Sustainable Development Goals Lessons to Date

24 July 2019
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In my short, 10 minute presentation to the SDG round table discussion on the SDGs, chaired by Myles Wickstead, Kings College, London and Mathew Foster, Open University  I made three main points about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Download the full presentation.

1. The process of setting the SDGs is a lesson for us all working in development.

I see the SDG Framework with its 17 Goals, 169 indicators and 223 targets as the top end of a rather colourful logframe on steroids.  I want to emphasise the importance of the participatory process undertaken in developing the SDGs.

The important point for me around participation is to “walk the talk” or “to do what you say you are going to do”.  If you say you are going to work in a “participatory manner”, firstly define what you mean by this, and then do so. e.g. if you say you are going to consult stakeholders then simply do so. In setting the SDG Framework the UN undertook the world’s largest ever consultation exercise.  This expensive participatory exercise took many months.

No other multilateral framework can claim to have such broad global ownership, thanks in part to the extensive consultation phase.

2. The SDGs are for everyone and are slowly helping redefine “international development”.

I noted that the theme of this Development Studies Association conference was “Opening up Development” and that in the SDG context this is really important. I want it noted that the SDGs are really universal and are, for example, as important in the UK as they are in Malawi or Nepal or Papua New Guinea.

The SDGs need be applied locally in the UK as well as globally.  Development is required everywhere, not just “over there”.

The SDGs challenge us all to look at what I have called working “glocally” i.e. locally as well as globally. See this example of University of Wolverhampton SDG initiatives.

3. The SDGS are slowly being picked up by a variety of Stakeholders.

It is widely recognised that for the goals to be reached, everyone needs to do their part: governments, the private sector, civil society and people like you and I.

As a result of an inadequate UK government response to the SDGs in the UK there has been a really interesting development. The UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD), a cross-sector network of stakeholders working towards the SDGs in the UK, have come together to fill the vacuum created by the current government. Last year they published their report on the SDGs in the UK “Measuring up”.

Many private sector companies have become engaged with the SDGs and that many companies are now using the SDGs for reporting purposes e.g. the 2017 Price Waterhouse Coopers report entitled the “Challenges of Reporting on the SDGs”reported that from their analysis of almost 500 companies in 17 countries, three-in-five businesses now deemed the SDGs to be important enough to include in their corporate reporting.

Finally, I note that in the past year the Times Higher Education new global Ranking of “Impact and Innovation” has been published. This new and innovative ranking looks at how Universities are delivering against the SDGs.  In the first year, 11 SDGs out of the 17 have been used with 47 metrics out of a possible 199 metrics and 111 measurements chosen out of 223 targets.  Next year all 17 SDGs will be used.  The new ranking system looks at three ways in which Universities contribute to society. Through:

  • Research – Creating knowledge to address the world’s problems
  • Stewardship – managing resources, teaching well – the good university.
  • Outreach – directly acting in society.

In summary, in this 10 minute session, I tried to give three quick take away messages

  • “Process” is important. The way the UN established the SDGs is a positive example for all of us working in international development.
  • The SDGs are helping redefine “international development” as we know it. “It’s not over there anymore, it’s everywhere”. While the UK government has seriously stumbled with the SDGs, many other Governments are moving ahead with them. We in this country have lessons to learn.
  • The SDGs are being picked up and used. There have been a variety of initiatives arising from them – some of these really innovative and interesting.  The private sector is moving ahead with the SDGs, Civil Society are moving ahead with the SDGs, and now thanks to the Times Higher Education new global Ranking of “Impact and Innovation” some Universities are slowly waking up to the SDGs.