It is a common Western perception that the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the United Nations set of specific targets for global development to be achieved by 2030, are primarily problems for developing countries. But as will be shown here, the Global Goals are relevant for all of us and need to be brought home at the local level everywhere, and not just in the developing world: That is what “Global Goals at Home” is all about.
Western countries often have a NIMBY, or “not in my back yard,” approach to many of the issues that are at the core of each of the SDGs, such as food insecurity or access to public infrastructure, and often only consider global aggregates as measures of progress rather than data specific to their populations.
This misguided view skews an important truth: that in virtually every country there are many who are deprived of access to critical resources, restricted from accessing health and educational facilities, and are subject to policy decisions that damage communities’ living conditions and environment.
To combat this misperception, it is essential to understand, from a local perspective, the importance of prioritizing sustainable development. Utilizing the SDGs helps make this possible by providing guidelines and key indicators to create a sustainable future that promotes justice and social equity.
How to bring the SDGs at the local level, turning them into guiding principles that will work for everyone: “Global Goals at Home”
Washington D.C, Maryland, and Virginia region, known as “the DMV,” is one of the richest sub-regions in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, which, aside from serving as the Nation’s capital, has high per capita income, an increased average of residents with high levels of education, and a heightened connection to global issues. However, despite this impressive image, there are also significant inequalities amongst its residents.
While there are many wealthy residents in the DMV with high quality of life, there are equally, if not more so, a number of residents living below the poverty line, at risk to experience increased levels of food insecurity and malnourishment, maternal mortality, and environmental degradation. These communities, often disproportionately made up of people of color, often have limited access to quality education, sustainable infrastructure, and secure housing.
To shed light on this issue, a DMV-based civil society organization has taken on the challenge of bringing global-level aspirations down to the local level.
Using selected SDG indicators, the National Capital Area chapter of the United Nations Association (UNA-NCA) has launched an initiative to collect qualitative and quantitative local-level data and provide analysis on progress toward sustainable development by using SDG target indicators as a blueprint.
This initiative is known as “Global Goals at Home“ (GHH), a nonprofit project started in July 2020 that focuses on filling the data gaps and reducing barriers to information on the local reality of the DMV area. This data, presented through an interactive online dashboard, is intended to inform potential areas of comprehensive change that will advance progress on achieving the SDGs at the local level while promoting social justice and equity.
The innovative GGH approach is designed to be replicable, offering the template for a do-it-yourself, or DIY, approach for other municipalities or regions, whether in the United States or elsewhere. GGH’s dashboard model provides an example of how to assess an existing situation, identify who are the affected communities and primary contributors to an issue, and where the government and direct services providers can play a more constructive role in advancing sustainable development.
The project is still a work in progress, with 6 out of the 17 SDGs published in full, and research ongoing for the remaining 11. Beyond initial publication, the project will require continued commitment to maintain and grow the dashboard as trends change over time or new policy initiatives are implemented.
“Global Goals at Home”, which just started, is already drawing attention
Although it is still early days, there is already proof that GGH’s concept is turning heads as a comprehensive strategy for measuring local SDG progress.
In 2021, the GGH project was awarded first place at the “Pioneers in the SDGs” competition held by the Journalists and Writers Foundation at the United Nations General Assembly Conference. The annual competition recognizes outstanding individuals and organizations who contribute to sustainable peace and development through creative projects geared towards local communities.
Additionally, the GGH team was recently invited to the Hague by the World Justice Project to present at the World Justice Forum 2022 on best practices for localizing the SDGs to create more just and equitable communities.
GGH finds its success in its innovative ability to provide accessible, unbiased data to support direct service providers in a local community.
The model’s easy replicability will allow others in the world a way to conduct their own local analysis to support impactful progress toward sustainable development. Through this model, communities will be able to have a real-time analysis of their progress on key development indicators, which will subsequently allow for informed comprehensive policies that promote social justice, inclusion, and equity.
Imagine the impact of this opportunity: what a forceful statement it would be if civil society was able to take its future into its own hands, neither relying on nor waiting for, political leaders to identify key issues and effective actions at the community level.
By providing a community with the tools to understand key areas for progress, the mobilization of grassroots advocates, direct service providers, and other local actors is more attainable, opening the door to endless opportunities to create a sustainable future.
The Global Goals at Home approach: How it works
The essence of “Global Goals at Home” is an effort to reimagine how to understand, measure, and create social impact at the local level.
Through an innovative online dashboard, the program catalogs, localizes, and contextualizes qualitative and quantitative data relevant to the SDGs across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. GGH provides a comprehensive analysis of progress related to each specific SDG proxy indicator at the state, county, ward, and/or Congressional District level.
Relevant stakeholders are directly engaged through interviews and partnerships are set up with local nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, and direct service providers.
What makes GGH unique is that, unlike other efforts to analyze sustainable development, it has neither been conceived, nor is it managed by, the public sector or private companies, but is instead managed by a group of advocates, supported by UNA-NCA.
In other words, it is guided by an apolitical, educational non-governmental organization that has been operating in the DMV since 1953.
GGH offers open source material so that any citizen, company, academic institution, non-governmental organization, media outlet, or other actor in the local, national, and/or international public sector is freely able to access the analytical benefits of the United Nations’ universally-recognized SDGs through geo-specific data.
For example, many local direct service providers for essential services often have trouble compiling reliable data on their specific issues and may not have the capacity to employ sustained monitoring, evaluation, and learning teams (MELs) to ensure that their information is up to date when engaging with community members. GGH aims to create a positive impact and ease that burden by providing an easily accessible dashboard that presents data, analysis, and impact evaluation tools to inform a partner’s efforts to advance social justice and equity.
Because GGH is independent of outside influence, it has the freedom to be an unbiased source of data.
While there are other data platforms that are valuable in contributing to the social development space, they may, intentionally or unintentionally, distort what is collected and/or reported, lack standard data collection and analytical methods, offer no consolidated library across disciplines, and may have significant data gaps for specific communities.
One of GGH’s goals is to create a product that provides comprehensive information with no undisclosed agenda or paywall that restricts access for community actors with limited funding.
But GGH’s efforts go beyond just data collection. A major component of the program is engaging with local stakeholders and facilitating partnerships with nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, think tanks, companies, and direct service providers to create a vast network for community action.
This involves both virtual and in-person engagement in the form of interviews and roundtable discussions to ensure that equal opportunity is available for direct service providers, persons receiving services, and other relevant stakeholders have the chance to voice their concerns about pressing community issues and promote initiatives that positively impact societal development.
Examples of partnerships: With DASH and Girls Inc. and many more – 48 partnerships now
To emphasize the impact of these partnerships, there are two examples of note that showcase GGH’s ability to not only ensure that their research is holistic and inclusive but also to engage with the community itself through facilitating educational opportunities and discussions.
First, GGH collaborated with the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) to link data on access to prenatal care and maternal mortality rates in DC.
Second, GGH has partnered with Girls Inc., a nonprofit organization focusing on empowering young women and girls, to provide a two-day educational workshop for middle school students on the fundamentals of leadership and advocacy.
The program, known as Project LEAP (Leadership, Education, Advocacy, Practice), is a key example of GGH’s goal of engaging directly with the DMV community to promote civil engagement and teach the value of using the SDGs to understand our world.
GGH will provide facilitators for the workshop and will, in coordination with Girls Inc. design a curriculum for two three-and-a-half-hour sessions. The first will teach important leadership strategies and advocacy practices to promote good health and quality education, and the second will discuss advocacy for gender equity.
The workshop will culminate with a team activity allowing students to create their own campaign or action plan to engage directly with one of these issues, putting strategies for strong leadership and effective advocacy taught during the workshop into practice. The GGH team aims to be a resource for educational and youth leadership organizations that encourages early critical thinking skills and promotes civil engagement by using the SDGs as a learning tool to understand local challenges.
In addition to partnerships with DASH and Girls Inc., GGH has also collaborated with the Brookings Institution, Capital Area Food Bank, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and the UN Foundation.
At present, GGH has 48 partnerships, each of which are highlighted on the GGH Dashboard in an effort to increase their visibility and expand collaboration opportunities through GGH’s, and by extension UNA-NCA’s, vast network of stakeholders.
UNA-NCA’s network includes long-standing relationships with government representatives at the local, state, and federal levels, as well as 2,000 members who are former and current civil servants, advocates, researchers, and students who may be interested in working with or supporting GGH partners.
GGH also prioritizes diversity and inclusivity in its partnerships with the hope of raising awareness for local community action initiatives that may not have wide-range publicity.
Global Goals at Home in the local, national, and international landscape
GGH is not the first project that has attempted to bring SDGs to the local level.
Currently, GGH is one of six projects focused on providing a local-level analysis of sustainable development. These projects, most of which are government-supported, include the Aloha+ Challenge in Hawaii, Sustainable City pLAn in Los Angeles, California, and Pittsburg VLR (voluntary local review) in Pennsylvania.
Similar efforts are also underway in Europe, sponsored by the European Union, in the United Kingdom, and in Germany where there is growing support for global sustainable municipality projects.
What sets GGH apart from these programs is not just its independence from public or private sector influence, but the fact that it utilizes the UN’s SDG definitions and target indicators (although the latter point – using UN definitions – is also the case in Europe).
Many of these projects create their own definitions of sustainability goals and link them retroactively back to the UN definitions and targets, usually combining multiple SDGs together. GGH is one of the first projects that address each of the 17 SDGs individually, specifically conducting data analysis based on each indicator.
Beyond this, GGH maintains the most partnerships with private direct service providers. Many other SDG localization projects are public-led and largely connected with local or state governments.
By emphasizing relationships with private direct service providers, the GGH team is able not only to contribute to the greater SDG localization initiative but also to contribute directly to community action networks promoting social justice and equity in the DMV area.
GGH’s commitment to transparency about its methodology and partnerships process ensures its replicability for future initiatives while being open about its research process.
Looking to the future of GGH and similar initiatives
Even though GGH remains a work in progress, its comprehensive approach to SDG localization is already producing a functional model for other projects to replicate.
By promoting a standardized methodology using the UN SDG definitions and target indicators as criteria for development progress, there is an opportunity for easier comparative analysis between localizations that use this model.
These analyses would provide key insight into a country’s overall journey towards sustainable development, especially when there are no national mechanisms to track progress on the SDGs, as is the case in the United States.
This project has the potential to create a significant impact on the ways communities assess their progress towards increased equity and social justice while driving real, positive change at the grassroots and local levels through facilitating partnerships with direct service providers and justice and equity organizations.
A recent study carried out at Columbia University’s Climate School identified the “key traits in local governance for achieving the SDGs” on the basis of an in-depth qualitative analysis of ten local projects. As shown in the video below, it is apparent that the GGH approach is entirely in line with their findings:
As the world inches closer to the 2030 SDG target deadline, there is an increasing urgency to understand what progress the international community has made and what challenges will remain once the deadline has passed. A major component of this will be global powers moving beyond encouraging other nations to meet development targets and instead turning their eyes inward to evaluate what gaps exist in their own infrastructure and socio-economic spheres.
With nonprofit projects like Global Goals at Home, this effort becomes a tangible reality, one that comes without the barriers of bureaucracy, political divisions, and media bias.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Happiness is two friends having fun together on the road: Nobody is excluded, everyone collaborates Source: Screenshot from World Justice Forum video (May 2022)