A New Way of Working for Sustainable Development Goals

25 Sep 2017

Two years into the Sustainable Development Goals, SDG-Fund director, Paloma Durán, assesses progress and what can be learned from early programs to insure future success. To achieve the 2030 Agenda, she says, we have to find new ways to collaborate.

STI Experts

A classroom in Bangi orphanage (Cental African Republic). Photo by Saber Jendoubi.


Today, September 25, is the second anniversary of the approval of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - the international community’s roadmap for achieving a more prosperous and peaceful world for everyone.  In addition to establishing an ambitious group of 17 comprehensive goals, the agenda has required a paradigm shift with regard to taking on the complex challenges of development.  This, in turn, requires greater effort and new methodologies to insure its principal end, which is to eradicate poverty and improve the lives of all people. 

First of all, the Agenda integrates the maxim “leave no one behind.”  This means, for example, completely eradicating extreme poverty all over the world, which according to the latest data from the 2017 SDG Report, still affects 767 million people, and doing away with hunger, which 815 million suffer.  Goals of such magnitude cannot be reached by government efforts alone.  That’s why the Agenda calls for coordination and cooperation between traditional and non-traditional actors, including governments, international organizations, civil society, academia and the business sector.

In the second place, the Agenda proposes multidimensionality. That is to say, the assumption that development goals like health, education, water and sanitation, food safety, gender equality and political participation are complex and interrelated. Therefore, a development program in a specific area should take into account all of these factors to insure better results that are more sustainable over time. 

Thirdly, the 2030 Agenda consecrates universality. Unlike the previous Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs break with the traditional dialectic of rich and poor, or developed and undeveloped countries. This implies inviting all countries to implement the Agenda, evaluating what their social, economic and environmental goals are, taking in to account their national circumstances and establishing strategies to tackle them effectively.

As the first United Nations body created specifically to achieve the SDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals Fund has centered its efforts on designing development initiatives and pilot programs worthy of the new requirements of the 2030 Agenda. The successes of these two first years, with more than twenty joint programs underway in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, give us some clues about how sustainable development programs can work. 

The joint programs are called such because all the development actors participate in them from the initial phases of design and planning. At least three specialized UN agencies, the government, regional and local institutions, civil society and private businesses are involved. More than 2,000 people have been consulted about formulating the SDG Fund’s programs. Working together is challenging insofar as coordinating the efforts and roles of each development actor, but at the same time, it assures better analysis and understanding of the goals, and stronger and more integrated solutions to confront them. 

National appropriation is another key element in the Fund’s programs. Cooperation with development has to be people-centered and must respond to national priorities.  The SDG Fund’s governing bodies insure the full cooperation of the national governments and their partners. Further, governments take on the initiatives more easily when they are based on their own visions, strategies, and frameworks, thereby assuring that the projects can grow and even be repeated over the long term. 

Precisely in order to reinforce the sentiment of national appropriation, another condition that all of our programs include is that of matching funds. These are additional funds contributed by the national partners, whether they be government institutions, the private sector or foreign investors, and they must at least match the funds contributed by the SDG Fund. In fact, currently 56% of the total program budget comes from matching funds. This manages, firstly, to reinforce the national partners’ sentiment of national appropriation as well as the success and the sustainability of the programs, and further, to double the programs’ budgets.

The joint programs that have been launched to date have yielded very positive results. From the creation of sustainable agricultural production programs in Bolivia to raise the income of the poorest families and improve the nutrition of minors and mothers; to employment programs to empower women economically in Palestine; to workshops for improving the governance of and access to drinking water; to sanitation and hygiene in the Philippines; and driving local agreements to foment decent jobs and economic opportunities in Mozambique in collaboration with mining industries and local cooperatives. The SDG methodology applied in these programs has helped improve the lives of more than 3.5 million people.

These programs are generating new policies that are more just and more sustainable, taking the 2030 Agenda into account. But the main conclusion is probably that in the time we have ahead of us to achieve the SDGs, we need to find new ways to work, new forms of collaboration, and a new way of understanding the challenges of development. Achieving a sustainable world in 2030 is possible putting together the efforts of governments, businesses, civil society and universities. The ultimate goal, which is to attend to each person in his or her particular situation of need, is worth the effort. 


This is a translation of an article published in Spanish in the El País newspaper. Read the original here.