By Aswathi Prakash
What are SDGs?
In 2015, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by 191 United Nations Member States to address five critical areas of importance by 2030 – people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership . These SDGs, drafted with the core idea of leaving no one behind, were aimed to further progress the Global Development Agenda and took up the mantle from the MDGs, which were in operation from 2000-2015, and lay down r 169 specific targets and 232 measurable indicators.
The SDGs were impressive for their ambitious scope and for the shift in approach to development when compared to their predecessor – the Millennium Development Goals. In New York University Professor William Easterly’s words, SDGs successfully shift away from paternalism, recognizing that development is something done by countries and not to countries .
SDGs reached the half year mark this year since their adoption and the recent SDG Progress Report 2023 (here) has confirmed the apprehensions of different groups with respect to their success. This has sparked discussions across forums with respect to the progress of the SDGs or lack thereof and a vigorous call to action to get countries back on the track with respect to the same. The lack of prospect of even a single SDG successfully achieved by 2030 has led various groups to weigh in on the matter and conclude that multiple factors, including but not limited to, the rising nationalistic outlooks, populism, polarisation and sustained geopolitical conflict are obstructing the international cooperation required to progress towards the SDGs .
This piece is not a critique on the SDGs or a question of their relevance – I am neither an expert in the subject nor is my inclination such. What I am interested in doing however (and what I am attempting here) is to contribute my two cents to the discussion by thinking out loud about the application of ideas from the Dialogic Method, to the situation.
Call it a boon or bane, ever since my acclimatisation to the DM framework, I see possibilities of its application everywhere. While I believe all of the 17 SDGs can benefit from DM application, in this piece I am choosing to look at SDG 17 specifically, which aims to build partnerships to achieve all other SDGs. This is for two reasons:First, I personally believe that for any action that aims to further the global development agenda, building partnerships and collaborations is paramount, thereby making it the first in order of priority. Second, building partnerships and collaborations is one of the outcomes we believe dialogue and the Dialogic Method (DM) can help achieve.
SDG 17: Partnerships for Goals
SDG 17 aims at strengthening the means of implementation and revitalising Global Partnerships for Sustainable Development. Before moving any further, I would like to spend not more than a minute understanding what partnerships entail, as per the UN. The General Assembly resolution 60/215 defines Partnerships as ‘voluntary and collaborative relationships between various parties, both public and non-public, in which all participants agree to work together to achieve a common purpose or undertake a specific task and, as mutually agreed, to share risks and responsibilities, resources and benefits’ and all the UN bodies abide by the same definition.
The SDG Partnership Guidebook (here) Module 6 talks about how partnerships can create value. It puts forward that for a partnership to be successful, it is pertinent that all partners focus on not just creating benefit/value for each individual party involved but also create/add value to the intended collective outcome. This is pleasantly in line with one of the three fundamental principles (here) the DM framework stands on – Value Creation.
We, at Kshetra, believe that for any outcome/solution to be sustainable in the long run, it needs to be value creating in nature. However, Module 6 does not elaborate upon the prerequisite for creation of value – a non-binary approach. Global and International politics, populated by countries and bodies that operate from deep-seated fears and insecurities of looming threats, run on the narratives of win-lose. Value creation is possible only when there is, at the least, a tacit understanding that one party’s win need not preclude the wins of other parties that are involved. A non-binary approach submits that one party’s win need not be hinged upon another party’s loss, and that venues can be identified where all the parties involved can win and further go on to create infinite wins – what we call ‘Winfinity’ (here).
What the non-binary approach also stands for is that multiplicity of ideas, perspectives and interests can co-exist at the same time. This aspect of the non-binary approach is of significance because more often than not, what hinders cooperation between countries, particularly those on seemingly contradicting sides, is the unconfronted belief that any engagement would end up either in a compromise at best or in a win-lose at worst, and scales often tipped subject to the party’s power, resources at disposal and its global clout.
This can bring forth the question as to why countries, particularly on the upper echelons of hegemony, would choose to engage with initiatives such as the SDGs, which are not legally binding in nature. It is here that finding aligned interests becomes important. Aligned interests refer to situations in which the goals, motivations, or interest of two or more parties are in congruence. This does not mean that they are seeking common goals/outcomes but rather they have compatible interests/motivations, which paves the way for cooperation and collaboration rather than conflict. Finding the aligned interests not only ensures all parties’ sustained engagement and cooperation but also a sustainable outcome driven by the virtue of assured mutual benefit.
It is also the aligned interests that drive the parties’ Self Determination – which is our third principle – to continue to engage. Without self determination, or making the choice to engage and continue in the process, any desired outcome, individual or collective, is difficult to come by, thereby making it crucial.
A word before we part
SDGs will continue to stand as a commendable moment of unity in the history of Global Politics. To achieve the desired goals however, there is a long way to go. The only way forward is collaborating and cooperating, creating value, approaching it with a non binary attitude, finding aligned interests at every juncture and constantly keeping the lines of engagement open.