How to achieve the SDGs

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

In Septem­ber 2015, the lead­ers of 193 coun­tries agreed to achieve the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals (SDGs) – the most am­bi­tious plan ever to pro­mote hu­man de­vel­op­ment – by 2030. Nearly two years into the process, there are plenty of rea­sons for con­cern: the amount of fi­nanc­ing raised so far is un­likely to be suf­fi­cient, and not all coun­tries have ad­e­quate data to mea­sure progress on the ground. It is enough to test even the most diehard op­ti­mist.

But there is still plenty of rea­son for hope. I re­cently vis­ited Colom­bia, which, at long last, is leav­ing be­hind its decades-long civil con­flict with the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia (FARC) and set­ting it­self up for SDG suc­cess.

In any coun­try, achiev­ing the SDGs will re­quire gov­ern­ment, busi­ness, aid agen­cies, mul­ti­lat­eral banks, and civil so­ci­ety to work to­gether, adopt flex­i­ble ap­proaches, share knowl­edge, mea­sure progress ef­fec­tively, and recog­nise that the var­i­ous tar­gets are in­ter­con­nected. Colom­bia seems to un­der­stand this, and is pur­su­ing an in­te­grated ap­proach that lever­ages the strengths of each ac­tor.

Start with gov­ern­ment. Ac­cord­ing to Colom­bia’s fi­nance min­is­ter, Mauri­cio Cár­de­nas San­ta­maría, the coun­try is lo­cal­is­ing the SDGs through the plan­ning depart­ment, us­ing the SDG frame­work to guide re­forms re­lat­ing to the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the peace agree­ment with the FARC, OECD ac­ces­sion, the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan, and the Paris cli­mate agree­ment.

Mean­while, Cár­de­nas points out, Colom­bia’s pol­i­cy­mak­ers are tak­ing care to high­light the ben­e­fits of these ef­forts – in ar­eas rang­ing from health care and ed­u­ca­tion to em­ploy­ment – for the public. They recog­nise that a top-down ap­proach will not work: to achieve the SDGs, all lev­els of the gov­ern­ment, econ­omy, and so­ci­ety must feel con­nected to the goals, un­der­stand­ing the con­crete im­pact that achiev­ing them will have.

To get busi­ness on board, the Bo­gotá Cham­ber of Com­merce, led by Mon­ica de Greiff, is rais­ing aware­ness of the SDGs among its 640,000 mem­bers and pro­vid­ing skills train­ing in sec­tors like con­struc­tion and health care. The aim is to achieve the SDGs’ tar­gets while in­creas­ing the econ­omy’s over­all com­pet­i­tive­ness.

The good news is that, as Bruce MacMaster of the Bo­gotábased busi­ness ad­vo­cacy and think tank ANDI noted, busi­nesses have a strong in­cen­tive to con­sol­i­date the gains of the peace process, es­pe­cially in re­mote ar­eas that have tra­di­tion­ally been cut off from gov­ern­ment ser­vices. And, in­deed, in Medel­lín, once the il­licit drug cap­i­tal of the world, the lead­ers of small and large busi­nesses with whom I met are al­ready in­te­grat­ing the SDGs into their busi­ness plans and sup­ply chains.

ANDI is work­ing to sup­port that ef­fort, in­clud­ing by rais­ing aware­ness among di­verse in­dus­tries, from min­ing to bev­er­ages, re­gard­ing their in­ter­est in keep­ing their wa­ter re­sources clean and abun­dant. The re­sult will be more ro­bust pro­tec­tion of wa­ter­sheds – cru­cial to meet Goal 6, on wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion, among oth­ers.

Of course, in a truly bot­tom-up process, strong en­gage­ment with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and civil so­ci­ety is vi­tal. And Colom­bian youth are al­ready deeply in­volved in pro­mot­ing and im­ple­ment­ing the SDGs. On my visit, youth lead­ers in Medel­lín’s Co­muna 13 proudly showed off the progress in their low-in­come neigh­bour­hood.

In the 1990s, when Medel­lín had the world’s high­est homi­cide rate, Co­muna 13 was among the city’s most dan­ger­ous ar­eas. To­day, it is a vi­brant area ben­e­fit­ing from strate­gic in­vest­ments in public trans­porta­tion (in­clud­ing ca­ble cars and new metro sta­tions), ed­u­ca­tion (li­braries and schools), and se­cu­rity. Sim­i­lar strate­gic in­vest­ments will be needed through­out the coun­try to en­sure that no­body is left be­hind; the em­pow­er­ment of women and girls be­ing one cru­cial ob­jec­tive.

Lead­er­ship by mu­nic­i­pal and re­gional gov­ern­ments to fa­cil­i­tate such lo­cal-level progress is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant. All of the SDGs have tar­gets di­rectly re­lated to the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of lo­cal and re­gional gov­ern­ments, par­tic­u­larly re­gard­ing their role in de­liv­er­ing ba­sic ser­vices. But it is SDG 11 – which fo­cuses on mak­ing cities in­clu­sive, safe, re­silient, and sus­tain­able – that is the lynch­pin of the lo­cal­i­sa­tion process.

That process has the sup­port of the World Bank, the United Na­tions, and other in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment part­ners, which are work­ing to pro­vide more ef­fec­tive and co­or­di­nated sup­port to all lev­els of gov­ern­ment. But suc­cess will de­mand that lo­cal gov­ern­ments ur­gently im­prove their own ca­pac­ity in key ar­eas, such as ex­pen­di­ture con­trol, rev­enue ex­pan­sion, re­spon­si­ble fund-rais­ing, and cred­it­wor­thi­ness.

In Colom­bia, the mu­nic­i­pal de­vel­op­ment bank FINDETER is aim­ing to pro­mote such learn­ing, as it strength­ens lo­cal gov­ern­ments’ public fi­nances and their man­age­ment and plan­ning ca­pac­ity. This will en­able lo­cal gov­ern­ments to in­vest more ef­fec­tively in in­fra­struc­ture and ser­vice delivery, thereby ad­vanc­ing lo­cal de­vel­op­ment ob­jec­tives. En­abling in­sti­tu­tions like FINDETER will be crit­i­cal to lo­cal­is­ing the SDG-im­ple­men­ta­tion process to lever­age the ef­forts of lo­cal gov­ern­ments else­where.

Be­yond ca­pac­ity-build­ing, lo­cal gov­ern­ments must en­gage in smart in­no­va­tion. In Colom­bia, in­no­va­tion has been es­sen­tial to Medel­lín’s progress in re­duc­ing ur­ban crime and vi­o­lence, im­prov­ing mo­bil­ity, and mit­i­gat­ing so­cial ex­clu­sion. The same is true of the city of Bu­cara­manga’s suc­cess in at­tract­ing pri­vate in­vest­ment and forg­ing pub­licpri­vate part­ner­ships to im­prove its com­pet­i­tive­ness.

Care­ful plan­ning pro­cesses, in­clud­ing a strong na­tional frame­work and ef­fec­tive mon­i­tor­ing, are needed to sup­port such in­no­va­tion and an­tic­i­pate po­ten­tial chal­lenges and shocks. For ex­am­ple, in Colom­bia, ob­sta­cles may arise from con­tin­ued drug traf­fick­ing, as well as from the on­go­ing cri­sis in Venezuela, which is caus­ing thou­sands of des­per­ately poor peo­ple to pour across Colom­bia’s bor­der.

Colom­bia still has a long way to go be­fore achiev­ing the SDGs. But its lo­calised and in­te­grated ap­proach has put it on the right path. Other coun­tries would do well to fol­low suit.

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