Shapiro was especially perplexed by the absence of music in discussions around the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a collection of 17 intertwined objectives to tackle such systemic issues as poverty, gender inequality, climate change and lack of access to quality education included in the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (adopted by all U.N. member states in 2015).
“In most countries, governments choose how they’re going to spend money based on SDG targets and indicators,” says Shapiro. “So the way to get music projects embedded into government policy is to embed it into SDG policy.”
Unfortunately, he found there was “no framework to engage with music” at the U.N.
Shapiro’s first significant stab at rectifying the issue came recently with the “Guide to Music and the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” a report he and his Sound Diplomacy team wrote with input from 10 U.N. agencies and campaigns as well as a host of private sector partners including the International Music Council, the Association of Independent Music, Independent Music Companies Association (IMPALA), Music Venue Trust and Primavera Sound. The 55-page document, which took nearly a year to complete, outlines “crowdsourced examples” from across the globe illustrating how music-based policies can contribute to SDG initiatives.
Released by the Shapiro-founded nonprofit Center for Music Ecosystems and published by the U.N., the report comes with a list of 10 key music-based actions governments can employ in pursuit of the SDGs, including making music education mandatory and available to all; committing to gender equality when public money is invested in music; working with the music industry to make live events carbon positive; and ensuring the inclusion of music in all health and social care policies.
The guide was introduced Wednesday (March 24) at the U.N.’s SDG Global Festival of Action, an annual event designed to “inspire, mobilize and connect people and organizations” in service of addressing the SDGs.
The report arrives several years after Sound Diplomacy was invited, in 2018, to join the SDG Media Compact, a U.N.-convened alliance of media and entertainment companies tasked with amplifying and inspiring action around the SDGs. After coming aboard, Shapiro committed to developing a guide on how music-focused policies could help reach SDG targets.
Shapiro and his team at Sound Diplomacy wrote the first draft of the report themselves, setting a goal of being “geographically, racially and orientationally diverse.” He then worked with other U.N. agencies, including U.N. Global Communications, to refine the message of the guide, which went through a series of edits with input from his U.N. and private sector partners.
Nanette Bradley, chief of strategic communications campaigns at U.N. HQ who has worked to help elevate Shapiro’s mission, says music has the capacity to play a substantial role in boosting awareness of the SDGs globally. “The reach of the music industry is so enormous,” Bradley says. “It’s not only a force to reckon with in and by itself…it has a very special place because of the relationship between artists and audiences and because of the amplification role that the music industry has or can have.”
Shapiro hopes the report will eventually foster a greater institutional recognition of the role music can play in making the world a better place, resulting in increased investment in music and musicians on a global scale.
“We tend to prioritize the internal value of music, and we just take the external value of music for granted,” he says. “We don’t actually think about what a world would be like if music didn’t exist.”
You can download the full report here.