protection equipment, or many other areas.

The second core systemic area that we found was fragmentation between departments and among supply chains. So there were no clear ways of sourcing solutions, either from the crowd through things like the global hack, that  BookingLive won.

One of the largest global hacks in the world, where innovators around the world are supported by people like UNDP. And the Sustainable Development Action Group, like Marina, enormous innovation came through, but making those innovations available and adoptable, through the fragmentation of supply chains was a big challenge. So overcoming fragmentation in systems is one of the global challenges that we have for crisis preparedness and crisis response. And finally, maintaining our strategic focus, being able to deal with these challenges, but also see that these are also opportunities to advance our agendas for empowering citizenship, for through digital transformation, for advancing the effectiveness of our public services.

It’s not just a crisis, but an opportunity. An example of this, one local authority that we collaborated with, who took a strategic as opposed to a reactionary approach, or a reactive approach to this digital transformation and used the challenges of COVID to say, actually, yes, let’s react to this. But how do we also make this an opportunity to make access to public services more effective? And what we found was, there was a 68% reduction in calls because citizens were able to proceed with public services directly without an intermediary.

Most orders, even though the phone lines were available, shifted online, 88% shifted online, there was a 50% reduction in administrative tasks that’s still rising. And advisors online found they had 29 hours reduced. So suddenly, their ability to deal with the emergency grew dramatically. And of course, there were cost savings, and there was a huge increase. Similarly, the citizens themselves were much more satisfied with the new processes. And with the ease of booking and rating the system I scored on an above. So this shows that actually COVID is driving potentially changes that increase the ability of the government to respond. So as an average, here, just this is one example without provision. But I think this applies to other good implementations of technology. So there is time saved, there is self services increased, and there’s additional revenue, where that is concerned. So this is it. It is just to say, therefore, that I think COVID presents to us enormous challenges.

And that to ensure the social distancing, and COVID security, having technological solutions, particularly around scheduling our interactions with one another, and reducing physical cues can be quite powerful. And that the challenges for government and their ability to interact and partner with us, as Emilia said, so that the vision is a strategic and united ability to break through fragmentation and silence both in the private sector and in the public sector.

And our ability to grasp this crisis to drive through opportunities for change that leave us in a much more integrated society, and a more united world. And this allows us then, to move into the framework for these changes, the framework for this collaboration between the private sector and the public sector, the framework that allows us to make this an opportunity to reinvent society in a strategic positive way that uplifts us, and that is the Sustainable Development Goals.

So I am very grateful to be able to welcome Marina Aponte to address us as the director of the United Nations sustainable development action campaigns as the Global Director, and before that Deputy Director and Regional Director for Europe for over a decade. She has been in the vanguard of innovative campaign initiatives, building multi holder Coalition’s mobilizing resources and forging long term partnerships between civil society organizations, local government, parliamentarians, media, the private sectors, sector and the UN. And of course, in driving our global awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals and translating it into reality. So Marina, welcome very much to this presentation.


– [Marina] Thank you, Ismael. And thank you, everyone. It’s really an honor to be here. And for those who don’t know, I met Ismael doing the global Hackathon which we call organized earlier this year. And on that occasion, where more than 15,000 people from across the globe join during a holiday weekend to really hack ideas and solutions to address the crisis but also to to shift our society towards the Sustainable Development Goals. We, as an action campaign, led one one track one challenge, which was solidarity in action, and  working live was the winner.

So congratulations, again, Ismael and your amazing team. I remember them very well. So, you mentioned and also Emilia before, the Sustainable Development Goals, which were agreed by all heads of state a couple of days more than five years ago. And the world since then has changed so much. And so none of us could have imagined five years ago, that the world would have been turned upside down, because not only a global pandemic, that took away lives across the world, but most importantly, put the spotlight on the failures of our system and our societies.

We and the US SDG action campaign and believe along with many partners, that we are now in a very important time in history, we are the turning point for people and planet. The pandemic is a stark reminder of how connected we are, we have a once in a generation opportunity. And you said it before, to imagine and create a better future wonder is more equal, more active on climate change, one that ends poverty and protects health.

Why these opportunities, you know, overall, we see the leaders at all levels, you know, heads of state, local government, private sector, are back to the drawing board, to find strategies to restart our economies and our lives. And somehow, in this moment in history, where both societies at the macro level and also individuals, are frozen, and are forced to imagine how a different life could be. These are the moments in which transformative change is possible. Because now we’ve seen, of course, in different countries, different flows of resources, but governments have many more resources than they had before. to really invest in certain sectors, now they can really make a change if they want invest more in renewable energy, if they want to invest more in education, or what does it mean education now in this world.

So invest that in gender equality, protect women we’ve seen during the lockdown, an increase of 30% in gender based violence. So we see now, although the challenges are very strong, we see the opportunity to make the transformative changes that are needed. And so somehow, and I fully agree, I mean, Emilia was saying before our all governments at all levels, they now are really every day that they are fighting to protect their citizens. And I think you, Emilia, in a different event, said the sentence that captured my heart, saying that the mayors and local government are the custodian of the dreams and the aspiration of each one of us. The Sentinel of the dreams. 


And somehow the SDG embodies those dreams. And now and before the pandemic, somehow, I mean, we still had the SDG. And still people have dreams and passion. But many governments and many leaders, also from the private sector, were saying, “Oh, it’s so costly. No, you know, to travel less now it’s impossible or you know, to invest in renewable energy is not possible” or so we now see, that is possible, or many governments, I deal with many Western government, were saying, Oh, we cannot give more on education on health.

And now we see it’s possible. And people were saying, “Oh no, we cannot really limit the way we travel, the way we behave.” And now we are all in a zoom call instead of being in your town. So we see that transformative change not only is possible, but it’s happening. But of course, we now need to make sure that the transformation is going in the right direction. And when woman like today happened in the past, so when there is this freeze, and at the same time, this opportunity to reimagine, to reinvent, things can go very well. So we can really do a leap forward and bring our community, our society to that vision of the agenda 2030. But things can go very bad.

And we can go back into a world which is more divided, more in equal even more than it is now, in a world that doesn’t understand how connected we are and see this connection as a threat, rather than an opportunity. So somehow, it’s important when we talk about cooperation and dialogue between, private sector, public sector, that we all need to raise our voices from our different roles, to call for those bold decisions. So transformation is possible. The second opportunity that makes me optimistic is there is a new emphasis on individual action, and you see a butterfly on my back, which shows the butterfly effect, something which I strongly believe.

And I think, in the past, there was a lot of narrative about everybody can make a difference, but there was not many people were very skeptic and now we see in a pandemic that is affecting everyone, you know, all them most important nation and continent and companies that the only strategy we have, it’s the individual behavior; wearing the mask, keeping the physical distancing, washing your hand, so, somehow the individual, the impact of our action, as he as as leverage power, and people now see that they can make a difference, and they can make a difference for the pandemic. 

And hopefully, they can also make a difference for other issues. And it’s not, to me a coincidence that the Black Lives Matter movement was, you know, so powerful, recently and still is because, in a way, the movement and the very, very sad fact and unjust the fact that triggered it, were also linked to the pandemic, because the pandemic put under the spotlight, the, the deep inequality and the unjust of our societies, and in those moments, it’s easier to then kind of trigger and create social unrest, but at the same time, the pandemic because we all felt united, we all felt connected, you know, digitally, you know, as never before, allow for people to express to communicate and to feel part of this broader community, which is fighting the pandemic, but also fighting climate, and social injustice. So I think this makes me very optimistic. 

And my last point is about global solidarity. And there has also been a kind of a greater emphasis on solidarity we have seen during the pandemic, you know, we see every day but particularly the beginning, how people spontaneously we’re helping, you know, the elderly, or were helping those who didn’t have and were ensuring everybody and access to food and then to the, to the basic services and so, that solidarity is there. And we have also seen the UN 75 survey and process that somehow generated more than 1 million responses.

And the overwhelming majority of people in the face of a pandemic believe that we need coordinated responses, we need global consensus, we need a dialogue so that there are many, many, many people that really understood that, that you cannot address the pandemic in one country, you know, not even in a small town because we need global solution. And that also is, to me, a sign of hope. And in a way, we also know and we just had the last week, Emilia was part of several events. And you know, an SDG action zone were the leaders, the thinkers for across sectors, you know, put forward the ideas that can go to scale to achieve the goals and to ensure adjusted and sustainable recovery.

So, the topic, the solutions are there, from fair taxation, to equal pay, for gender equality in public and private, to breaking the stereotypes, to banning carbon subsidies, cutting a nation, investing in renewable energy, changing supply chains that are green and fair.

So, we all have this solution, and what we need is to make sure that the government’s at all levels, not just local, but also national and global, keep their side of the bargain of the commitment and put the taxpayer money and policies towards people and the planet. And also the private sector. I mean, there is a lot that they can do in terms of changing the production path, they’re making sure that the supply chain, really transfer wealth and resources fairly, and also making sure that the kind of there is a redistribution through taxation, of wealth and benefits that particularly large company, can can acquire. So, there is so much that we can do, but I believe that there is a movement of people, we’re not the only ones in this call, that believe that we are at a turning point, and that are ready to do whatever it takes, at whatever level to make a difference.

And to bring us towards that more sustainable, and more equitable world. And we have 10 years ahead of us, we can turn it around. And as Mandela taught us, it seems impossible until it’s done. Thank you.


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