The SDG Framework: Transformation Pathways to Success

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On September 25, 2015, the world has adopted the ambitious Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at ending poverty in all its forms, protecting the planet for future generations, and ensuring peace, prosperity, and equal opportunities for all.

The SDGs can be considered a roadmap for improving our world over a span of 15 years – for people and the planet alike – laying out where we collectively need to go and how to get there. Their scale and scope cover a wide range of sustainable development topics and unlike their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs explicitly call on businesses to apply their leverage in overcoming global challenges.

There are specific requirements related to governance, planning, and financing essential for achieving the global goals within the aspired timeframe. According to the UN Sustainable Development Group, between 3.3 and 4.5 trillion USD per year need to be mobilized if we hope to achieve the Agenda 2030. Yet, developing countries still face a significant funding gap insufficiently covered by ODA (official development assistance). Moving forward, strategic public and private investments are therefore necessary sources of finance. With regards to effective governance arrangements, there is a shortage of empirical research, but initial comparative studies suggest democratic institutions and their participation have the most significant influence on SDG achievement aside from economic power, education, and geographic location.

Everybody has a role to play in adopting the SDGs

In addition to several types of transboundary cooperation, some degree of societal transformation is required to meet the SDGs. While governments without doubt play a key role in organizing structures, instruments, and industrial policies to implement the SDGS, the responsibility of civil society and the business sector in advancing global development cannot be underestimated. Through careful planning and engagement of diverse stakeholders we can collectively contribute to achieving these goals. It is important to note that the SDGs – while developed by the United Nations and agreed upon by governments – are by no means targeting only countries and administrations. They are very much real-life tools that can be used to align businesses’ and individuals’ activities as well, in pursuit of the goal of working towards a more sustainable future.

Businesses are in a remarkable position to contribute to the SDGs: Their potential starts with acting responsibly in line with the 10 principles of the UN Global Compact (centred around the topics of human rights, labour, environment, and anti-corruption) and continues with identifying opportunities to solve societal challenges through innovation and collaboration. Companies that align their strategies with the SDGs strive to advance them in every domain of their operations as well as by creating and implementing CSR-driven initiatives that highlight their importance.

Civil society stakeholders can also take on a variety of functions in the SDG implementation process. They can spur government action through persistent advocacy and hold administrations accountable for their commitments. In terms of pressure on the private sector, consumer and investor activism are cannot be overemphasised. Civil society organizations can also advise governments on concrete implementation measures, building on their experience on the ground, or directly support implementation through the role they often play in service delivery and through data collection efforts.



SDG trends and priorities

Among the SDG-related trends that have become obvious during the first five years are the effort to scale up corporate action; the necessity to take stock of efforts and progress; increased scrutiny of business commitments to the SDGs, and tools and resources available to the private sector; an increased understanding of science-based targets underpinning the SDGs; and the question of financing.

Based on Voluntary National Reviews over the period between 2016 -2019, SDG 17 on global partnership has found the most attention. This might reflect not only the breadth of SDG 17, but also that countries see global partnership as central to Agenda 2030. SDG 13 on climate change has been given the second most attention as measured by the SDG scores. This widespread recognition of the climate challenge needs to translate into action. SDG 10 on inequality has the lowest scores. Given that inequality is a key impediment for Agenda 2030, this is overly concerning. In the past year, heightened focus has been given to SDG 14 (life below water), which has been the least prioritized goal by businesses, but is gaining traction with an emergence of multi-stakeholder platforms to tackle marine sustainability issues, such as the Alliance to End Plastic Waste.

Inter-linkage between goals

Although the 17 SDGs are each supported by their own targets and indicators, a crucial point is to understand that all the goals are closely interconnected. Implementing the SDGs requires a systems approach at every level: Prioritizing individual goals without an understanding of the potential positive interactions between them effectively leads to a non-aligned approach at best and the waste of mutually reinforcing impact through synergies at worst.

Food security, which we are taking a closer look at in this week’s newsletter, is one of the areas where the cross-cutting nature becomes clearly visible. Not only is this topic omnipresent especially during the global pandemic we are currently witnessing – more than that, it is indeed a great example to illustrate the interconnection of the SDGs. The question how we can produce sufficient, safe, and good quality food to feed a growing global population while simultaneously achieving social and environmental goals touches on several aspects under the SDG framework: Zero Hunger (Goal 2), Good Health and Wellbeing (Goal 3), Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (Goal 9) as well as Responsible Consumption and Production (Goal 12) are obvious links. But Clean Water and Sanitation (Goal 6), Sustainable Cities and Communities (Goal 11), Climate Action (Goal 13), Life Below Water (Goal 14) and on Land (Goal 15), and even Gender Equality (Goal 5) and Decent Work and Economic Growth (Goal 8) all factor into aspects of the discussion around food security, at least in some parts of the world.

Working towards the SDGs? Make yourself heard!

Over the coming weeks and months we will go into more depth on specific SDGs, relate our focus topics to one or more of the goals and provide a platform for organizations and companies working towards the SDGs to give visibility to their efforts and share their experiences. This is a call to action to entities – from both the governmental and private sectors – to get in touch if they feel they accomplished progress towards the SDGs.

We are looking to showcase industry-specific examples and ideas for corporate action related to the SDGs by featuring as many inspiring leaders as possible in a series of interviews published on our website and/or our weekly newsletter. We look forward to seeing companies making bold decisions and pursuits public, and inspiring others to do the same.

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Carolin Hussein

Carolin started her career at a grassroots NGO in Cairo working on various projects ranging from economic development and community empowerment to health and social inclusion.

Since coming to the UAE in 2009, Carolin has balanced working at the country’s biggest German-speaking publication and completing her Master’s degree in Sustainable Development Cooperation.

Carolin’s goal is to make a difference for the public. For her that means working on a few key issues, with an emphasis on social and environmental projects that can foster new ideas, establish cross-sectoral partnerships, and achieve tangible results that serve the public interest.

Carolin joined Goumbook in 2020.