Hello, and welcome back.
I’m about two weeks into work at the African Youth Initiative Network, or AYINET. My first weeks have been spent preparing for one date: September 25th. This date isn’t just a big day for AYINET, or even Uganda. It’s a big day for every country around the world. Because, on this day, the Sustainable Development Goals will be formally introduced and adopted by 193 countries. In this article, I’d like to tell you a bit about the SDGs, explain how AYINET will play a role in the post-2015 development agenda, and give a couple of options for how you can participate in such a historic cause.
What are the SDGs?
The Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals, are a set of 17 targets dealing with international development from 2015-2030. Drafted and coördinated by the United Nations, these 17 goals can be separated into three broader targets: “end poverty, combat inequality, and tackle climate change.” Beyond these 17 goals, there are 169 targets that will allow the tracking of progress.
Has this ever been tried before?
Yes, it has. The SDGs are replacing the historic Millennium Development Goals, which expire in December of 2015. The MDGs were a set 8 goals that were enacted in 2000.
How did the MDGs pan out?
Though it will be years before we can actually determine the effects of the MDGs, you can see the latest report here. Overall, the MDGs have been viewed as a success, regardless of whether every country around the world realizes each of the goals. For instance, MDG Goal 1, which aimed at halving the poverty rate (living on $1.25 a day) by 2015. This target was met in 2008, largely due to progress in East Asia. The MDGs have also had numerous successes in Sub-Saharan Africa, although not quite on the level as other regions. Many development scholars argue this has more to do with the MDGs towering expectations more than the countries, but the criticism of the MDG/SDGs is for a later post.
Beyond the numbers, the Millennium Development Goals did something equally as important: they brought the issue of international development to the forefront of the international scene. Creating an international development plan issued a consensus on what citizens of the developing world expected from their respective countries. Historically corrupt and violent governments were now being held (eh, partially) accountable by the international community and their own citizens. The pressure didn’t fall just on the governments of the least developed countries; developed countries were also challenged. The MDGs also reaffirmed a former target of economically advanced countries more than 30 years prior, when these countries were challenged to pledge 0.7% of their Gross National Product (GNP) to “Official Development Assistance.” Of these countries, only Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands currently meet the 0.7% mark (do you see a trend…?), while Finland and the United Arab Emirates have met the goal in years past. Every other economically advanced country has set a specific timetable to meet the target in the foreseeable future, except for Australia, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, and the United States.
This is the next fifteen years
Regardless of the criticism, the SDGs will save and improve millions of lives. As of Friday, governments, civil societies, and the development world will be stuck with the SDGs, and it is up to them to carry out the targets to help the most vulnerable populations and communities around the world.
How will AYINET be involved in the SDGs?
First and foremost, AYINET will be involved in supporting and implementing many of the goals. These include, but are not limited to: (1) No Poverty, (3) Good Health and Well-Being, (5) Gender Equality, (10) Reduced Inequalities, and most directly, (16) Peace and Justice. AYINET’s work over the next fifteen years will bring these goals to Uganda.
Secondly, AYINET has been selected to play an especially important role during the launch and lifetime of the SDGs. Victor Ochen, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated executive director, will serve in two roles: SDG Ambassador to Africa and Goal 16 Peace and Justice Ambassador to the World.
As part of Victor and AYINET’s Ambassador role, we traveled today to Barlonyo, a village about 25 kilometers north of Lira. Barlonyo is a well-known site in northern Uganda, where an internally displaced person (IDP) camp functioned for Ugandans that had been affected by the ongoing civil war between the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (the military) and the Lord’s Resistance Army. On February 21, 2004, LRA rebels attacked the camp at Barlonyo, massacring civilians and government forces. The official number of casualties is 121, though the amount is thought to be closer to 300. The attack was the largest of its sort in almost 10 years.
The gathering today, attended by thousands of Ugandans, is evidence of the progress made in northern Uganda since the atrocities of the LRA. I can think of three important ways in which this progress was demonstrated today.
1) Victor grew up in an IDP camp near Barlonyo. His story has come full circle as he visited the camp today as an Ambassador for Peace and Justice, even though he grew up in a region that was devoid of these.
2) Two Barlonyo-based organizations performed at the gathering: the Barlonyo Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) and Lango Former LRA Captives and Returnees Association (LALFRA). BVTI is a school that was created in memory of the massacre, and many of the students were abducted or directly affected by the LRA. Students are trained in agriculture, tailoring, bricklaying, carpentry, and automobile mechanics. LALFRA is a group that advocates on behalf of other captives and returnees.
3) The plight of Barlonyo, as a community, was acknowledged today. By AYINET, by Victor, by the United Nations, by the SDGs. More than 10 years later, the people of Barlonyo are trying to rebuild. Victor’s success is evidence to this community that the violence and chaos of the past can be transcended. Years later, he has established himself as a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Global Goals Ambassador, but the work doesn’t stop there. Victor, AYINET, and the Peace Corps will continue to play an integral role in repairing the community of Barlonyo, and countless communities like it all around Uganda (through newly introduced projects like this one).
Today, in Barlonyo, Victor raised the Goal 16 Peace and Justice flag and welcomed the Sustainable Development Goals. This means fifteen years of advocating for peace and justice all around Uganda.
What can you do?
Be sure to keep up with the news tomorrow, when the SDGs will be announced and accepted in New York. Heads of state from all around the world will be at the United Nations to welcome the Global Goals.
Talk about it
Though the project of the Sustainable Development Goals is a tremendously important, international affair, it is not something that is widely known. The MDGs were not well-known to the general public, and the United Nations is trying to improve on notoriety with the new Global Goals campaign. Part of the SDGs success in the next fifteen years depends on its popularity.
Popularity often leads to support. Organizations around the world will be working towards these goals for the next 15 years (ahem, AYINET), and they need money to do so. Consider supporting an organization that you feel does good work. If you need help finding one, GiveWell is your one-stop-shop for what’s become known as effective altruism.
Work towards these goals, wherever you are
You might be working in a developing country where these problems are especially pertinent. But if you are in a developed country, that doesn’t mean these goals aren’t applicable. Though the United States is identified as a highly developed country, we still can drastically improve on all 17 goals, but especially with regards to poverty, education gender equality, sustainable consumption, climate change, and peace and justice. We have a long way to go.
Thanks for reading, and be sure to tune in tomorrow.