In his famous 1963 speech, President John F. Kennedy used such a consummate description of benefits of goal-setting, that it is the essay writer perfect prototype to show how the UN Sustainable Development Goals achieve actual targets in the real world.
Sustainable Development Goals are 17 blueprints for specific action targeting specific global problems that were adopted as resolutions by the United Nations in the Rio Earth Summit (2012). These goals encompass poverty, local farming, health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, water sanitation, clean energy, economic growth, ‘industry, innovation and infrastructure,’ reduced inequalities, sustainable communities/cities, responsible consumption/production, climate action, aquatic life, life on land, ‘peace, justice, and strong institutions,’ and partnerships for the goals. The United Nations means to achieve these goals by 2030. Each goal represents an actionable, easily communicable, universally applicable, and theoretically achievable target guiding governments to “drive implementation with the active involvement of all relevant stakeholders” (UNGA, 2012).
In his book The Age of Sustainable Development (2015), the economist Jeffrey Sachs provides the example of US President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1963 speech to make his point on how the specificity and clarity of the UN SDGs helps governments and organizations to achieve these goals. Specifically, Kennedy (1963) said: “By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all people to see it, to draw hope from it and move irresistibly towards it.” In Sachs’s words what Kennedy said is “the essence of the importance of goal setting” (p. 491). Thus a clearly stated goal lays down clear criteria by which paths to attainment of the goal can be derived by the relevant governments and/or organizations. These same criteria later serve as the benchmarks to evaluate progress toward goal after a given time period.
Examples of necessary steps needed to make the goals ‘more manageable’, allowing stakeholders ‘to move irresistibly towards’ them include policy design to implement the action plan as suggested by the goal definition, new financing to fund the plan, system of rethinking and adapting strategies during community implementation of the plan, measurement methods to assess criteria attainment, and even development of new institutions focused on the actionable plans as needed. Jeffrey Sachs highlights two specific tools that help translate SDGs into reality: backcasting and technology road-mapping . Backcasting involves setting clear targets for a date in the future (2030 in the case of SDGs) and while technology road-mapping lays down pathways that move the community from current conditions to those future targets. The method of assessment works backward in time (therefore the name backcasting): as you compare goal progress by referring to the forward-dated targets, but it keeps one moving irresistibly towards goal attainment, just like Kennedy described.
For instance, the SDGs 3 (health and well-being) make it easier for an organization like the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria (GFATM) to drive its public funding campaigns by incorporating not only these specific and lethal disease in its goal statements but also specifying ‘universal health coverage’ (UN SDG 3.8) and ‘health financing,’ (UN SDG 3.C). Similarly, Goal 3 pushes governments toward specific, measurable targets such as ‘recruitment, development, training and retention of health workforce’ (UN SDG 3.C) and ‘strengthen the capacity … for early warning, risk reduction and management of national … health risks) (UN SDG 3.D). Using the example of Goal 2: Zero Hunger, a goal as specifically worded as to ‘maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals’(UN SDG 2.5) facilitates implementing specific strategies and to assess progress in goal attainment. The Climate Action Goal 13 guides governments to ‘integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning’ (UN SDG 13.2) and sets a clear end-goal to all organizations with the goal of ‘mobilizing jointly $100 billion annually by 2020 from all sources’.
These examples leave no doubt that the standards for goal-setting mentioned in Kennedy’s speech – clear definition, more manageable, and ability to move irresistibly toward attainment – are instrumental in translating the UN’s goals of sustainable development into reality.
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Interdependence of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
The UN Sustainable Development Goals aim equivalence in basic rights, services and needs everywhere and plan to improve healthful conditions whether it’s individuals, urban economics, or life sustained by the planet. As such, specific goals from different SDGs often build upon or intersect with each other. An advantage that flows from these commonalities is that with efficient planning, multiple goals can be worked towards at the same time, thus saving priceless resources of time, effort and funding.
Consider the first two goals: No Poverty and Zero Hunger targeting problems which are widespread in not only developing countries but also afflict specific areas or demographics in the more developed world. For instance, Goal 1.1 seeks to eradicate extreme poverty in the world by 2030, at least by half, which is defined by having only upto $1.25 per day per capita. It doesn’t take a professional to point out that this immediately ties in with Goal 2.1 which seeks to ensure, by 2030, all year round access to food by poor and vulnerable people including infants. With insightful planning, a significant number of the poor and vulnerable section needing better access to food are planned for via Goal 1.1 under the head of extreme poverty.
Government bodies, service providers, and stakeholder or nonprofit organizations can support each other through committees and chart a mutual course of action that cuts through specific, interconnected goals from both SDGs. For instance, as work begins on 2.A toward ‘rural infrastructure’, ‘agricultural research’, and ‘technology development’ targeting a specific area of the country, capable people in extreme poverty can be funnelled through a process of assessment, training, basic education, recruitment, and employment (1.4) as workforce that helps achieve 2.A goals at their skill level. Microfinance initiatives (1.4) to help the extreme poor sustain better living conditions (1.2, 1.3) can be geared towards the contribution of the agricultural system in eliminating hunger (1.4).
Thus the educated poor can be hand-picked to teach relevant parts of an agricultural course teaching sustainable farming strategies to yet another group of the poor who have a history or aptitude for farming. Similarly, an incentive system can be created for the business sector toward ‘proper functioning of food commodity markets’ (2.C), whereby businesses voluntarily contributing to hunger eradication goals (1.1) gain benefits.
Targets of mobilizing resources can also be achieved more cost-efficiently by creating a cross-linked strategy. Events aimed at 1.A (targeting funding for poverty-eradicating projects) can also aim jointly at winning investments toward attaining sustainable agriculture needs (2.4). Key stakeholders, government representatives, organization executives, and community and charity leaders can be invited to these events to spread awareness, win donations, showcase achievements, and sell specific incentive or development projects to prospective businesses, in periodic convention formats targeting both poverty and hunger. Again, specific tasks, jobs and positions throughout these events can be delegated to a group of the extremely poor funnelled through the training/recruitment center who have shown exceptional individual or family level attainment or otherwise contributed at community level. This feeds back into the incentive system mobilizing the poor themselves to become active participants in their own development.
Therefore, the first major step for any community, city, national or even an international body planning achievement of goals would be to achieve both general and specific cross-linkages across all 17 goals (HLPF, 2018). Instead of targeting separately or spending numerous resources afresh for each goal individually, monumental savings can be achieved by creating cross-linking systems or networks of goal planning, attainment and sustenance. This approach is now being recognized and adopted at the global level as evidenced in the Expert Group Meeting held for the High-Level Political Forum (2018). Therein, government, private and nonprofit sector leaders came together to both review progress and promote interlinkages among the SDGs as the way forward in successful future attainment of the goals.
High-Level Political Forum(HLPF). (2018). Advancing the 2030 Agenda: Interlinkages and Common Themes at the HLPF 2018. Expert Group Meeting Executive Summary Report. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/18777Interlinkages_EGM_Su mmary_Report_2018.pdf
Kennedy, J.F. (1963). In Sachs, J. D. (2015). The Age of Sustainable Development . New York:
Columbia University Press, p. 491.
Sachs, J. D. (2015). The Age of Sustainable Development . New York: Columbia University
United Nations (n.d.). About the Sustainable Development Goals.