First ever Global Festival of Ideas for Sustainable Development. Highlights, Facts & Figures

After more than 50 expert led discussions, knowledge sharing sessions, fishbowl conversations and policy simulations to share critical ideas, showcase success and debate actions for the future, more than 60 live events, 139 speakers from all over the world, and countless innovations presented, meetings held, inspiring conversations and new contacts established among the more than 800 participants from all over the world and more than  8,400 virtual participants, the first ever Global Festival for Sustainable Development is now over.  A new kind of global gathering for Sustainable Development has been born.

One key development challenge a day, 3 key questions were tackled throughout the Festival: How to challenge inequalities in a rapidly globalizing world? How to promote economic growth with environmental sustainability? And how to protect individuals from shocks and disruptions?

Following the Festival’s tagline “New thinking for a better world’, GFI4SD proved to be an energetic and inspiring platform for activists, business leaders, youth advocates, policy makers, thought leaders, and UN delegates from around the world to share knowledge, discover innovative tools and create new partnerships needed to succeed in their missions of pushing forward the SDGs in all regions.

800+ participants
80+ countries
139 speakers
50+ sessions
10 Knowledge Sharing Sessions
8 VR films
60+ Live Events
20 innovations showcased
445 participants turned into policy makers through 2030 Hive Mind
120+ media mentions
2.8 million mentions on social media
2 million+ people reached
  • Read and watch the snippy Storify recap.
  • Watch videos of keynote speeches, interviews with out key speakers, discussions, SDGActionTalks, and recaps of Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 on Youtube.
  • Check out the many photos we have from this amazing experience.

Courageous, energetic, innovative, colorful, inspiring

Featuring 139 speakers from public institutions, organisations, companies, NGOs, working in diverse range of sectors, the Festival addressed key global challenges: globalization and inequalities, resource efficiency and green economy, and disruptions in development. The interactive element of the Festival was present through the more than 50 sessions including innovation sessions, world cafes, real time policy simulation exercises, fishbowl conversations, lightning talks, data-dives, open format discussion spaces and a knowledge sharing and innovation fair. Virtual reality simulations created an immersive and energetic hands-on experience and the SDG Live Stage opened the Festival to global virtual audiences.

The first Global Festival of Ideas for Sustainable Development was hosted by the UN SDG Action Campaign and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), with the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and in partnership with an exciting alliance of international organisations.

Three days of interactive experiences and generating new ideas

During each day of the Festival one particular development challenge was in focus. The Festival kicked off with SDG Global Advocate and UN High- Level Commissioner Alaa Murabit who set the stage for the three days event in an inspiring opening keynote highlighting the importance to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, and the need for partnership and cooperation between “unlikely allies” working together to implement the agenda for the benefit all humankind.

DAY 1: How can we challenge inequality and exclusion in a rapidly globalising world?

On Wednesday, 1 March, participants had the opportunity to follow interactive panel discussions, policy-simulation games and a series of talks on tackling inequalities in a rapidly globalizing world. The expert-led panel discussions featured Ashok Sridharan, Lord Mayor of the City of Bonn, Ingolf Dietrich, Commissioner Agenda 2030 at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Sarah Poole, Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Director at the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support (UNDP),  Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International and Paul Okumu, Head of Secretariat of Africa Platform. Participants stand up for Sustainable Development Goals and created a human SDG wheel.

The first day of the Festival featured the global launch of the SDG Action Campaign. Throughout the three days the Festival served as a platform to launch reports and new created partnerships.

Watch our launch video. 

DAY 2: How can we promote economic growth and prosperity with environmental sustainability?

The second day of the Festival highlighted how countries can advance an agenda promoting economic growth and environmental sustainability. In several working sessions, participants discussed how natural resources can be used more efficiently and identified practical steps to promote a green economy agenda. Kumi Naidoo, Launch Director, Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity highlighted the urgent need for a transition into a green economy and stressed the importance of young people taking the lead. Cristina Gallach, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information highlighted new and innovative ways to communicate the Sustainable Development Goals.  The day closed with an open discussion on the ‘Data Revolution’ in which chief Economist, at Tencent Institute, Meng Zhaoli explained how data literacy strategies needs to be tailored to the needs of people living in remote areas.

DAY 3: How can we protect individuals and communities caught up in shocks and disruptors?

On Friday, 3 March,  addressing sudden shocks such as food insecurity, economic crises and violence was a key focus. Through panel sessions, policy simulations and immersive discussions, participants discussed the various disruptors to development, analysed the requirements for responses and explored the role of technology, innovations and Big Data to affect social change, improve decision-making and protect communities.

Three inspiring Youth Voices closed the Festival and called to action. Natalie Robi Tingo, from Restless Development, shared her own experience and work in promoting sexual reproductive health in Tanzania. Edda Hamar, UN SDG Young Leader and Founder of Undress Runway, talked about the need for a sustainable fashion industry and how she is making a change. Finally, Emi Mahmoud, World Poetry Slam Champion shared her story as a daughter of refugees from Sudan and made a closing poetry performance that moved the audience to a standing ovation.

Serious gaming to achieve the SDGs

A key element of this interactive conference was the collaborative policy game, 2030 Hive Mind. Throughout the three days 445 delegates became policy makers and worked together to implement policies and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in a fictional country.  Play continued offline at the interactive game tables where players discovered opportunities to collaborate and decide the best strategies to make an impact on the Goals. By the end of the Festival more than 280 participants were using their smartphones to promote and achieve a common Goal.

Another interactive element was the use of the platform, allowing a total of 290 participants to submit and promote specific questions which generated a more engaging and dynamic conversation in all sessions. Through this modality, participants asked a total of 305 questions, voted 754 times The words which most commonly appeared across the questions were “sdgs” “data” “people” “countries” and “global”.

Virtual Reality experiences

One of the highlights were the 8 Virtual Reality films showcased in the curated VR Zone. Using the power of immersive storytelling participants were driven towards increased empathy, action, and positive social change through the diverse range of 360’ content being produced across the UN system and by United Nations Virtual Reality (UNVR), a project of the UN SDG Action Campaign.

Hands – on experience at the Knowledge and Innovation Fair

Participants enjoyed  hands-on experience at the Knowledge and Innovation Fair thanks to the 20 exhibitors who showcased some of the best examples in immersive storytelling, data collection and data visualizations, tech, and community organizing from the private sector, government, UN, and civil society. Among the innovative solutions exhibited one that caught everyone’s attention was Huxley, an Ai (Artificial Intelligence) and AR (Augmented Reality) app that makes hands-free gardening possible and more efficient to use hydroponics, a method of growing plants without soil and using 95 per cent less water.

On the second and third day of the Festival, 10 knowledge sharing sessions hosted and lead by 40 panellists presented an opportunity to share specific examples of Advocacy, campaigning for policy and communicating the SDGs, on Harnessing Data and share local and regional case studies. A Bar Camp allowed participants to pitch their projects and present innovative ideas and solutions to SDG implementation in an open format.

Interactive space at the SDG Live Stage

The SDG Live Stage provided an interactive space to share ideas and generate discussion among participants and to open the event to global audiences. 45 events were held throughout the three days. Youth Leaders led 21 cross-generational dialogues, engaging the high-level speakers in dynamic discussions.

The SDG Action Talks were born, thanks to the amazing 10 speakers who shared their change-making initiatives and revolutionary solutions, from disrupting global hunger to peace building initiatives in El Salvador.

Experts and high level speakers faced their peers for 7 minutes for discussion and participants had the opportunity to pitch their projects and launch their recent partnerships.

A VR session on leaving no-one behind through new media, Hannah Thalhammer from Youtube Creators Project on fighting against hate speech or Panda Champion Abinav Battachan closing SDG song performance where some of the highlights.

Networking down the Rhine

Participants were invited to connect through three days of hands-on sessions, immersive discussion and evening events. This year’s networking event was designed to offer participants an opportunity to discover one of our favourite things from our host city Bonn, the Rhine, while connecting and bonding with the connections made during the conference.



During the three-day event all Plenary sessions Live Stage events where livestreamed by the UN Webcast team reaching  8,800+ video views.  A total of 82 videos were made available on the UN Web TV reached more than 19,400 people.

Social media was and will be an essential part of this Global Festival. On our Opening day we were Trending Topic in Germany and UK and trended the #SDGs. The Festival was mentioned 2,8 M times on social media and more than 2M people were reached.

GFI4SD on the media

Media coverage for the first Global Festival of Ideas for Sustainable development was largely online and international. More than 120 mentions appeared in 11 languages and reached audiences in all world regions.


An exciting partnership

We collaborated with an exciting alliance which made possible this unique gathering: the Overseas Development Institute, the City of Bonn, Cepei, Data-Pop Alliance, Engagement Global, Plan International, Salzburg Global Seminar, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Food Programme and the World Resources Institute, with other supporting partners.

See all organisers and supporting partners 

In the words of our participants

“I never realized so many people were doing things around the SDGs”, Innovative, inspiring and fun, Empower the people to challenge the people in power. – there are some very strong statements that would make others want to attend!”

“Congrats to #GFI4SD for a vibrant, lively look at ways forward to achieve the SDGs”

“Most colorful conf & first playable I ever attended.”

“Excellent platform to showcase innovative solutions for #SDGs & #ClimateAction”

“Coming to this Festival is a call to action to implement this agenda that is by the people, for the people.”

“Due to the Festival I am even more determined to make a change than before.”

Our commitment for 2018: Less waste, more diversity and inclusiveness

Thanks to all of the participants, speakers, volunteers and organisers, the Global Festival of Ideas for Sustainable Development has been created. We strive to live up to our name and we have learned some lessons. We commit to a more sustainable catering and overall organisation of the Festival, we will strive to ensure we make the event more inclusive and diverse event and we will work to provide more engagement and entertainment opportunities at the Festival next year.

In 2018  we will host another inspiring and unique global gathering in Bonn. So far 99% of participants have expressed their interest in coming back next year and we can hardly wait to welcome them and many others. Save the date and plan your contribution to next year’s Festival.

It will be without doubt the place to be next year!

Join us for #GFI4SD 2018