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UNA-UK joins Social Good UK for summit on the SDGs

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Mandeep Tiwana, Oluwatobi Aigbogun, Maria Fernada Espinosa,  Labake Ajiboye-Richard, Victor Grau and Marissa Conway at the Social Good Summit

The Social Good Summit 2023, convened virtually following the 78th UN General Assembly, marked a pivotal juncture in the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), underscoring the need for global action as we pass the halfway point to the 2030 deadline. In partnership with +Social Good UK, UNA-UK hosted a series of sessions on the subject of addressing the goals in unprecedented times.

Michael Sheldrick, in his opening remarks, confirmed that merely “12% of the SDGs have actually been achieved at the halfway mark”. His rhetorical question, “why even bother?” prompted a critical reevaluation of the current trajectory. He asserted that despite the prevailing challenges, it remains “entirely possible to change dramatically” in order to achieve the goals, citing that the “best antidote to lack of agency is action”.

We were delighted to be joined by María Fernanda Espinosa, who delivered the keynote address. She spoke on the current challenges that we face in pursuit of achieving the goals, adding that it is imperative to concentrate efforts on areas within our sphere of influence. She added that “we have to focus on the things we do and the things we can change” but that this “requires political collaboration and will”. Ms Espinosa explained that the exacerbation of global challenges - due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing conflicts, the climate crisis - has incited “slow progress and even regression” towards the majority of the goals.

UNA-UK's CEO Marissa Conway moderated the fireside chat on institutional reform and the need to enhance working methods and accountability. The imperative for civil society’s integral involvement was underscored, reframing it not as a “concession, but as a right and a necessity”. Weak points in the current global architecture were acknowledged and the prospect of a civil society envoy was contemplated again.

The Changemaker Spotlight highlighted ‘Gesego’, a developmental enterprise leveraging innovative games to foster inclusivity in the SDGs, especially among youth groups.

The panel discussion - moderated by Labake Ajiboye-Richard and joined by David Connor, Mandeep Tiwana and Nudhara Yusuf - explored requisite shifts in mentality, strategic foresight, increased civic participation, and enhanced community understanding of the SDGs. The need for an accessible and apolitical approach was discussed, emphasising the identification and support of individuals who champion the SDGs, thereby empowering them with agency.

A unique point was that we must change the mentality of “coming back to the SDGs” once threats have already been addressed. In essence, we must ensure that the SDG targets are ingrained in everyday practices and progress towards them must not be a periodic journey. Those with the power to instruct change must engage strategic foresight when tackling challenges and crises, and recognise that it is in the best interest of everyone to include sustainable development in all policy areas.

The Social Good Summit served as a platform for insightful discussion, to address the challenges to advance pragmatic solutions towards the goal of meeting the SDG targets by the 2030 deadline. The resounding message was one of collaborative endeavour, and the imperative for transformative actions to effect sustainable progress. 

UNA-UK is grateful for the partnership of +Social Good UK and the support of the UN Foundation.

Photo: Mandeep Tiwana, Oluwatobi Aigbogun, María Fernanda Espinosa, Labake Ajiboye-Richard, Michael Sheldrick and Marissa Conway at the Social Good Summit.