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Six Tips For Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals

25 September 2018 at 4:58 pm
With 25 September marking the third anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) being agreed, World Vision Australia policy advisor Dane Moores offers his tips to lift Australia’s domestic and international performance on the SDGs.

Contributor | 25 September 2018 at 4:58 pm


Six Tips For Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals
25 September 2018 at 4:58 pm

With 25 September marking the third anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) being agreed, World Vision Australia policy advisor Dane Moores offers his tips to lift Australia’s domestic and international performance on the SDGs.

Tuesday marks three years since 193 countries agreed to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Since then, governments, corporations, NGOs and others have, individually and collectively, wrestled with how to achieve these 17 ambitious goals, and their 169 targets and 230 measurement indicators. It has been no simple task.   

Based on the Goal Kickers report released on Tuesday, I’ve outlined six key lessons for advancing the SDGs, drawing on World Vision Australia’s experience in implementing sustainable development projects over the last three years.

Australia’s ranking in the SDG Index and Dashboards Report fell from 26th in 2017 to 37th in 2018. According to the index, Australia is performing worse than most other advanced economies, and we are especially lagging on indicators around Overseas Development Assistance and action on climate change.

So, what are the keys for lifting Australia’s domestic and international performance on the SDGs?

1. Focus on the most vulnerable children

The fundamental principle of the SDGs is to leave no one behind. Children are often the first forgotten in times of hardship and disaster. A child who is six years old in 2018 will reach adulthood by 2030, when the SDGs are due to be achieved. They are the next generation of leaders who will transform nations – we cannot leave them behind.    

Sustainable development initiatives should be intentional about identifying and benefiting the most vulnerable children. For example, child-focused organisations should not assume that children are always the direct beneficiaries of their programming and so there is a need to review and continually improve programs to ensure they reach children in the greatest need. A trickle-down effect cannot be assumed, and it is not necessarily the most effective form of development either.

Just as a dedicated strategy, performance targets, financial resources and political leadership have been critical for making gender equality a genuinely cross-cutting issue for the Australian aid program in recent years, the same levers should now be used to intentionally mainstream considerations about children in the design and delivery of aid projects. A target should be set that at least 80 per cent of aid investments, regardless of their objectives, effectively support, protect and empower children in their implementation. This should be supported by a dedicated child rights branch or unit within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

2. Go beyond business as usual

On the current global trajectory, the SDGs will not be achieved by 2030. Clearly, business as usual is not enough. As Goal 17 highlights, new and innovative partnerships are needed to achieve outcomes of this scale.

Another aspect of going beyond business as usual is exploring new sources of finance. Worldwide, the funding required to meet the SDGs in developing countries alone exceeds the total global aid budget by US$2.5 trillion (A$3.5 trillion). New and innovative sources of development finance are clearly needed. This can include social impact investing, development impact bonds, results-based financing and remittances, to name a few.

The Australian government is also exploring new finance opportunities, venturing into the impact investing space through its Emerging Markets Impact Investment Fund. The fund will invest $40 million to leverage private investment in small and medium-sized enterprises in the Asia-Pacific region and increase their access to finance. Being sector agnostic at this stage, it is not yet clear which SDGs the fund will contribute to other than those directly related to economic growth through a gender lens, but there is definitely scope to leverage such an impact investing model to accelerate progress on the SDGs in the region.

3. Integrate and coordinate interventions

The SDGs are interrelated and indivisible. Each goal builds on and affects another, and sometimes there are even trade-offs between them. That is why “cherry picking” the SDGs is problematic. Instead of being siloed and ad-hoc, SDG initiatives should be integrated to push forward as many as possible. And they should be coordinated to minimise duplication and maximise impact.  

For the Australian government, this will require working across policy portfolios, domestically and overseas, on everything from climate action (SDG 13), to implementing grassroots projects to deliver food, healthcare and education (SDGs 2, 3 and 4). On the domestic front, establishing a Working Group on Sustainable Development under the Council of Australian Governments should be considered to coordinate SDG action across Australian jurisdictions. They should also be made the backbone of Australia’s aid policy, performance and evaluation frameworks.

Where possible, initiatives should be integrated to advance multiple SDGs simultaneously through holistic programming. For example, in Kenya, World Vision has integrated programs on soil and water management for farmers with access to finance and markets to broaden economic opportunities for struggling families.

4. Have a plan

For businesses and NGOs, this means moving from mapping sustainability impact to revising organisational strategies to ensure that they align 100 per cent with the SDGs. The Fred Hollows Foundation, World Vision Australia, Arup Australasia, Unilever and Cbus are among the many organisations that have already made the SDGs the cornerstone of their organisational strategies.  

For the Australian government, an action plan should be developed as a priority to outline how Australia will achieve the SDGs, both nationally and through its international development assistance. To clarify, this is not an exercise in retrospectively mapping the SDGs against pre-existing priorities – it requires rethinking domestic and international development policies from the ground up to make achieving the SDGs the heart of every government initiative. Countries like Denmark, Finland and Germany have already developed national SDG action plans, and Australia should follow their example.

5. Think global, act local

The SDGs are a global agenda, but to be relevant on the ground they need to be tailored to the local context. This is good development practice. In this context, localisation means taking into account sub-national factors and considering these when co-designing SDG solutions with the community, determining the means of implementation and using indicators to measure and monitor progress.

Using trusted voices in the local community can also be a very effective way of leading change in the local context. For example, organisations can work with faith leaders in various religious contexts to change community views and behaviours, from changing attitudes to gender-based violence in the Pacific to combating stigma against children born of rape in South Sudan. Key and trusted influencers in local communities, especially in remote areas where government presence is limited, can be especially helpful partners in sustainable development.

6. Data matters

What gets measured, gets done. Collecting data that is disaggregated by age, sex, income and other related variables such as disability status is critical to track the experiences of particular groups and make course corrections as needed to ensure that no one is left behind. According to UNICEF, data availability for more than half of the 50 child-related global SDG indicators is “limited or poor”, making it difficult to ensure that no child is left behind.

Governments, NGOs, companies and any other organisation interested in tracking their SDG impact need to invest upfront in collecting and analysing quality, timely and disaggregated data. For example, the German Government tracks and bi-annually publishes 60 quantitative indicators on the SDGs. Interestingly, these indicators are the most requested publication of Germany’s Federal Statistical Office.

Looking forward

We are already three years into implementing the SDGs, and promising progress is being made. But more can, and must be done.

By harnessing the tremendous technological advancements of the last decade, brokering new partnerships, and by mobilising untapped sources of finance, we can make the aspirations of the SDGs a reality.

About the Author: Dane Moores is the senior economic development policy advisor at World Vision Australia.  

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