Using a Global Civil Society Network to Support Agenda 2030

This September marks 2 years of SDGs; on a scale of 1-10 how would you rate the implementation of the SDGs? The implementation of the SDGs is very slow. There are only 15 years to implement the Agenda 2030 and almost two years have passed without much action. Of course, it’s difficult to assess globally because the situation is different from country to country. When it comes to practical implementation there are countries with a zero, many with one or two, and few with a three and four and may be a very few better. This assessment underlines the high urgency to achieve policy changes in the coming years – for the people who are suffering now and to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Nonetheless, there are some signs of hope – so it’s possible and I hope very much that the rate will improve in the coming years.

What are some of the success cases we can point to? There is a high awareness among people about the connection between environmental, social and economic issues. This gives me some hope because change must come from the people. People are aware about the growing inequalities. Many are also aware about the connection of climate change and social issues, and they don’t believe in the myth that growth will solve all problems anymore.

Most importantly there are many local initiatives all over the world -working for the transformation in social, ecological, economic fields and systems and also for the political systems. For example, I know from my work in Bangladesh that many women’s groups are fighting for their rights and are changing society successfully. Another example are the local groups working for energy transition. 30 years ago, people were laughing about them – now renewable energy is well established and could replace fossil fuels if the political will was there.

It’s also a success that civil society is organizing itself around the SDGs. What makes me most hopeful is that many marginalized groups are much better organized than before. That makes it possible to work on Leave No One Behind in a bottom up approach so that people can speak for themselves. Still, civil society can improve and learn.

Another success is that governments now accept the universality of the Agenda. For example, governments from the Global North talk about the situation in their countries, which is an improvement. But,they mainly try to show that they are already doing well. In the meantime, most of them don’t tackle inequalities seriously, stick to the growth model and neoliberal policies, which are responsible for the problems – and it’s the same with most countries in the Global South.

What would explain the minimal efforts from some governments in relation to the implementation of the SDGs? The SDGs are a transformation away from the dominant economic system that is based on the neoliberal ideology. Of course, there is a lot of resistance because powerful forces will lose profit and influence. That is also the reason that the Agenda 2030 is sometimes formulated in a vague way and why all governments agreed in 2015. However, this left the wrong impression with some within governments and the private sector that technical improvements and some incremental changes are enough.

Another reason is that the Agenda 2030 is not legally binding and the accountability mechanism is very weak. The High Level Political Forum and especially the Voluntary National Reviews don’t work properly so far.  Governments try to show how well they are doing and mostly don’t discuss problems in the countries.

Grassroots organizations have reported lack of funding as a major hindrance to the implementation of the SDGs; is this a question of lack of funding or funds not reaching the people at the community level? This is a general problem -only a small part of the funding reaches grassroots organisations. And local women organisations get only a very small percentage. This must be changed if the Agenda 2030 is to be a success. Local groups know best about their situations, they are generally more accountable to communities (not always) and they spend funding directly. There are more and more grassroots organisations in most countries and their capacity is increasing as well. I have worked 20 years in Bangladesh,and my experience is that the local women groups change society.

Funding for the SDGs started slowly. Most donors took time to organize themselves in 2016, so there were very few funds initially. My impression is that this is changing now.It will take some time to reach the people and it’s not yet enough. For example, the new 500 million Euro fund of the EU to support the work against Violence Against Women via the joint spotlight initiative with the UN is a great initiative. However, the question is (again) = How much will reach the grassroots organisations, especially women’s organisations? I believe we need to do strong advocacy in Brussels to influence this. Unfortunately, the procedures are often very complicated and exclusionary.

Generally, there is a need for more funding of grassroots organisations and for better mechanisms. The structures and experiences are there.

How can the question of funding be addressed? Social movements are key in achieving change. We as activists work because of our political convictions and our desire to create positive lasting change. I see this in NAYD. You are a group of motivated young people with a lot of ideas and energy. And you do your great work even without funding, which is fantastic.

In order to effectively achieve the SDGs, people who organize themselves, in the communities, grassroots organisations, women’s and youth organisations, social movements, trade unions, NGOs, etc. need support to properly implement.

Where should the funding come from? It’s always good to get funding from individuals. They can be members of organisations or support by funding. This is a good basis. There are examples as Amnesty International, which doesn’t receive funding from governments, or the Obama and Bernie Sanders campaigns, which received many small donations. This shows the support of the people and creates accountability to the people as well – and not to corporate donors.

Peoples’ movements can be more successful if they receive funding from governments, the UN or foundations. Of course, this can also compromise them. But if there is enough political will and support as well as accountability by the people,larger funding can definitely be very helpful. There are great examples how funding has helped to achieve change. We need to make a stronger case that funding should go to the organisations at local and national level. It frustrates me to see big amounts of Official Development Assistance go into high salaries of so-called foreign experts. This not only has negative effects on the success of development programmes, but also takes funding away from those who do the real work. Civil society should advocate more on that.

Finally,the growing repression of civil society is affecting funding as well. Governments often control external funding for political reasons. Funding of human rights work is especially often restricted. This trend must be resisted at various levels. Donors also have to find a way to fund civil society that includes local human rights and women rights defenders.

SDG 17 focuses on partnership for sustainable development; how collaborative are the efforts towards realizing the SDGs? SDG 17 is similar to the Millennium Development Goal 8. MDG 8 was called “Develop a Global Partnership for Development”.  Unfortunately, MDG 8 was a failure. Therefore SDG 17 is called “Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development”.

Financing is one part of SDG 17.  The implementation is unclear and absolutely insufficient at this moment and even partly going in the wrong direction. According to Jesse Griffithsat Eurodad:

“Private finance is being heavily touted by the World Bank, G20 and others as the solution to the SDG financing gap – for example, through their enthusiastic promotion of public-private partnerships. Yet international private capital has proven volatile, and is often short-term. In fact, since 2015, international private finance has been net negative for developing countries: more money has been flowing out than has been going in.” See

The World Bank promotes private financing in order to get trillions of USD. Of course, bigger amounts are needed, but, social protection floors could be paid by taxes especially if multinational companies paid their taxes. So tax justice should be the priority.

Trade is another of the different issues of SDG 17. Target 17.10 asks for a “universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organisation…” There is no progress in this direction.

Target 17.18 is central to the Leave No One Behind principle. The target demands dis-aggregated data for different groups by 2020. This can become an important tool to monitor and create political pressure to achieve,for example.the eradication of poverty and hunger by 2030.

What can global civil societies, such as GCAP, do better to ensure that Agenda 2030 is realized? GCAP believes that Agenda 2030 will be only realized if global civil society:

  1. is led by the voices, perspectives and the mobilization of marginalized people and local communities,
  2. works together to have a strong voice –including cooperating with the climate movement, and
  3. works on structural issues such as inequalities and tax justice.

Therefore, we make a point of working in a bottom-up process. The local and national members of GCAP’s national coalitions work with marginalized people to give their perspectives via our “Faces of Inequality Campaign”. National advocacy and mobilization is based on the issues at the local level. The regional and global levels follow suit.

GCAP also works on creating SDG networks at different levels. One example at the national level is the SDGs Kenya Forum. At regional level, we have built and coordinate the Asian civil society Partnership for Sustainable Development. In Africa, we are part of the African CSO Working Group for Sustainable Development. GCAP’s Africa Coordinator, Kyerewa Asamoah, is one of the three newly elected Co-Chairs. At the global level, we coordinate the Action for Sustainable Development platform together with other organisations.

Hundreds of organisations came together for a Global Day of Action on 25 September 2017 – the two-year anniversary of the SDGS. On that day, more than 1,000 actions were organized in 116 countries. The global day was coordinated by GCAP, in cooperation with the UN SDG Action Campaign and Action for Sustainable Development. NAYD organized actions in a number of African countries. Thanks for that! The 2017 Global Day of Action was a first strong sign. In 2018 we would like to make this day even stronger. This can be done only together. So I hope that we cooperate with you in 2018 as well.

How can we foster more cooperation between youth-led networks and international organizations? Youth and their organisations and networks are one of the most important groups in this process. The engagement of young people for the SDGs makes me hopeful. One could think that 17 SDGs decided in New York might not be that interesting to young people. But my experience has been that there is a lot of interest and energy. I see this especially in Africa. We need this energy and optimism. The big changes in society often come from youth and women.

Youth organisations are represented at different described levels – the UN Major Group of Children and Youth is very active, and at the UN in New York there is cooperation. However, this is often not the case. For example,we at GCAP want to strengthen our cooperation with organisations such as NAYD, which we already did on the 2017 Global Day of Action in September. I hope we can now work more closely together.

Moving forward, what should we focus on at the individual, organizational, community and global level to ensure Agenda 2030 is realized? Each person and organisation needs to decide this. We can only achieve the SDGs together. The Agenda 2030 is indivisible. The different SDGs cannot be achieved individually –only together. Within this framework it’s good that different people and organisations have different priorities and expertise.

The “Leave No One Behind” principle is key to achieving Agenda 2030. And this needs the support of all actors. It can only be achieved if we get rid of extreme inequality. This is part of SDG 10. Plus,gender equality (SDG 5) is also central. The “furthest behind first” is key to this and should be followed from the beginning. To achieve this the extreme wealth needs to be reduced. It can not be that 8 men own as much as 3.5 bilion people and more than 800 people go to bed hungry. Tax justice is central to achieve Leave No One Behind by 2030.

Any final remarks? The Agenda 2030 and Leave No One Behind is not a naive dream or a slogan. It is possible to achieve, but only if we believe in it. Changing our mindset is one of the first steps.

I am shocked by the reports about slavery in Libya. It’s sad to realize that the European policies helped to create this horrible situation. We must stop this immediately and I very much hope that the Youth from Africa and Europe will build a future of cooperation together. And I believe that NAYD has the potential to play a positive role in this process.

Ingo Ritz is Director of Programmes, Global Call to Action Against Poverty