Recently, SPSP has stepped up its international efforts by acquiring Special Consultative status with the United Nations. This new status allows SPSP to engage with the UN, enter the UN buildings in New York, Vienna, and Geneva with an official UN delegate badge, and participate in and organize a wide range of meetings, expert committees, and events. To get the most out of this new status, SPSP has also set up a new SPSP UN Committee, in order to coordinate delegations and liaise between the SPSP membership and the UN opportunities.

Tobias Ebert, Rakoen Maertens, Anatolia Batruch and Nicolas Sommet
The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP)’s first delegation to the United Nations on November 29, 2023. UN Office at Geneva, Switzerland.

In the first months after setting up this new committee, we started reaching out to UN representatives of other psychology organizations, including the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI). This resulted in especially good contacts with APA's Senior International Affairs Officer, Gabriel Twose, who warmly invited us to join APA for an event at the UN in Geneva on using psychological science to help reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The event was titled "Emotions – A missing link towards delivering the SDGs and long-term sustainability?", and promised to gather a wide range of experts in applied social and personality psychology with practitioners at the UN in Geneva.

The SPSP UN Committee took up the challenge and brought together its first even SPSP UN delegation. The delegates were Anatolia Batruch (University of Lausanne), Tobias Ebert (University of St. Gallen), Nicolas Sommet (University of Lausanne), and myself (Rakoen Maertens, University of Oxford). It started with a strategic meeting over Zoom to discuss our strategy. The strategy for this first delegation was simple, with three direct goals: 1) putting our new special status with the UN to the test by collecting our delegate badges and seeing if we can autonomously enter the UN as representatives of SPSP, 2) contributing to the discussions related to the event, and 3) starting to explore partnerships with other psychology organizations and UN agencies.

That is when we come to November 29, 2023—the day when the first ever SPSP UN delegation arrived in Geneva. I first met up with Tobi Ebert, whom I have known for a couple of years and meet every year at the SPSP Annual Convention. Our meeting point was the main entrance to the UN. Just waiting there and looking at the many country flags already brings a sense of awe: we really are about to enter the heart of international diplomacy. It went smoothly; after being greeted by very kind security staff, they sent us to the delegate badge creation building, where again we were greeted by a friendly team. After taking the worst possible photos to be printed on the delegate badge, we had the honor of wearing SPSP's first-ever delegate badges. We were then free to explore the UN, as official SPSP delegates. Goal #1 accomplished.

UN Badge

While Anatolia and Nicolas arrived and went through security, Tobi and I explored the venues, bumping into delegates from all over the world, reflecting the UN's diversity. It was worth it to have a coffee and walk into one of the larger congregation rooms, to get a sense of what is going on. The views were often incredible, and occasionally we would spot a peacock trying to enter the UN buildings as well, but as they did not have a delegate badge as we did they could not enter the buildings. In the various coffee areas, you can see delegates from all backgrounds sipping their coffee while discussing the latest policies with fellow delegates. Being there makes you feel part of something bigger than yourself.

Switzerland countryside

Finally, we met Anatolia and Nicolas in front of the venue of the event, thereby making our delegation complete. An excellent moment for a photo of the full delegation. We entered the building to find a wide range of people from different backgrounds, from academics with expertise in the psychology of emotion to UN practitioners applying climate psychology to enact real-life behavioral change on a large scale. The event included interesting discussions with Prof. Tobias Brosch (Chair for Psychology of Sustainable Development, University of Geneva), Dr. Branka Pollermann (Independent Researcher, Vox Institute), Prof. Disa Sauter (Associate Professor, University of Amsterdam), Garrette Clark (Sustainable Lifestyles Programme Officer, UN Environment Programme), Özge Aydoğan (Director, SDG Lab), and Edward Mishaud (Senior Adviser, SDG Lab) about how to use the psychological, behavioral, and affective sciences to help reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular those related to climate change. Members of SPSP's delegation actively participated and added two topics to the discussion, asking questions about the role of misinformation, and how to make sure that we do not lose oversight of the complexity of some of these problems when focusing on a small aspect of the problem (e.g., emotion). Goal #2 accomplished.

UN Building

After the main discussions, we joined the networking reception, where we met with representatives from the American Psychological Association (APA), the European Federation of Psychologists' Associations (EFPA), the Federation of Swiss Psychologists (FSP), and the University of Geneva (UNIGE). With these connections, we will now seek collaborations to do tangible work with the UN, with the long-term goal of turning this into a true coalition that brings psychology to the various dimensions of the UN's work thereby increasing SPSP's impact on the world stage. Goal #3 accomplished.

In summary, we reached all three of our goals: we received and used our delegate badges, we actively contributed to an event at the UN, and we have made valuable connections with potential future partners for work at the UN. The first delegation of SPSP to the UN was a success, and now the path is open for more strategic work in the future. And above all, everyone in the delegation really enjoyed the work, leaving great memories of collaboration across SPSP delegates, countries, and Universities.

If you would like to learn more about our work and are planning to attend SPSP's 2024 Annual Convention, please do join us on Friday, February 9 at 5:00 PM US PT for our launch event, titled "SPSP at the UN: Launch Event & Inaugural Info Session". The event is set to be held in Room 15B on the Mezzanine Level at the San Diego Convention Center.

SPSP UN Committee

Friedrich Götz (University of British Columbia |
Rakoen Maertens (University of Oxford |
Amber Gayle Thalmayer (University of Zurich)
Support: Stephen Waldron (Communications and Public Relations Manager at SPSP)