SDG blocks

How to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals: A Twitter Perspective

A view of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) blocks on the northern lawn of United Nations Headquarters. (UN Photo/Manuel Elias)

It’s easy to feel discouraged by how much work is left to achieve the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with their targets of ending poverty and hunger, achieving gender equality, and providing clean water to all, to name a few. To provide a different perspective, the International Peace Institute’s (IPI) peace and sustainable development research has been focusing on “what works.” Part of this research involves asking peacebuilders, policymakers, activists, and SDG experts to identify the ingredients for success in efforts to connect the global 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development to local communities.

This year the UN marks the “Decade of Action,” a call to accelerate delivery on the SDGs, which emphasizes local action. To find the most effective ways forward, IPI and its partners hosted a chat on Twitter about how to implement the SDGs through individual and community action. We wanted to know, beyond the SDG posters hung in the UN Secretariat building and the painted SDG pathway at the UN, how can the 2030 Agenda be locally owned?

We invited a number of active Twitter voices on the SDGs to take part, and prepared questions for participants to respond to about what existing resources, knowledge, and strategies communities could leverage to localize the 2030 Agenda (#Localizing2030). Over 249 people from 39 countries shared what they are doing to implement the goals, and below is a summary of their responses.

Enhance Communication to Achieve Agenda 2030

Contributors suggested that one way to bring the global agenda to local communities is to host regional and global forums to exchange experiences and share information. They also suggested using technology and social media to connect rural populations with government. Doing so would make it possible for communities to coordinate at the national level and engage in conversations at the international level, they said.

Activists noted that “town hall” meetings, where the voices and needs of people in communities were documented, had amplified their voices and influenced national budgeting and policymaking processes in their favor. Through these in-person meetings, governments were made aware of civil society organizations working to achieve the goals, and partnership opportunities were revealed. This participation also helped to empower citizens with information and increased their trust in their institutions.

Participants pointed out the need for national governments to look to local communities as sources of innovation and capacity, which, they said, could be scaled-up to achieve national SDG objectives in partnership with the international community, civil society, and the private sector. They suggested that debates on the SDGs could be a powerful tool to build critical thinking and challenge the status quo.

Implement the Sustainable Development Goals

The issues that the SDGs address are directly related to individuals. However, connecting with this global agenda isn’t always straightforward. The 2030 Agenda’s goals are translated into the UN’s six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish) on the UN website. But, as many users noted, they would have a wider reach if the agenda were translated into local languages.

One successful way to make the SDGs accessible was through education, participants mentioned. What worked to bring the goals into schools was breaking them down and having children role-play them. Ownership over these goals encouraged the youth to think up their own solutions.

Twitter responses added that an assessment report of the goals would help SDG actors know what had been accomplished and what work remained. A number of respondents encouraged national governments to develop concrete plans for addressing the SDGs, and to use the SDGs to inform national development plans.

Our participants addressed trauma and mental health issues in communities affected by conflict as well. Treating these traumas has helped to increase community stability, they said. The same was true of giving girls access to affordable sanitary pads, which made it easier for them go to school and get a quality education.

Key to achieving the SDGs, according to Twitter respondents, was to meaningfully engage young people, local authorities, and traditional leaders. What worked in encouraging such engagement was creating development initiatives that represented both the donors and the recipients, an inclusive approach that took into consideration as many perspectives as possible. Another success was having local leaders formulate projects that they believed their communities needed in order to achieve the goals.

Awareness for the 2030 Agenda had been raised by prioritizing goals based on national contexts. To achieve the goals, participants said, individual interest and awareness was necessary, in addition to incentives. They suggested that this awareness and incentive should come both from regional organizations and leaders in rural communities.

Build Up Resources for Development

Respondents said that resources for achieving the goals are largely lacking. To address this, some suggested establishing civil society coalitions and national task forces to work specifically on the SDGs. Another contributor proposed making budget lines for such projects gender-responsive, and to thereby promote Goal 5 for gender equality.

To fully expand the capacity of SDG advocacy required engaging the community and ensuring the full support of local authorities, one user said.

What’s Next for the 2030 Agenda?

With a clearer picture of concrete steps that can be taken to achieve the SDGs, we learned that for conversations to create change, dialogue must be candid and honest, and policymakers must listen as much as they contribute.

Meetings such as the “Localizing the 2030 Agenda: Building on What Works” forum help push the needle on SDG activity. They introduce peacebuilders and local changemakers with international policymakers and connect those working on SDG issues with those looking for ways to support sustainable action. Multi-sector collaboration encourages business leaders to invest in social good and to back national policies that support community activity.

Above all, it was clear from respondents that achieving the goals requires the participation of as many people as possible, particularly those most deeply affected by conflict. Discourse on social media is one way to start these dialogues but is not a singular solution. Not everyone has access to social media and conversations on social media platforms can be hard to follow or engage in. However, social media does provide a channel for conversation between people living thousands of miles apart that can shed light on the positive work that is already taking place.

What is critical to building on efforts to achieve the SDGs is to connect activists with the resources and support they need. Spreading the word about programs that are making a difference and educating more people about the SDGs are crucial in this regard.

So how can an individual get engaged and support the SDGs? Take a look at our chat, reach out to an SDG actor you admire, comment with your vision for a locally-owned 2030 Agenda, use the #SDGs and #Localizing2030 hashtags, and connect with people whose work focuses on the goals. A larger number of people engaged in this way, even if only through social media, will continue driving forward progress in achieving the SDGs.

Annie Rubin is Assistant Web Editor at the International Peace Institute. Follow @EssentialAnnie.