Photo: Matthieu Alexandre/Caritas Internationalis

Do you know what the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are? Many of us do, many of us don’t.

At least in Belgium, there seems to still be some awareness-raising work to do, both when it comes to mobilising the Belgian public (and this probably includes our colleagues too) and to sensitising our political decision-makers. This is quite a challenge. But a challenge we have decided to take up, because Caritas International Belgium believes in its role as a change-maker – changing realities for people in need, changing people’s opinions about what they are capable of doing, and showing and sharing ideas and opportunities with a diverse public. We also believe in our role as a message-bearer. Bearing witness, capturing people’s experiences, concerns and messages and passing these on to a broader public are two of the things we aim for. We approach and engage politicians, teachers, students and journalists through our educational and our advocacy work.

What does this look like?

Over the coming years, Caritas International Belgium will warm the Belgian public to the SDGs through its own educational work, specifically through workshops directed at youth and teachers. What are SDGs and how will they influence the lives of Belgian youth? And the other way around: how can youth work towards the implementation of the SDGs? How do you, as youth, decide which ones to work on? And how does this fit into our own work? Many Belgian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have always had a specific interest in educating youth and teachers on sustainable development. But ideas surrounding this theme are constantly changing, which means our tools should too. This is a challenge we will tackle in close collaboration with other Belgian NGOs.

The same goes for our political advocacy work around SDGs. During the past years, Belgian NGOs have built up their own expertise and skills. Because the overall SDG agenda (“Agenda 2030”) is so ambitious and all-encompassing, it makes sense to divide our time and energy wisely. Some Belgian NGOs are, for example, mostly interested in education (SDG 5) or water (SDG 6). Others are working on clean energy (SDG 7) or decent work (SDG 8). These are all crucial fields, but not necessarily fields where we, Caritas International Belgium, can contribute the most. Hence the ongoing process of finding out which NGOs work on which themes, and on which ones can we collaborate.

Should Caritas International Belgium’s focus be on peace (SDG 16), given that we spend a large part of our funds on emergency and relief efforts? Or on poverty (SDG 1), given that a major focus of our international cooperation projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Niger, Rwanda and Burundi is precisely this? Or rather on migration (to be found in many SDG targets), since our work in Belgium consists in assisting migrants and refugees? Or shall we focus on all of these? Internally, the debate continues. On a national level, Belgian NGOs meet on a regular basis, exchanging ideas and concrete examples on how we are all appropriating and introducing the Agenda 2030 into our own programs, thinking and practices.

We will also collaborate with other NGOs to pressure the Belgian government to report on the progress made in the run-up to the Voluntary National Review. We applaud our government’s commitment and look forward to the presentation of its findings at the High Level Political Forum of July 2017. But, we will follow up closely the standards it will use to show and prove its engagement to make sure it sets the bar high enough. One way we engaged our politicians on this recently was by sending them a joint letter, which included the following “ten sustainable recommendations”:

  • Ensure a holistic approach;
  • Prioritise the most transformative SDGs;
  • Find the right balance between internal and extern policies;
  • Ensure a coherent policy for sustainable development;
  • Tackle inequality;
  • Pay attention to the gender dimension in all SDGs (not just SDG 5);
  • Involve civil society (see below);
  • Put your money where your mouth is. Implementing the SDGs is going to cost money. Provide for this;
  • Start off with appropriate indicators;
  • Ensure that the Voluntary Review Report is a starting-point.

Of course, engaging our/any government is not as easy as it sounds. While collaboration between governments and civil society is supposed to lie at the heart of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and while the current relations between Belgium’s NGOs and its government can be labelled as “courteous”, it is undeniable and worrying that the space offered to NGOs is shrinking. It is fair to say that the civil society is consulted formally on some decisions around the Agenda 2030. On others not. But to implement the SDGs, and to ensure that this is done in a just way, people must be at the centre – a message we will continue to spread.

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