Since the Sustainable Development Goals were ratified by the United Nations in September 2015, the focus has been to invite national governments agencies, civil society organisations, cities, businesses, universities and local community groups to adopt the SDGs and to take an active role in their national, regional and local implementation.
The UN’s ‘Agenda 2030’ of achieving the 17 goals and their 169 targets across all member countries will only be successful if effective mechanisms are created that invite community centered conversations bringing together representatives from all three sectors to explore the local relevance of the SDGs. Only if local people initiate effective local implementations projects that are sensitive to the bio-cultural uniqueness of each location and community will the SDGs create success stories. The way to achieve the Global Goals is through local relevance and implementation — one community at a time.
Gaia Education has a long track record of working with UNESCO, first through the ‘UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development’ (2005–2014) and now as a key partner in the GAP (Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development). Together with the team of Gaia Education, I had the pleasure to develop a flashcard based day-long training of multipliers entitled ‘Achieving the Global Goals — One community at a time’. The training aims to stimulate local conversations about which SDGs are particularly relevant in a given community and what existing and potential projects could help in their implementation at the local and regional scale. The flexible and highly replicable flash-card based approach has been very well received by UNESCO and the cards are currently being translated into the 5 main UN languages.
On January 24th, 2017, Gaia Education collaborated with the University of the Balearic Islands ‘Smart UIB International Programme in Innovation, Sustainability and Design’ to offer one of these trainings for multipliers on the island of Mallorca. The training, co-facilitated by May East and Daniel C. Wahl, was a great success and has lead to still ongoing conversations on the island about how to offer a series of such events in Spanish and Catalan through the local teacher training centres and environmental education centre around the island, as well as, to students and staff at the university.
The training of multipliers brought together a diverse group of people ranging from the director of the island’s waste incineration and recycling facility, a technician from the Urban Planning department of Palma de Mallorca, social entrepreneurs, professional facilitators, sustainability educators, local council employees, activists, university employees, and concerned citizens aiming to take a more active role in their community’s transition to sustainability.
Throughout the day the group frequently divided into smaller dialogue groups to explore the local relevance of particular SDGs within the context of existing projects on the island that were already working in support of implementing improvements in that field. The groups were challanged to identify possible initiatives that could be strengthened or started in order to promote implementation.
For example, one group working on SDG 16 (Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions) identified that in the past a system of ‘judges of the peace’ were employed to engage potentially conflicting parties in a process of mediation and restorative justice to avoid local cases actually ending up in court. The proposal was generated to reinstate such practices along with supporting existing offers of mediation and conflict resolution through a more explicit link of these offers to local implementation of SDG 16.
Other areas where participants identified either strong existing initiatives or high potential opportunities for promoting SDG implementation included: increased collaboration between intitatives offering quality education ‘ both formal and non-formal (SDG4); improving local water management and awareness, including the creating of a ‘water festival’ in a central park of the city (SDG6), supporting local food growers and markets around the island (SDGs 2 & 3); building on nascent initiatives to promote renewable energy and electric vehicles on the island (SDG7); diversification of the local economy to balance its current dependence on tourism through supporting local innovators (SDG9); working with groups that reinforce the protection of local marine reserves (SDG14), nature reserves and the protection of local biodiversity (SDG15); and a whole host of existing and potential initiatives that could support the transition to more sustainable practices of production and consumption (SDG12) while help to create more local jobs (SDG8); as well as, building on the work of sustainable city projects in Palma and community groups in the outlying villages around the island (SDG11).
Almost all the participants of the workshop, who ranged in age from 15 to 57, expressed an interest in working with the ‘SDG Community Implementation Flashcards’ in the future. After being give an opportunity to facilitate in small groups, people were keen to step into the role of multipliers of similar workshop activities around the island. Since the workshop, news of its success has spread through social media and Gaia Education has already been invited by community groups in Madrid and Barcelona to offer more trainings of multipliers in May and June 2017. After the successful trainings in Hamburg (December 2016), Mallorca (January 2017), the next training of trainers will be held near Bangkok in Thailand (February 2017). You can download a flyer about the training here, and please get in touch with Gaia Education if you would like to organise and host a ‘training for multipliers’ near you.
Only if committed and conscientious people in communities everywhere see the opportunity offered by the Global Goals (SDGs) to act as a bridge-builder between the different sectors and as an invitation to spark multi-stakeholder dialogues about how to implement ‘Agenda 2030’ in each and every community around the world will we achieve the sustainable future we want. There is no point in criticising the United Nations for an imperfect formulation of the goals. We all have an opportunity to give them local relevance, meaning and gravitas through collaboratively adapting them to the bio-cultural uniqueness of the places we inhabit.
Already the Spanish Transition Town network and the Urban Resilience Research Network have picked up on the opportunity of using the SDGs as an entry point for improved collaboration between community initiatives and local municipalities and entrepreneurs. I look forward to working with them on the ‘SDG Lab ResCoMun’ in Barcelona in June 2017. Achieving the Global Goals is in our hands, and the ‘SDG Community Implementation Flashcards’ I developed together with the team of Gaia Education are offered in the spirit of helping you to become a multiplier and take a more active part in this in your own community. Once the cards have been translated into the five official UN languages they will be available for purchase through the Gaia Education website. Let’s achieve the Global Goals together, one community at a time!