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10 Documentaries That Show How Crucial the Global Goals Are to Ending Poverty


Why Global Citizens Should Care: 
The United Nations created the Global Goals in 2015 with the hopes of achieving a better world. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality of achieving those goals by 2030 is becoming less likely and millions are at risk of falling into extreme poverty. You can join us in taking action on this issue here

The United Nations’ 17 Global Goals are a blueprint for how the world can come together to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They look to end poverty, inequality, climate change, and achieve peace and justice, with the ultimate goal of ending extreme by 2030. 

And while there have been significant global initiatives put in place since their adoption in 2015, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely hindered progress made by the international community to reach the Global Goals. It will take an incredible international effort to try and reach the targets within the next 10 years.

It can seem overwhelming to learn about each one of the Global Goals, but the following documentaries highlight the importance of achieving each one and serve as a reminder of how they are all interconnected.

Here’s a list of 10 educational films on key issues related to the UN's Global Goals.


1. Nations United: Urgent Solutions for Urgent Times

This film, released by the UN in September, sets out to explain the action that is needed to achieve the goals in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has eliminated years of progress toward achieving the Global Goals by pushing millions into poverty, worsening gender inequality, and disrupting access to education.

The international community was already off track to meet the goals’ targets by 2030, and the pandemic is affecting the world’s most vulnerable population the most severely.

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Produced by UN Sustainable Development Goals Advocate Richard Curtis, "Nations United" includes education advocate Malala Yousafzai, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, and actress and women’s rights activist Thandie Newton OBE, among others. 

Together, they unpack the biggest problems that the world is facing and present four key areas that require urgent action.

2.The End of Poverty?

Global Goal 1 calls for the eradication of poverty around the world. This hard-hitting documentary, which came out in 2008, shows the real-life experiences of people who are trapped in poverty and highlights the severe economic inequalities that exist globally.

Historians, economists, and psychologists all come together to explain the systems that allow for rampant poverty to exist and suggest innovative ways to end it.

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While global poverty had declined since the documentary was first released 12 years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on progress in this area.

The UN suggests that 71 million more people could be pushed into poverty from the pandemic. This year is the first time that global poverty has risen since 1998, and could lead to rising hunger and homelessness around the world.

3. Every Three Seconds

Before COVID-19, global hunger was already on the rise around the world. In 2018, 26.4% of the population was affected by moderate or severe food insecurity, according to the UN.

Every Three Seconds is filmed across Africa, Latin America, and Asia and examines the issues that created the global hunger crisis. The title comes from the reality that, in 2015, every three seconds someone died from extreme hunger and poverty.

Global Goal 2 aims to end world hunger, but the pandemic has made efforts to address hunger more complicated due to economic disruptions and lockdowns.

In the documentary, five activists come together to show the different solutions that they are working on to address global hunger.

4. Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders

A goal that is especially relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, is Global Goal 3 as it is dedicated to ensuring that everyone, everywhere can access quality health care. 

This documentary follows four doctors from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, in war-torn Congo and post-conflict Liberia. The film highlights the reality of how limited access to health care is for vulnerable people affected by crises.

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Since 1971, MSF has been delivering medical aid and essential health care services to communities impacted by conflict. People living in conflict-affected areas are more at risk of mental and physical trauma and can also be affected by disease outbreaks. Disruptions to food, water, and medical supplies also make them more likely to develop other health issues. 

The documentary was shortlisted as one of 15 films in the Documentary Feature category for the 82nd Academy Awards.

5. On the Way to School

Quality education has the power to help children around the world develop the skills they need to escape the cycle of poverty. However, many children face significant challenges in accessing school, and in some places, cultural norms and economic hardships prevent students from going to school at all.

This documentary shows the long journeys that four students in Kenya, India, Morocco, and Argentina all take to get to school every day. These children, like millions of others around the world, face significant challenges before they even arrive at their classrooms each morning. 

Global Goal 4 aims to ensure more children can access inclusive and quality education. While the percentage of students in primary school has been rising, the COVID-19 pandemic saw 90% of all students out of school at one point in 2020 and exacerbated inequalities in education.

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6. I Am a Girl

While women and girls’ quality of life has improved over the past years, this documentary helps viewers to understand the challenges that girls around the world face in their everyday lives.

I Am a Girl follows six girls in six different countries as they navigate growing up and becoming women in the 21st century. The film emphasizes the need for Global Goal 5, which is dedicated to fighting for an equal world for women and girls. 

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Even in 2020, there is still no country where women and girls can enjoy true equality.

This documentary shows the important role that girls and women play in their communities — and shows that when women and girls are empowered, they can uplift everyone around them.

7. Waterschool

This documentary captures how the Global Goals are interconnected. 

Waterschool follows six girls living along some of the world’s rivers who are in taking part in educational programs focusing on water and sustainability. It effectively promotes Global Goals 4, 5, and 6 by emphasizing the importance of providing accessible education, empowering young women, and protecting clean water supplies.

More than 2 billion people lack safely managed drinking water and 3 billion people lacked basic hand-washing facilities at home, according to data from the UN. Water scarcity is also a huge potential problem and could displace up to 700 million people by 2030.

This documentary showcases the water school conservation program to stress the necessity of conserving water supplies around the world. 

8. Catching the Sun

Global Goal 7 is about ensuring affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy, and this documentary helps address all of the questions that people have about solar energy.

The 2016 Netflix documentary works to debunk false claims that clean and renewable energy sources require sacrificing economic prosperity and shows just the opposite. By following unemployed American workers, Chinese solar entrepreneurs, and environmental activists, viewers gain a holistic understanding of the power of solar energy.

Around the world, 789 million people do not have access to electricity, according to the UN. However, the energy created from fossil fuels is contributing to climate change and damaging our planet.

Catching the Sun provides important information about an alternative to the fossil fuel industry that will prevent pollution and create new, green jobs.

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9. Inequality for All

This documentary by American economist, author, and professor Robert Reich confronts uncomfortable realities about economic distribution and inequality. Although the documentary focuses on inequality in the US, it is still relevant to countries around the world. 

Reich argues for economic systems where everyone has access to jobs that pay them a living wage as he believes that the middle and lower classes have been left behind.

His ideas echo the motivation behind Global Goal 8, which focuses on promoting sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth for everyone. Similarly, Global Goal 10 calls for the global community to come together and reduce economic inequalities. 

Inequality for All helps viewers understand how global economic systems result in people being stuck in systems of poverty and why economic growth must be inclusive.

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10. Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

This documentary is another example of a film that touches on multiple Global Goals. 

Goals 11 through 15 are Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, Life Below Water, and Life on Land, and all of these are addressed in an Inconvenient Sequel.

The documentary is about the reality of climate change and the lack of action taken by the world’s leadership to protect the environment. The toll of anthropogenic pollution on the environment is affecting everything from marine life in the Caribbean to animals in India to plants in the Amazon.

The film follows former Vice President Al Gore as he trains groups of climate champions and activists to fight for better climate policy to protect our planet.

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