The SDGs are working towards an agenda – meeting the goals by 2030. The goals can, however, not be met without recognizing the interrelatedness and interdependence between them. The interrelatedness between the goals urges us to access the goals independently and as a collective in a systemic corroborated fashion. This forces us to recalibrate our methods of assessment of these goals and indicators. For the 2030 goals to be realized, one must recognize this interdependence and work on all the goals simultaneously. The interdependence, on the other hand, is between the institutions working towards ensuring that the goals are met. To work on these goals, the responsibility of achieving these goals cannot only be fulfilled by the public sector but shared both by the public and the private sector. There are many players that hold the potential to bring about change – public-private partnerships, renewed regulatory mechanisms, strong national institutions, strategic involvement of the media, and international diplomacy. Section I discusses the need for working towards an interdependent and interrelated assessment of the goals. Apart from the mechanism in which these goals can be met, it is also essential to understand how these goals ought to be assessed going forward. There are already multiple systems and indexes at play: Gross Domestic Product, Human Development Index, Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index, Gender Inequality Index, Multidimensional Poverty India, self-reporting methods, and even a happiness index, or Gross National Happiness. It is up to us to determine which, if any, is the best methodology? The reason to determine either or all of these indexes is also a determination of what we hold to be a valuable goal moving forward towards 2030. Section II delves into the various indicators and indexes at play before us and why, moving forward, one might be chosen over another.
We are working towards a world where no one is left behind, i.e., working towards a world where the most marginalized and hard to reach people are placed at the forefront of development planning, processes, and interventions. There are multiple theories that provide a pathway to achieving this – universalism, targeting action, and progressive universalism, to name some. Section III discusses how to best create a more balanced world – a world where there is indeed balance and not just equality, i.e., where the worst off are addressed first, a world which leaves no one behind. Section IV concludes this epilogue is leaving us asking where we envision the world beyond 2030. It delves into some possibilities – Sen’s idea of a world where an individual’s exercise of his/her capacity is freedom or a world where exercising individual narrative to tell our stories the goal? What is the methodology that we need to undertake to ensure that an individual can live a fulfilled life? How is it that we envision the world that we desire beyond 2030?
Section I: Achieving Goals 2030 – Interrelatedness and Interdependence
SDGs introduced in 2015 approach human development as universal goals addressing poverty, food security, education, health, employment, and sanitation as stand-alone challenges. However, these goals are also systemic, thereby making the development challenges and tackling more complicated and challenging. This is why effective and efficient sustainable development requires coordinated rather than independent campaigns on all fronts. Since there are areas of overlap among different development objectives, there is a need to design programs that address their systemic nature.1 It is only by considering the interrelatedness of the goals that we will be able to address societal challenges more quickly and sustainably.2 However, despite the UN adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, a framework for operationalizing them in an integrated fashion is lacking. For example, when addressing community health, one must consider not just health alone but also issues of water and sanitation (goal six), food security (goal two), and the promotion of healthy lives at all ages (goal three) to ensure long-lasting change.3 Thus an integrated framework to the SDGs requires closer cooperation across the multiplicity of actors that now populate the governance landscape. Indeed, such an approach to the SDGs may provide an opportunity to build networks among these diverse actors, bringing together their efforts to work across health issues and sectors.4
With the highest HDI,5 Norway has been successful in recognizing this interrelatedness between these goals. The government is prioritizing quality education and employment, especially for young people and those at risk of marginalization. At present, 40% of the members of the Storting – Norwegian parliament – are women.6 The Storting has debated the post-2015 development agenda and the SDGs several times. The government has developed a plan for national follow-up of the SDGs in Norway, linked to the budget process. Responsibility for each of the 17 SDGs is given to a coordinating ministry, which consults with other ministries involved in the follow-up of various targets under the goal concerned. Each ministry then reports on follow-up status for its respective goal(s) in its budget proposal. The Ministry of Finance then sums up the main points in the national budget white paper, which is presented to the Storting annually and the state budget. The process ensures that annual reporting on the follow-up of the SDGs to the Storting in a well-established way.7 Apart from an institutional framework, the country has also been trying to ensure that individuals are aware of these goals. There is an attempt to make Agenda 2030 more widely known and create engagement, debate, and active support by the government to ensure that organizations working nationally can acquire the necessary knowledge, get involved and take ownership of the SDGs. With widespread publicity of the goals, they even figure in the buses across the city. There is an attempt to alter the school curricula and involve celebrities to raise greater awareness of the SDGs.8 Given the role that it has played in carbon emissions, Norway’s current goal is to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 40% emission by 2030 compared to the 1990 emission level.9 It has instituted the Climate Change Act to this end. Norway has even established integrated ecosystem-based management plans for its sea areas. In May 2016, the Storting adopted a Norwegian Action Plan for Biodiversity to achieve the Aichi targets and debated a new white paper on securing an efficient and climate-friendly energy supply. On the global scale, Norway has also taken its responsibility with ODA seriously. It achieves the target of allocating 0.7% of the Gross National Income to the ODA, with the current numbers being 1% of Norway’s GNI.
The measures taken by Norway don’t have to be limited to the nation alone. They can as easily be translated and localized by different nations. Nations just need to take proactive steps keeping the goals in mind and follow them up with legislation and institutional changes in mind. In fact, through adopting the 5–year plans and voluntary report creations, India has indeed begun the change. With more proactive measures, it is certain to work its way up the HDI ladder. The SDGs are not an impediment or yet another goal to achieve. Instead, they are a medium for India to realize its potential in eradicating poverty and ensuring a better life for all.
Not only are these goals correlated to each other they are dependent on multiple actors. These actors are in turn interdependent. The success of these goals cannot be achieved only through the works of the public sector. They need to be worked upon by all the sectors that compose this civil society. This means that Private Companies and institutions and Public-Private Partnerships have a crucial role to play. Governments cannot by themselves raise and redistribute the large sums of money needed to meet the goals, especially when many countries are still adjusting to the impacts of the global financial crisis, experiencing low rates of economic growth, and reducing public spending on Official Developing Assistance.10 A new global framework was introduced by the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, which emerged from the Third International Conference on Financing for Development. It quantified that developing countries face an estimated annual gap of $2.5 trillion in SDG-relevant sectors.11 12 Even then, however, governments have not committed to any significant measures to bridge this shortfall during the FfD3 talks – let alone agree to any substantive reforms that could address the structural inequities that keep developing countries impoverished.13 Donor governments still provide only a fraction of the aid they pledged almost half a century ago. Even these donations are distributed via mechanisms that one might argue need reform.14 Foreign aid is also dwarfed by the net flow of financial resources from the Global South to the North, which suggests that in reality, the populations of (resource-rich) low-income nations might be continuing to finance the development of rich nations rather than perhaps the other way around.15
It is, therefore, certain that to meet SDGs, there is a need for greater participation from all civil society members. Even the UN has emphasized the importance of engaging all relevant stakeholders in putting the new agenda into practice: there is a need for governments and public institutions to work closely with national parliaments, local authorities, international institutions, business and the private sector, civil society, academia, philanthropic organizations, voluntary groups, and others.16 A stronger regulatory framework within nations can provide incentives for investment in sustainable development goals-related initiatives. Even though the goals are to be pursued by every nation, they can only be fulfilled if the responsibility is shared between all the nations across the globe. This translates to better cooperation between the north and south, between developed and developing nations, and all regional cooperation models, including one between the south and the south. While the responsibility has to be distributed between private and public institutions, it also has to be fulfilled by other mediums. Diplomacy has a key role to play. Any agreement entered into by nations is premised on the pre-standing relationship between the nations themselves. These relationships form the backbone of any agreement, whether SDG-related or otherwise. The backbone to this cooperation between nations is through diplomacy. Even the media has an important role to play in both generating awareness and incentivizing investment. Even though three years have passed since the SDGs framework has been introduced, it’s yet to penetrate the imaginations of many and be a goal holding realistic potential for many more. It is finally also the responsibility of civic society to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. Unless ordinary people unite in their millions and demand the universal realization of fundamental human rights through huge, continuous, and worldwide demonstrations for economic justice, other efforts by larger institutions shall only be in vain.17
Section II: How do we Assess Goal 2030?
Given that these goals are interrelated, the indicators need to reflect this interrelatedness. There is hence a need to identify and define these indicators. The process is essential, for it is only through these indicators that one can define and identify, monitoring and review the progress of the goals. However, beyond having suitable statistical instruments for measuring progress, moving SDG into the mainstream also requires analytic tools and methods that can address SDGs as a system, analyze their relationships, and allow policymakers, experts, and the public to identify and test hypotheses about implementation options in the context of scenarios.18 We often draw inferences about what are good policies by looking at what policies have promoted economic growth, but if our metrics of performance are flawed, so will the inferences that we draw.
There has been sufficient debate surrounding the inadequacy of assessing any kind of progress through GDPs. How statistical figures are reported or used may provide a distorted view of the trends of economic phenomena. For example, choices between promoting GDP and protecting the environment may be false choices once environmental degradation is appropriately included in our measurement of economic performance.19 GDP may also not be capturing some phenomena, which have an increasing impact on the well-being of citizens. For example, traffic jams may increase GDP due to the increased gasoline use, but not the quality of life.20 A whole Commission was instituted to identify the limits of GDP as an indicator of economic performance and social progress, including the problems with its measurement.21
The second kind of index is the HDI. The United Nations Development Programme ranks countries by an annual human development index that aggregates income, life expectancy, and education. It measures the average achievements in a country in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge, and a decent standard of living. Data availability determines HDI country coverage.22 To enable cross-country comparisons, the HDI is, to the extent possible, calculated based on data from leading international data agencies and other credible data sources available at the time of writing.
The third is the IHDI. IHDI adjusts the HDI for inequality in the distribution of each dimension across the population. The IHDI accounts for inequalities in HDI dimensions by ‘discounting’ each dimension’s average value according to its inequality level.23 The IHDI is the actual level of human development (accounting for this inequality). At the same time, the HDI can be viewed as an index of ‘potential’ human development (or the maximum level of HDI) that could be achieved if there was no inequality.24 Thus, the IHDI would equal the HDI when there is no inequality across people but is less than the HDI as inequality rises.25
The fourth is the GII. It reflects women’s disadvantage in three dimensions – reproductive health, empowerment, and the labor market—for as many countries as data of reasonable quality allow.26 The index shows the loss in human development due to inequality between female and male achievements in these dimensions. It ranges from 0, which indicates that women and men fare equally, to 1, which indicates that women fare as poorly as possible in all measured dimensions.
The fifth is the MPI identifies multiple deprivations at the individual level in health, education, and standard of living.27 It uses microdata from household surveys, and – unlike the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index – all the indicators needed to construct the measure must come from the same survey. Each person in a given household is classified as poor or non–poor, depending on the number of deprivations his or her household experiences.28
Each of the above facts comes with its own set of limitations and benefits. It goes without saying that they are best used in tandem. However, neither of these factors is fully adequate in measuring social well-being. There are so many additional indicators to well-being and income and wealth that determine the quality of life – including health, education, environmental conditions, social connections, political voice, and security. All the above indicators, on the other hand, are objective and tell us little about a person’s own assessment of his or her well-being. Thus, there is a need for other indicators that help us better assess the quality of life for an individual.
One such alternative is self-reporting and self-assessment. At the national scale, it provides nations to determine through their own mechanisms and indexes as to a method of determining the progress of their nations. They can do so through voluntary reports or institutional assessments through yearly planning or 5–year planning, as India does. At the individual level, this subjective test lets individuals determine where they stand in terms of their well-being. The idea is to take forward the self-assessment that students can do in school or self-report non-cognitive skills.29 The idea is yet to find a base in public policy. The idea provides an opportunity for individuals to determine through their own lived experience the value that policies around them are providing them. It is storytelling through numbers. The government might think that providing a toilet in every city might satisfy the requirement for access to sanitation, but for an individual, not the access to a toilet but access to better garbage disposal or cleaner water might be the predominant indicator of sanitation. While policies might consider them both or all of these factors to be indicators, for an individual there might be stacked vertically, something that the governments are not positioned to predict while creating policy. Owing to information asymmetry between the subjects and the government, the allocation of resources might be channeled disproportionately to what is desired. Self-reporting indicators might represent a more vivid picture of how the policy outcomes impact the target demographic.
However, there are also limits to self-reporting when it comes to public policy. Poor women in India, for instance, are much more likely than men to say they are well, even when a doctor’s examination suggests otherwise. Perhaps they cannot afford to take time off work when they are ill or socialized into discounting personal well-being. Reliance on subjective measures could also make governments complacent about social injustice, using the “she is poor but happy” defense.30
Happiness has also emerged as a deciphering method of determining the success of societal goals. Overwhelming longitudinal, correlational and experimental evidence shows that happy people – or those randomly assigned to a happiness manipulation in an experiment – are physically healthier and more creative, more likely to get married or win job interviews, make more money, be more productive, and philanthropic, and cope better with the adversities of life.31 So happiness doesn’t just feel good – it precedes, relates to, and leads to success in life. However, just like with self-reporting, it is difficult to measure the scale, especially when reported by the individuals.32
However, it remains true that happiness, when collaborated with other objective indicators, can indeed form a basis of social progress. The best case on point is Bhutan that has the GNH or the index called Gross National Happiness.33 The concept implies that sustainable development should take a holistic approach towards progress and give equal importance to non-economic aspects of well-being. It is a policy tool introduced by Bhutan that seeks to create a measurement tool that would be useful for policymaking and create policy incentives for the government, NGOs, and businesses of Bhutan to increase GNH. The GNH Index includes nine domains: (1) Psychological well-being, (2) Health, (3) Education, (4) Time use, (5) Cultural diversity and resilience, (6) Good governance, (7) Community vitality, (8) Ecological diversity and resilience, and (9) Living standards.34 Within these nine domains exist 33 indicators. In these domains, it identifies four groups of people – unhappy, narrowly happy, extensively happy, and deeply happy. In 2017, people who have achieved sufficiency in less than 50% (or unhappy) comprised 10.4% of the population. 48.7% of people have sufficiency in 50% to 65% of domains (narrowly happy). A group of 32.6% achieved sufficiency in 66% to 76% (extensively happy) – in between 6 and 7 domains. And in the last group, 8.3% of sufficiency in 77% or more of weighted indicators (deeply happy) – which is the equivalent of 7 or more of the nine domains.35 Since they have a clear methodology and measurement of indexes in their 11th Financial Year, they were able to align 143 relevant SDG targets to 134 indicators.36 Bhutan’s case makes it clear that even if the indicator is that of happiness, which one might consider a subjective self-reporting tool, it needs to be complemented with a more objective standard with a list of indicators. Thus, to assess the progress of sustainable development, ultimately, we need both objective and subjective measures to accurately reflect the quality of life on a global scale.37
Section III: Leaving no one Behind
To ensure that no one is left behind, there is a need to agree on the definition of ‘leave no one behind.’ If not done, there is a danger that it will not be implemented or monitored in the same way as other aspects of the SDGs.38 ‘Leaving No One Behind,’ puts the most marginalized and hard to reach people at the forefront of development planning, processes, and interventions. It argues for the need for explicit laws and policies and universal ones – targeted at the worst-off, in all senses of the term.39 It forces us to be more honest about who the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of development interventions are and ensure that those who are often left behind are instead brought in, engaged, and derive more significant benefit from international development and humanitarian programs.40 ‘Leave no one behind’ goes beyond being just an anti-discrimination agenda; it is a recognition that expectations of trickle-down progress are naïve and that explicit and pro-active attempts are needed to ensure populations at risk of being left behind are included from the start.41 This is why leaving no one behind has the potential to be transformational and radical.42 It applies to all people everywhere and is a game-changer in terms of development, challenging conventional approaches, and ensuring that human rights are at the heart of development practice.
To ensure that no one is left behind, one must accept that global progress has not benefitted everyone equally. Those who are ‘left behind’ are often at the margins of social identity. This especially manifests itself within countries that these large disparities amongst their population. To ensure that marginalization does not become a reality, early actions, deliberate law, and policies that can yield rapid improvements are essential.43 With a greater investment of finance on left-behind groups, this progress can be accelerated.44 For countries where high levels of absolute deprivations persist, an appropriate emphasis is likely to be ensuring that people living below the poverty line – in income terms or other dimensions of well-being – can attain minimum living standards. For countries where most people have attained minimum living standards, relative considerations that focus on closing gaps are essential. There is hence a need for not just an approach but simultaneous policies instituted by the government to eradicate the suffering from extreme poverty.45 Given than 1000 days since the SDGs have already passed, there is a need for governments will need to act fast and intentionally.
An example of achieving these is universal birth registration in South Asia by 2030. This would require three times more progress among the poorest households compared with the wealthiest.46 It may be that the left behind is the most expensive to reach. However, such investments may also deliver the best value for money. A recent UNICEF report shows that investments that increase access to high-impact health and nutrition interventions by poor groups cost 1.5 times more than those to non-poor groups, but they saved almost twice as many lives.
One theory of leaving no one behind is that of progressive universalism. It is a concept borrowed from the health sector, where the term progressive universalism first originated.47 The concept was first introduced by R4D expert Davidson (Dave) Gwatkin in a 2011 paper published in the Lancet, “Universal Health Coverage: friend or foe of health equity.”48 At its core, progressive universalism is a determination to ensure that people who are poor gain at least as much as those who are better off at every step of the way toward universal coverage, rather than having to wait and catch up as that goal is eventually approached.49 It focuses on putting the worst off first. The theory is particularly important since it is inherently difficult to identify the poor. The poor are often undocumented and living in the informal sector. Thus, there is a need to choose criteria and methods to identify and select target populations and effectively deliver benefits to them particularly. For example, even though children from poor backgrounds have the same opportunities as those from rich backgrounds, learning gaps narrow significantly.50 Peru, for example, has Peru has attempted to reduce inequalities in access to healthcare by granting the poor entitlement to tax-financed basic care without charge.51 As a result of the policy, the probability of getting formal healthcare when sick is increased by almost two-fifths, while the likelihood of being unable to afford treatment is reduced by more than a quarter. This concept thus indeed puts the worst at the beginning of the line. It does work toward ensuring the no one is left behind. With an increase in awareness, more nations utilizing this method of policymaking might work towards creating a world that is not just equal but more balanced.
This theory, however, requires a large amount of political will, for it is not without controversy. It is potentially controversial since it can be argued to be favoring one group over another in its goals towards achieving parity between individuals. The alternative to this is universal policies, i.e., a policy that proposes that all citizens of a nation receive the same publicly provided benefits.52 Under universal policies, all individuals are treated the same, hoping that everyone will eventually cross the finish line. The merits of universalism, for its defenders, are clear. First, it is the existence of accuracy. Information needed to accurately identify the poor is often complex and imprecise, with the most impoverished countries often lacking the statistical capacity to resolve these issues.
Additionally, there is evidence that, because of the burdens placed on state administrations, universal benefits are sometimes cheaper than targeting.53 Some also argue that targeted programs create tensions between those excluded – some of whom may be among the poor but “missed” by targeting schemes – and the beneficiaries.54 Some even argue that they are, in fact, no contradictions at all.55 Either way, there is agreement that for there to be progress, there is a need to provide meaningful protection to low-income households. This can be achieved through a targeted measure or universal or progressive universal measures. The goal, however, has to ensure that the benefits of the policy reach those that are targeted. Otherwise, policies will be implemented among better-off groups first and worst-off groups later, leading to an increase in the existing gap between them.56
Section IV: SDGs Beyond 2030
The goal of leaving no one behind is also to allow the ‘pursuit of happiness.’ Perhaps imagining the world beyond 2030 is not just imagining an equal world, but imagining a balanced one, as is the concept behind leaving no one behind and progressive universalism. A more balanced world is founded on the belief that there is an imbalance in possibilities for individuals of privilege and the impoverished. It would be a world where we opt for long-term solutions to goals instead of determining temporary fixes. Like leaving no one behind, it places the individuals at the worst of positions at the start of the line. Primarily it places all individuals equivalent to each other and at the center of civic society.
The concept of freedom in this world could be similar to the one propagated by Sen, i.e., the idea that individuals ought to have the capacity to exercise their freedoms and capabilities. Sen evaluates the social change in terms of the richness of human life resulting from it. His approach is often termed the capabilities approach.57 The argues that the quality of human life is itself a matter of great complexity – as a set of “doings and beings”–we may call them “functioning”–and it relates the evaluation of the quality of life to the assessment of the capability to function. The exercise of determining progress, he argues, cannot be done by focusing simply on commodities or incomes that help those doings and beings, as in commodity-based accounting of the quality of life (involving a confusion of means and ends). Instead, the functioning themselves has to be examined, and the capability of the person to achieve them has to be appropriately valued. In other words, Sen’s view is that it is necessary to depart from the general strategy of defining sustainable development only in terms of fulfillment of needs and to use the broader perspective of enhancing human freedoms on a sustainable basis.58 Real poverty is thus identified not only as deprivation of income but also as deprivation of capability. The future of sustainable development has to thus ensure that not only is there equality in this world but that there are individuals who can exercise their capabilities. The goal and rationale, therefore, becomes that citizens ultimately govern themselves. Only once we recognize that everyone’s needs are to be met can there be effective cooperation between partners – be it private or public institutions.
Another innovative way of thinking about the future is recognizing the growth potential of storytelling to engage with audiences worldwide. It provides an opportunity for businesses to engage their audiences with complex social and environmental issues, inspire behavior change and enhance brand reputation. Telling a human story is a vital component of sustainability storytelling. These stories focus on a ‘hero’ or central character and take the audience on a journey through trials and tribulations to a new destination.59 Storytelling is such a powerful tool because the value of emotions can never be undervalued. Storytelling holds the potential to mobilize the emotions of individuals to and not only generate awareness but also to their responsibility toward achieving the goals seriously. It is a platform that holds immensely high but untapped potential. An initiative called Stories of Progressive Institutional Change: Challenges to the Neoliberal Economy60 uses storytelling to demonstrate how social movements have shaped a variety of institutions to achieve sustainable development’s goals of human well-being and ecological balance. It is a medium of creating awareness. In contrast, sustainable development with neoliberalism which it views as a value structure that is undermining sustainable human development by elevating the level of risk experienced in daily economic life, prioritizing short-term financial gains, and heightening inequality.61
Most importantly, it holds the potential to mobilize the next generation and inculcates a general appreciation for the goals. The UN Information Centre Windhoek has been working on a project to bring the SDGs to life with Namibian children through the project ‘Frieda and the Sustainable Development Goals’.62 The story is about a young Namibian girl called Frieda, who learns about the SDGs. With colorful illustrations and local Namibian landmarks and scenery, Frieda embarks on a wonderful adventure through the 17 goals. Her dress is a vibrant African print, with the colors of the SDGs and the SDG wheel weaved into the design. Frieda wears sneakers with the Namibian flag, popularized by a local artist. She is a happy Namibian girl who explores the Goals, learning big words, and meeting people as she goes along. The distribution of Frieda and the SDGs is done through a “Story hour with the UN” across Namibia. This project is a perfect example of how SDGs can innovatively be integrated into the country’s National Development plans through personalized narratives.
A balanced world also means that individuals have the opportunity to live a fulfilling life. Individuals can choose for this life to be fulfilled in a multifaceted way. This can be through multiple ways, the bare-bones structure of reduction in poverty, access to healthcare and education, and a clean environment. The layer on top would be not just access to the bare essentials of life but access to equality in an opportunity to avail other benefits provided by society – access to education and resources to be able to actualize individual’s potential within these benefits that policy can provide. These resources are not just in terms of monetary capital but human resource capital. A child from a city with primary education in a developed nation and one from a rural village in a developing nation has access to the same opportunity. However, the human capital that each individual possesses is immensely different. The difference cannot just be attributed to the difference in their monetization of resources. There are instead other powers at play. In a balanced world, both these children would be able to monetize the same resource equivalently.
The story that started with the MDGs has translated itself into the SDGs today. They are going to translate into another set of goals post-2030. 2,000 days have passed since the SDGs we instituted, and there are twelve more years to go. Neither were the goals in the past, nor will the ones in the future be met by the countries through their isolated efforts. Instead, it is only through collaboration with other actors, such as that between the south and the south, that the idea of leaving no one behind can become a reality. On the main gateway at Noble Center for Peace at Norway, engraved are the words – broadmindedness, hope, and commitment. These qualities don’t just make for successful noble prize winners. They make for winners. With these ideas in mind, countries worldwide can strive to work towards a better future, not just till 2030, but beyond.