Adam Pensotti, Michel Lunanga and Louise O’Driscoll at the UN Least Developed Countries conference in Doha
Louise O’Driscoll

Written by Louise O’Driscoll

Sustainability communications specialist

A few weeks ago, a once in a decade event with an incredibly important purpose took place – the fifth United Nations Least Developed Countries conference (LDC5). It’s an event which aims to boost development in the world’s 46 least developed countries. Our team joined 5000 attendees who headed to Doha from governments, the private sector, NGOs and others, as well as thousands more who joined online.

But what is LDC5? And what did we do while we were there? There are 46 ‘Least Developed Countries’, which are suffering from conflict, economic disruption, barriers to technology and the devastating effects of the pandemic. This conference sets out development plans to help these countries reach their full potential. The LDCs are populated by approximately 900 million people, which gives you some understanding of how important it is for their communities and economies to thrive. 287 million of these are children. So, what happens at LDC5 is important for the future of their generation and those after.

Our presence at this landmark event came about through our collaborations with the United Nations Development Programme at Expo 2020 Dubai and the UN Festival of Action. This time we had a unique opportunity to present world-class storytelling to the United Nations international audience. Together we were able to support young people from the LDCs to tell and share their stories

The United Nations invited a group of young people (‘young delegates’) from across the LDCs to speak on behalf of children and young people. But that wasn’t the only way they delivered their messages of positivity and hope for a better future to everyone at the conference. Last year, we sent cameras to thirty of these young delegates, so they could photograph community life in their countries, and the photos they took were the absolute embodiment of optimism and aspiration.

The Canon team at the UN Least Developed Countries conference in Doha

Young Delegates with Canon EMEA team

We proudly showcased these images in a special exhibition space at LDC5, where they were in extremely good company, as we also had 6ft high prints from Canon Ambassadors lining the entrance to the conference centre. Having such positive depictions of landscapes and community life across Africa and Asia at LDC5 is just such a natural fit. After all, how can you have hope and prosperity, if you don’t visualise a future and recognise potential? This is even more important because these are regions where lived experiences – especially those of children, young people, women and girls – can be hard to come by. And if you don’t have access to all the viewpoints, it’s not the whole story.

Alongside that, we held three special Young People Programme workshops, attended by government, UNESCO and private sector delegates – the room was full for every session! Frederick Ochieng, a Canon Certified Trainer, photographer and cinematographer taught alongside Canon Ambassador Guia Besana. And it was great to welcome Marina Ponti, Director of the UNSDG Action Campaign, to officially open these sessions.

We were also invited to take part in three talks held by the UN SDG Action campaign to highlight the role imaging plays in decision-making to a global audience. The first session explored how storytelling can be used as a powerful tool for social change and we were proud to have one of our Young People Programme mentors, Michel Lunanga (who is also a UN young delegate), sat alongside Nigerian singer/songwriter and SDG Advocate, Chioma “Cill” Ogbonna. Our Dubai-based Sustainability Manager, Jeanine El Moughrabi and Adam Pensotti, who heads up our Young People Programme were on the panel of a great discussion on the role of young people in achieving the SDGs and how their potential is often overlooked. Jeanine also joined a session on the importance of mobilising action and momentum towards the SDG Summit in September 2023.

Marina Ponti, Michel Lunanga and Chioma “Cill” Ogbonna

Marina Ponti, Michel Lunanga and Chioma “Cill” Ogbonna

Michel had an important message to share when he was called to speak on United Nations TV about his photograph. His passion shone through as he spoke to Marina Ponti about the positive images he captured in his community. “I’m always behind the scenes,” he said. “But during the LDC5, I had a chance to speak at the United Nations principals meeting and several high-level events… Once I’m back in my hometown, I will put everything I have learned and all the connections I have made into practice.” 

Of course, people mainly come to these conferences for the many panels and discussions that feed into a larger piece of work. This time that work was called the ‘Doha Declaration’. In short, the previous conference had resulted in the ‘Istanbul Declaration’, which hoped to see around half of the LDC countries graduate by now (that is, no longer be in a position to be on the LDC list). Sadly, only three of the 46 have and progress has been limited. So, to me (and I’m sure many others), this conference had an atmosphere of real urgency.

Our time in Doha also coincided with International Women’s Day, which was appropriate given the conference themes around equality and escaping dependence. Much was said about the need for greater equity in decision-making across all sectors. For example, only one in four LDC parliamentarians are women and less than one in five hold executive posts. Alongside Goal 5 (Gender Equality), ten more UN SDGs include gender-specific goals. So, it was essential that many of the images we shared throughout the conference were taken by women and girls in LDCs or showed life in their communities.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that images can add tremendous power to the spoken word and we’ve all had times when we’ve seen an image that’s hit us right in the heart. The photos we displayed at LDC5 painted a picture of hope and positivity to show us the goal of global progress.

The conference, overall, was as an incredible opportunity for potential future leaders to tell stories of life within their countries in an authentic way, especially to a global audience of changemakers. For us to be supporting them in Doha as this happened felt natural. It not only showed the necessity of visual storytelling in decision-making spaces, but simply because enabling others to tell their stories is what we do best.