What a joy it was last September for the international civil society sector: Pope Francis’ address touching many of today’s challenges; Presidents of small and big nations giving their supportive views to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); Malala conveying essential voices of young people; and the plenary of the General Assembly endorsing and applauding the SDGs.
As civil society organisations (CSOs) we have come a long way in the development process of the SDGs; at the beginning, we were not at all sure if our arguments would be considered. Thanks to our joint efforts, and the clear message that we must have a seat at the table, we have harvested fruits. Many of the needs and the rights of the people we represent have become a priority. Just in time, we – smaller and bigger organisations alike – understood how much was at stake if we didn’t work together. We realised that our responsibility had to go beyond our organisational interests. This put healthy pressure on us, and we managed well under strict time constraints. But can we maintain this spirit in the implementation?
Even more energy is needed during the implementation process; now it’s about action. We know the goals, but what is the right approach to achieving them? We can’t allow ourselves to run off with great intensity into different – or even opposite – directions. We can’t think that we are faster alone, and that we can achieve quick, sustainable results without collaboration. My wish is to see us act in the spirit of cooperation that made us succeed in the advocacy phase.
Many of our organisations have vulnerable groups of society at the center of our missions, and years of firsthand experience working for – and with – them. As CSOs, we also have a strong lever to raise awareness and mobilise people. This is a unique opportunity, and a moral imperative to holding stakeholders accountable towards the most transformative mandate of this Agenda: Leave no one behind. This demands that we do not take the easy way. It demands especially that CSOs go out of their way to reach the most vulnerable people.
The Leave no one behind commitment focuses on the universality of the Agenda: very high youth unemployment rates affect Spain as much as Greece; marginalisation is experienced in France and in Brazil; and children are neglected in the United States as they are in Togo. The extent and causes are different, but the suffering of the people is the same. For example, at SOS Children’s Villages we have 65 years of experience working in a “universal” way. We help children that suffer in Europe, and children that suffer in Africa. We work with governments to improve their policies everywhere. And we expect all of them to implement the SDGs nationally. We are happy to share this knowledge. We shall not lose out on the next generation in the North – in 15 years this could potentially be a big threat to the sustainability of the overall SDG results.
I would like to see us CSOs “disrupting each other” and having the courage to hold each other accountable. If we as CSOs consider ourselves legitimised to call on governments and businesses for their accountability, we shall do the same amongst peers – after all we know each other’s work best. The healthy exercise of being accountable is also a great opportunity to mutually strengthen our impact.
We must open our doors and windows, jump over the usual borders, learn from each other and ensure we are doing our best for people and planet through the complementarity efforts of each other’s work. All this will demand that at times we must leave our logos, and egos, behind. I am convinced that it delivers a better end result and will be recognised not just by our constituencies but also by our resource partners and the public at large.