Caritas agencies supporting SDGs implementation – how to catalyse change?

2016 marked the first year of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since then CAFOD has been working with other Caritas organisations and non-faith partners of the Global South, supporting their involvement in the implementation processes of the 2030 Agenda at the national level. The positive results emerging make a case for continuous coordination and partnership between northern and southern Caritas agencies to catalyse change.

The world is changing to the better - SDGs help us to keep improving

Despite appearances to the contrary, today’s world does see many positive changes. People live longer and healthier lives. There is greater access to justice, increasing effective governance and better functioning institutions. More countries are implementing democratic systems. There are also fewer aid-recipient nations, with some even becoming net donors.

We do have reasons to celebrate. However, this progress is only bright for some. We live in times of widening inequality, increasing natural disasters that threaten to take people back to poverty, growing violence and injustice are, creating political and economic instability, often leading to forced migration and displacement. These problems require a global, coordinated response working towards the same goals.

Led by the United Nations in 2015, the world adopted the new global development framework: Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Agenda 2030 includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to help us achieve a sustainable future by 2030 by challenging the root causes of global problems and not only their symptoms.

Lessons from the ground

Like many international agreements, the 2030Agenda is broad and complex and provides no further guidelines on implementing the SDGs for national governments. This partly stems from a desire for national governments to “localise” responses to their contexts to reflect their diverse realities. Localisation is important to Caritas because it means that the participation of Civil Society Organisations is crucial to effectively determine how, when and with whom the SDGs can be achieved.

At CAFOD, we think that the SDGs can be a helpful tool to respond to global challenges. Often northern agencies have more resources to translate international agreements into mechanisms and options, while local agencies bring context, connections and ideas. So in 2016, through DFID funding (development aid from the UK government), we supported several of our partners in their efforts to join the SDG national level implementation processes within their respective countries. Our cooperation focused mostly on helping them identify whether the SDGs are useful for their own work, how to best engage with their governments and what tools to produce for this purpose.

The results were overwhelmingly positive and, above all, showed that governments are willing to listen to positive and constructive voices.

To name a few examples: in Sierra Leone, our Caritas colleagues have created a coalition of national CSOs, which is now included in the government’s implementation process. The coalition has provided space for stronger cooperation between development and environmental organisations, which proved important when Sierra Leone reported last year to the United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF), an annual UN meeting where countries present their SDG plans. The Forum creates additional incentives for governments to listen to their citizens. The Government of Sierra Leone included all recommendations from CSOs in their national plan submitted to the UN. This experience has created interest for south-south capacity sharing, with Caritas Kenya replicating the work.

The context challenges in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are different. With national elections foreseen this year and delayed to 2018, the current government has reduced focus on developing and applying an SDG implementation plan. However, it did adopt and commit to the SDGs in 2015. For CAFOD’s partners this situation creates an opportunity to hold their government to account over global promises. The SDGs also fill the gap as a national development plan. Caritas partners in the DRC now see the 2030 Agenda as an alternative plan for their country’s development.

At this point it’s too early to know what specific policy impacts the SDGs will have and where. Much will depend on the readiness of government institutions to use them for progressive change. These initial experiences indicate that the SDGs can create momentum to raise awareness and forge alliances to drive that change. While the SDGs may not solve all world problems, seizing these opportunities will largely depend on networks, like Caritas, moving on the right direction together and at the right time.