United in Action: Dialogue at Tzu Chi Center

Written by Ida Eva Zielinska

Cristina Tirado, one of the lead authors of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report, is an honored guest in the premiere episode of United in Action: Dialogue at Tzu Chi Center on March 22, 2022. Photo/Ting Fan

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On a crisp Manhattan morning in March 2022, inside a sleek white five-story building on New York’s Upper East Side, a video production team pointed its cameras at the host of a program about to be launched and started recording.

Hello, everyone. My name is Steve Chiu. Welcome to United in Action, a brand-new program streaming from the Tzu Chi Center for Compassionate Relief. We’re coming to you from the heart of New York City, right next to the United Nations.

United in Action: Dialogue at Tzu Chi Center is the latest offering of the global Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s public exhibition space in the United States, which presents the organization’s history, missions, and activities worldwide, and serves as a hub to engage with partner UN-accredited non-governmental organizations and representatives of civil society, creating opportunities for dialogue.

This latest Tzu Chi Center program, which premiered on March 22, 2022, sheds light on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG): 

  1. No poverty
  2. Zero hunger
  3. Good health and wellbeing
  4. Quality education
  5. Gender equality 
  6. Clean water and sanitation
  7. Affordable and clean energy
  8. Decent work and economic growth
  9. Industry innovation and infrastructure
  10. Reduced inequalities
  11. Sustainable cities and communities
  12. Responsible consumption and production
  13. Climate action
  14. Life below water
  15. Life on land
  16. Peace, justice, and strong institutions
  17. Partnerships for the goals

At the same time, United in Action features Tzu Chi’s global and local action towards those goals and creates opportunities for deeper dialogue with the United Nations community.

The Tzu Chi Global Affairs Team is central to Tzu Chi’s engagement at the international level. The team represents the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, officially an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UN ECOSOC), and advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals while sharing Tzu Chi’s projects that address them. 

The United in Action program host, Steve Chiu, is a member of the team and agreed to answer a few questions for this story.

Q: Steve, when and why did you join the Tzu Chi Global Affairs Team?  

My first exposure to the United Nations (UN), in 2012, came through a program Tzu Chi used to host every summer, where we would send small delegations of college students to the UN to learn about global issues and the innovative ways youth around the world were solving these challenges. I was struck by how closely aligned Tzu Chi's four missions and eight footprints were to the UN's goals, and ended up coordinating subsequent delegations' engagement with the UN, inspired by the exposure to this global platform where such a wealth of expertise, wisdom, and kinship was gathering. Upon graduating from college in 2014, I felt called to continue to help Tzu Chi grow at a local and international level and joined Tzu Chi New York's staff. In 2015, I then proceeded to join the Global Affairs Team to represent Tzu Chi at the UN. Advocating at the UN is a journey and I’m so grateful to be able to walk this path with peers I love and respect deeply.

The Tzu Chi Global Affairs Team’s goals are “Empowering lives. Creating change. Relieving the suffering of the most vulnerable in society through humanitarian assistance and education, empowering individuals and communities to become self-sustainable.”

Steve Chiu and Andrew Schwartz, Director of Sustainability and Global Affairs at the Center for Earth Ethics, are ready for dialogue as the Tzu Chi production team prepares to film the United in Action April 2022 episode. Image/Screenshot from Show
Saphira Rameshfar, representative of the Baha’i International Community to the UN, is in conversation with Steve Chiu during the premiere of United in Action. Photo/Hyo Jin An

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Q: Please share a bit about how the team addresses these goals.

Tzu Chi’s Global Affairs Team works at both a global and local level, and in doing so, we find ourselves with opportunities to directly create programs that touch the lives of those in need, providing them with the resources and insights that they need. Empowerment towards self-sustainability must come through consent, which is why our team’s projects are first and foremost community-led, to ensure that the needs of the community are prioritized and addressed as we design our humanitarian assistance projects. Whether this happens at a local level, with partners, or at a global level, through consultations that generate advocacy points to influence policymakers, the input of frontline communities lies at the heart of our team’s work.

The creative group behind this monthly show narrows in on a theme for each episode that ideally corresponds with the UN’s calendar of activities. Next, two guests are selected and invited. Then, Tzu Chi projects that best relate to the theme are identified: This can be challenging given the broad range of Tzu Chi’s global missions and footprints, encompassing charity, medicine, education, humanistic culture, international relief, bone marrow registry, environmental protection, and volunteerism.

Q: Please tell us about the challenges – and joys – of the creative process behind the show. 

The question of how do we frame Tzu Chi volunteers’ global footprints in a way that captures the breadth and depth of impact, has been one of our team’s ongoing guiding questions, and biggest challenges. I don’t know if there is a quick answer, but the question is one we are always grappling with and finding new ways to address within the context of engaging at the UN and sharing Tzu Chi’s work. Filming United in Action: Dialogue at Tzu Chi Center has been a deeply fulfilling process because we’re able to bring together partners that we cherish, and shine a light, through dialogue, on their wisdom, values, and insights that align deeply with Tzu Chi’s existing body of work. In doing so, we can make sure that these relationships and partnerships that we have at the Global Affairs Team don’t just live in the realm of the International Community, but can also permeate into our local Tzu Chi communities’ consciousness.

The May 2022 episode of United in Action, which focuses on the UN-observed Buddhist celebration of Vesak Day, is filmed at the New York Zen Center, where Sensei Koshin Paley Ellison shares insights about Buddhist practices and wisdom with Steve Chiu. Image/Screenshot from Show

Q: As a Tzu Chi Global Affairs Team representative, please share the team’s aspirations for this latest Tzu Chi Center for Compassionate Relief program. What is the audience you aim to attract to these dialogues? What kind of impact do you hope to have?

I really believe United in Action: Dialogue at Tzu Chi Center can serve as a beautiful bridge between our Tzu Chi community, and our network of partners, colleagues, and peers at the UN. Finding ways to articulate what is happening at both a global level and what individuals can be doing, for themselves, and with their communities, at a local level, has always brought me a lot of joy, and I’m so happy to be able to be utilizing this format to share actions, values, and wisdom that is being generated in pursuit of creating a better world: for people, planet, and prosperity. The hope truly is that audience members can leave the program knowing more about the good that is happening at an international level, understand how they can act at a local level, and feel a little less alone in this journey towards a better tomorrow.

The United in Action: Dialogue at Tzu Chi Center program runs once a month, generally in the third week. The premiere episode, on March 22, focused on the critical global issue of climate change and ways to uplift women as they face its impact. The honored guests were Cristina Tirado, one of the lead authors of the 2022 IPCC AR6 (UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report), and Saphira Rameshfar, representative of the Baha’i International Community to the UN.

The next episode, on April 19, ran a few days in advance of Earth Day, whose 2022 theme is “Invest in Our Planet.” Through dialogue with guests Evan Raskin, EARTHDAY.ORG’s USA National Campaign Manager, and Andrew Schwartz, Director of Sustainability and Global Affairs at the Center for Earth Ethics, the show examined climate change, featuring how faith-based values and actions can transform our food systems and relationship with the planet. 

The production team, director Hannah Whisenant, in discussion with Steve Chiu (both right), producer Jamie Puenta (left), and director of photography Garson Ormiston (second left), set up for the filming of the premiere episode of United in Action. Photo/Hyo Jin An

The May 24 episode honored the Buddhist celebration of Vesak Day, observed by the UN internationally. United in Action brought the dialogue to the New York Zen Center, where Sensei Koshin Paley Ellison shared insights about Buddhist practices and wisdom and their relevance today. Jasmine Huang, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s Dharma As Water Team Project Manager, joined virtually and explained how Tzu Chi celebrates Vesak Day and why the 2022 celebration in the United States, entirely in English for the first time, was a milestone for interfaith collaboration.

The themes of upcoming shows will most certainly circle in on critical issues our world faces today. Each program also features two informative and engaging videos that further illuminate the topics of the dialogue. The Tzu Chi Global Affairs team and the production team behind the show and videos hope you will tune in for the next episode in June. In the meantime, you can watch the March-May shows on the Tzu Chi Center for Compassionate Relief website.

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