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The Global Goals, 3 years on

The Global Goals, 3 years on

In celebration of Social Good Summit Nairobi 2018 and three years since the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (otherwise known as the Global Goals), it is time to stop and reflect on the past before reviewing where we’re headed.

In 2015, the global community adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It was the year that the Millennial Development Goals officially came to an end and the transformative Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was ushered in and adopted by world leaders at the United Nations. The new Agenda would be made up of 17 distinct and interconnected goals which the world committed to achieving in the course of the next 15 years. As the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals are our shared vision of humanity and a social contract between the world’s leaders and the people… they are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success.”

What brought on this new Agenda?

The preceding Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) launched by another UN Secretary General (Kofi Annan) in 2000 had also landed with the same excitement and pizzazz at the UN promising a vision for a new brave world. At inception they had been seen as the blueprint to drastically reduce global hunger and poverty. Unfortunately that had fallen short in the succeeding years. By 2010, there was already discussion about developing a new transformative agenda outside or within the MDGs. As Kofi Annan would confess later in an interview with the German newspaper Spiegel: “The results are mixed. Some countries have achieved a lot, but overall the challenges of the next five years and beyond remain very big. Countries like India, China and Brazil have managed to liberate millions of people out of poverty. In many countries more children are attending school, the provision of clean drinking water has improved and infant mortality rates have declined. However, there are also countries, especially in Africa, where the situation has barely improved and in some ways has even worsened. The hunger problem has also been exacerbated: Once again close to 1 billion people are starving worldwide. In an age of great prosperity and incredible technological progress, that is simply not acceptable.”

In order to understand the circumstances that led to the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals and subsequently the failure of the MDGs there are a number of critical aspects to look into. First, the MDGs were criticized for being too narrow in focus primarily addressing 8 systemic issues while failing to build a universal, innovation centred approach that was rooted in the adherence of Human Rights. Across the world, economic development has always been rooted in socio-political advancements that engendered inclusive policies. As Amartya Sen, the Nobel prize winning economist stated: “Development consists of the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency. The removal of substantial unfreedoms, it is argued here, is constitutive of development.” Hence, it may seem easier to address poverty by introducing macroeconomic initiatives through fiscal and monetary policies or by improving the balance of trade between countries but without substantive socio-political reforms these economic gains are often short lived and structurally ineffective.

Secondly and most importantly the world had changed. The MDGs had been formulated in response to the challenges of the preceding decades and although some prevalent challenges remained a lot had changed. There were new advances in science and technology, new geopolitical threats and increasing connectedness brought on by globalization. Even the population of 6 billion had invariably added a billion people within 10 years. Therefore, the SDGs hoped to take stock of and address these issues that had not been looked at in the Millennium Development Goals. For instance, the launch of the SDGs coincided with the United Nations Climate Conference, COP21 of 2015 which launched a robust albeit negotiated attempt at addressing carbon emissions. Climate change had become one of the focal points for sustainability and more so sustainable development.

Lastly, the world needed a collaborative and inclusive approach in designing the future. Unfortunately this was not the case with the MDGs. As one expert described them as “an internal UN bureaucratic creation”. Hence, in coming up with the SDGs, stakeholders in a myriad of spheres in civil society, governments, the private sector and academia were consulted. As were ordinary citizens that were previously overlooked. For example, according to the World Economic Forum, 5 million people from across 88 countries in all the world’s regions took part in the consultation, and shared their vision for the world in 2030.

Are we on the right way?

A status report on each goal can be downloaded from here. By and large, Kenya’s development agenda was anchored by the country’s Vision 2030 which acted as a blueprint illustrating how it’ll become a globally competitive and prosperous, middle-income country that provided a high quality of life to all its citizens by 2030 in a clean and secure environment.It is from such an understanding that the SDGs were incorporated and advanced with multiple stakeholders were involved. Unfortunately, 6 years later, the vision seems to have been abandoned by the current government who have opted for more investment in infrastructure. The private sector on the other hand has shrunk due to the dwindling economic fortunes while its civil society counterparts have faced increasing restrictions on freedoms. Amidst these turbulent socio-political climate the country faces a new set of challenges with rampant corruption, high sovereign debt and increasing tax regime.

No one can really tell of the future and visions are never meant to be actualized but it is the hope they inspire in men to envision and create a world that is much more that we cling to them. It is with that hope that SDGs remain an important fixture for all of us to reimagine our world and create a better one for all of us.

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