In 2015, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the 2030 Agenda, it did so in a resolution entitled “Transforming our World”. The resolution reflected the depth and breadth of the ambitions that were encapsulated in the agenda. Governments went further in the Preamble to the resolution by declaring that they were “determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path.”
In the five years since their adoption, the SDGs have become the dominant framework through which poverty eradication efforts and development policy are structured at the global level. They have been a “game-changer” and used to very good effect in many settings. In particular, they increased awareness, galvanized support, and framed the broader debate around poverty reduction. They have been especially valuable in contexts where they provide the only available entry point for discussions of contentious issues.
But the SDGs cannot implement themselves. Governments and corporate actors cannot be expected to suddenly reverse course on issues of major importance to them unless the assumptions surrounding empowerment and partnership are taken seriously.