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A 12-step guide to implementing the SDGs

Published on 22 April 2017
Updated on 05 April 2024

Based on contributions from: Evelyn Namara, Meri Baghdasaryan, Adriana Castro, Alessia Zucchetti, Victor Ryan Biran, June Okal, Derek Yam, Manuel Sebastian Roa Gomez, Lai Ying Jojo Tang, and Michael J. Oghia

A few months ago at the 11th Internet Governance Forum (IGF), I had the opportunity to facilitate a day-0 breakout session known as the ollaborative Leadership Exchange (CLX):

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Facilitated by the skilled and engaging Chris Michael, the CLX brings together youth, young professionals, and others interested in having intensive discussions about Internet governance-related topics to exchange ideas and connect with other young leaders or professionals from around the world. In other words, it is a space that brings youth together, gives them a topic, and the magic unfolds.

My group consisted of Internet Society (ISOC) ambassadors, ISOC-sponsored Youth@IGF fellows, and young professionals from Kenya, Hong Kong, Mexico, Uganda, Serbia, Argentina, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, and Armenia, working in a host of development-related sectors and organisations from across stakeholder groups, including the UNDP, UNICEF, government, ICT4D, law, academia, and civil society – one even works as a professional chemist and researcher. We were tasked with discussing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their relation to both development as well as the Internet. A hallmark of the SDGs is the framework they present to hold all stakeholders accountable for developmental outcomes, from government officials and diplomats to private sector companies and civil society organisations. These goals have the potential to significantly improve the quality of life and increase the well-being the planet, yet the SDGs are not without criticism. ISOC has long maintained that the Internet and information and communication technologies (ICTs) are critical to realising the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Agenda as well as Goal 9.C (Internet access), but must be supplemented by more collaboration, inclusive governance, robust policy-making, and other on-the-ground actions to ensure the SDGs are translated into meaningful action.

With this in mind, our group convened, and we discussed how the SDGs impact the work we do. Yet, we were somewhat frustrated; we identified that we appreciate what the SDGs represent, but generally agreed that they were not being addressed – and therefore not met – in an advantageous or effective manner in our local and professional contexts. Having been pleasantly surprised at the unanimity of the consensus reached, we then tasked ourselves with why this was the case and how to fix it. Within about 45 minutes, we devised a 12-point list of recommendations grounded in our experiences that helped explain how the SDGs can be more relevant for communities and have greater impact.

1. The importance of education and awareness-raising

Aside from advancing education in line with Goal 4 (quality education), we agreed that more can be done to raise awareness of the SDGs as a whole, and educate groups about the importance of the SDGs, the processes that are helping to implement them, and individuals, programs, and organisations that are working hard to realise them in their own communities.

2. Communicate better and translate ‘UN speak’ into everyday language

Closely tied to the first recommendation is the need for better and more robust communication strategies. Like most organisations (or Internet governance), the UN is riddled with jargon and acronyms, yet such language can make it difficult for individuals to understand – especially among developing communities and non-native English-speaking populations in particular. Thus, it is important to communicate about the SDGs in a way that is easy to comprehend, relevant to local contexts, and demonstrates the urgency of realising the goals by or before the 2030 deadline.

3. Collaborate and exchange best practices

Many individuals, organisations, and programs are already implementing the SDGs in their work or communities, but little collaboration exists within and across stakeholders to share experience, build capacity, and raise awareness. Collaboration and cooperation are paramount to realizing the SDGs. As such, individuals, organisations, and communities can work together, exchange best practices, and share expertise in order to address the various needs addressed by the SDGs and their sub-targets. Such collaboration should also be multistakeholder in nature.

4. Link programs to the SDGs

Related to both communication and collaboration, many programs already conduct work related to realizing the SDGs but do not necessarily know it. Encouraging organisations to adopt the framework of the SDGs, using language they can relate to, and better training those implementing programs and projects in their communities can help increase the visibility of the SDGs in action.

5. Link the SDGs to each other

Closely connected to the previous is linking the SDGs together and seeing them as interconnected as well as interdependent. Many of the goals naturally connect to one another, such as Goal 7 (affordable and clean energy) and Goal 13 (climate action).

6. Transcend innovation bubbles

Similarly, one of our group members raised the point that innovation often happens within ‘bubbles’ – that is, distanced or divorced from communities in need. We agreed that connecting the needs of communities with sources of innovation and sharing information will also help align innovation hubs, such as universities and start-ups, with the SDGs.

7. ‘Same-same, but different’

When it comes to development, context is key since different communities around the world have different needs. For instance, the needs of a community in Cambodia may be vastly different than those of a community in Guatemala. Yet, many of the challenges addressed by the SDGs reflect global issues relevant to everyone, regardless of a country or community’s state of development. Therefore, it is important to recognise that while each community has its own needs, there is value in connecting communities with those facing similar issues, especially if there are relevant solutions that have already been developed and implemented.

8. Recognise regional diversity

Likewise, it is important to recognise diversity within – not simply between – regions, raise awareness among individuals and groups working in the same region, encourage collaboration, and understand that one country or community in the same region may experience significant differences in developmental outcomes as others.

9. Involve and motivate youth

As mentioned previously, the deadline for meeting the SDGs is 2030 – a year that is anything but arbitrary. The implications of not meeting the SDGs have real-world consequences that will touch the lives of everyone. Youth in particular will suffer the most if the SDGs are not met, simply due to the reality of longevity. The fact is not meeting the SDGs is our problem, so involving and motivating youth to participate in realizing the SDGs is essential – especially given the high proportion of youth populations around the world, such as in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

10. Give credit where its due & stay positive

Politics are inherently polarizing, but many different countries, organisations, and initiatives are working hard to implement the goals, regardless of their intentions. It is important to recognise such action, and also remember that people all around the world are working tirelessly to improve life on Earth in general. We must remember that progress is neither linear nor guaranteed; however, sometimes the least we can do is to avoid fear mongering and instead stay informed about how life is (actually) greatly improving around the world and maintain optimism for the future.

11. Inclusion in problem-solving, especially among local communities

All too often, policies or solutions are generated without the input of the people that such solutions impact. It is vital that local, regional, and global policy-making incorporate local communities, vulnerable groups, and those that have the most to gain from realising the SDGs in related decision-making, problem-solving, and policy-making processes. This includes local community outreach and consultation, taking their feedback into consideration when drafting solutions, and incorporating the community when implementing solutions.

12. Empower local communities

Closely connected to the previous is the need to educate and empower local communities to take ownership of the SDGs. Implementing the SDGs cannot be top-down; on the contrary, communities must be able to address challenges using local knowledge, skills, and resources with outside aid/assistance where appropriate. Ultimately, communities are the most adversely affected if, say, equipment breaks down or solutions are not implemented in a sustainable manner; thus, ensuring local communities are empowered with the skills, knowledge, accessible resources, and expertise to maintain SDG solutions is key.

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We recognise that there are many exceptions to the list we created, such as programs that already incorporate some or all of these principles. However, we hope this list can supplement existing resources, such as these six steps from The Guardian’s global development professionals network, the weekly roundup of SDG-related resources published by the World Resources Institute (WRI), this advice from the World Economic Forum (WEF), or what is already available on the UN’s SDG Knowledge Platform.

In the end, the SDGs are simply goals, but to have an impact, we need action, effective communication, and collaboration. Such action is not limited to one group of stakeholders, either; it will take policy action from governments and intergovernmental organisations, advocacy and capacity building from civil society, economic, financial, and business-related action from the private sector, development banks, and similar institutions, and technical expertise such as engineers, researchers, and scientists. Together, our work can help ensure that the SDGs are met by 2030 and facilitate a better, more sustainable future for all.

Michael Oghia is an assistant curator for the GIP Digital Watch observatory.

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