The Super-unsexy Localization of the SDGs

I have 1,001 things I want to write about and yet nothing seems to stick. I have deleted so many ideas from my screen and tried to start over but just cannot seem to find the inspiration. I probably know why. There is so much going on in the world of development and humanitarian action that it’s practically hard to choose a topic. I could make a list and work my way through the items but that seems to clinical and not at all how I am inspired to write.

I could write about how I am feeling stuck in the middle between friends working on human rights and friends doing humanitarian work and how they can’t seem to agree on what exactly is going on in a particular country. Probably because they are coming at the crisis from different theoretical perspectives that live in different dimensions so they will never be able to ‘meet in the middle.’ And precisely because I am feeling trapped between two mutually exclusive (but not really) view points, I won’t write about it – yet.

I could also write about how tired I am of reading reports and op-eds on the violations of international humanitarian law. Mostly because these reports are written by the descendents of people who drafted those laws in the first place and wouldn’t it be nice to have another perspective on the relevance of those laws in our present day lack of anything-we-might-call-humanity? But more on that later – because I’d like some time to reflect on the concept of morality and warfare (no easy task).

I could also write about an issue at the heart of Theory in Practice – the need to find a way to increase the resilience of communities around the world without sacrificing their tradtional ways of life. There was an interesting article here that made a lot of sense – and yet I am not so naive to think that some sacrifices – by everyone – will have to be made.

But today I am feeling a bit like writing something really boring. Not sexy at all – how to localize the SDGs. Because I feel that at the end of the day we need to look at practical, manageable issues that give us a road map to simply get on with it without fretting over the chaos and moral crises the world currently finds itself preoccupied with. I need to destress, so I’m going to get back to the basics of development.

Here we go.

There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Yes really. You can read them here. Do you know how many targets there are??? I’m not sure, actually, because I lost count. Needless to say, not all targets are going to be applicable to all communities – far from all, in fact. So it is unsurprising that there is a disconnect between country development priorities and the SDGs (read more here). Nonetheless, the UN General Assembly agreed on these goals and targets so now the onus is on individual countries to actually do something with them. In theory, it’s a daunting task.

In practice, we can break it down. Instead of looking at the SDGs and their accompanying targets as a ‘to do’ list, what if we look at them as a menu? Instead of being forced to participate in all actions, like having a ‘taster plate’ of every item on a restaurant’s menu forced upon upon you, let’s aim for a bit more bang-for-your buck (and knowledge, since development won’t be achieved with money alone).

Step 1) Begin by reviewing the goals – which ones mean the most – resonate the most – with your community? Set the others to the side.

Step 2) Review the targets of the goals you have selected. Which ones make sense (and which ones don’t)? If they don’t make sense to your community, then your community won’t be driven to try to achieve them. Leave those aside.

Step 3) Prioritize the targets that remain. Understand how much it will cost to achieve them. Figure out which can be achieved using existing resources (knowledge and actual physical human and capital resources) in your community. Which ones will need additional financial or technical support from your national government or donors (international community and/or the private sector).

Step 4) Make an action plan…. remember, it’s 15 years worth of actions! Which projects need to be done first in order for others to be undertaken later on? Your community can prepare one year, five year or even 15 year plans. It’s all about what is best for your community.

Step 5) Be sure to coordinate with the local or sub-national government. Ensure that community priorities are included in local goverment plans to ensure that development financing for your projects (the ones that need them) can be secured.

This is perhaps overly simplistic. But the point is to demonstrate that by localizing the SDGs we aren’t misinterpreting that to mean ALL of the SDGs and ALL of their targets. That’s just impossible. Remember – bang for your buck (ie: effectiveness, efficiency and sustainable impact). We shouldn’t worry too much about how community results impact on the national or global levels – let communities lead and then let the results trickle up – and scale-up – from there. The first impact will be improved quality of life at the community level. The second will be community resilience in the face of disaster, climate and economic shocks. And at the end of the day, that’s really what the SDGs are all about.

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