The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were a crucial first attempt to set ambitious goals for a successful development in the 21st century. Their key shortcoming was that the poorest 20% of the global population was largely ignored in the race to improve statistical averages. The new set of goals – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – were thus created in the spirit of “leaving no one behind”. This means that the SDGs require all goals to be reached, for everyone – especially those at the margins of society.
However, the UN 2017 SDG report emphasises that data identifying who is vulnerable or what their needs are is often unavailable. This poses a great challenge if the SDGs are to be fully implemented, as we currently don’t have a full understanding of who is in danger to be left behind and what these communities would need, in order to benefit from the promises made on the global level. How can we tackle this problem?
Several of the international civil society organisations (ICSOs) that we at the International Civil Society Centre are working with – such as Save the Children, BRAC, WWF, CARE International or Plan International – have a clear ambition to contribute to the implementation of the SDGs. And as a basis for this work, they have a great wealth of data and evidence.
And yet, while all these organisations alone are making great strides, imagine:
Since September 2017, the Centre together with 12 ICSOs is making this a reality. Our Leave No One Behind project aims to give voice and agency to marginalised groups and communities within SDG implementation and monitoring processes, through a diverse and globally coordinated approach using community-based data.
In the current pilot phase (ending February 2019), we are focusing on national level collaboration in five countries: Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nepal and Vietnam. In each country, the national offices of ICSOs, as well as local partners and civic platforms, come together in an unprecedented effort to create collective impact. These country teams have jointly agreed to focus on a specific aspect of the SDGs, relevant to their country’s context.
For example, in Bangladesh the focus is on ensuring a universal health care for people living at the margins of society, mainly talking to people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, migrants and the ultra-poor. The colleagues in Kenya are exploring how to strengthen community-led monitoring of SDG implementation, and in India the focus is on measuring the overall SDG progress for marginalised groups across 100 ‘hotspots’, making 10,000 families in the country.
As we all know, collaboration is a tough one and it has been a challenge to figure out the right approach and level for this collaboration. One year into the project we – thanks to the commitment of so many parties – are thrilled to see the commitment of the ICSOs and several other organisations to make this initiative a success. Our clear ambition in the upcoming months is: a) finalise and evaluate the results of the national level work, b) based on these insights develop an ambitious “blueprint” for setting up evidence-driven partnerships bringing together actors across the sectors, jointly fighting for the full inclusion of marginalised people in the SDG delivery and c) secure funding for a scaled-up version of this initiative that will be expanded to more countries until 2022.
We see a lot of potential in this initiative and we also know that there just is no other way: In order to ensure nobody is left behind in the delivery of the SDGs, actors across the sectors must join forces and pool strengths and knowledge. The ICSOs can play a key role in this, working across the globe with structures that reaches from the grassroots to the international level. One of the sector’s key strengths is this wide reach and influence and the resulting ability to trigger and shape change. The project is a key lever for showing the sector’s capabilities to make the SDGs a success for everybody, including the people who live at the margins of society – hence, failure is not an option!
We are looking forward to hearing from anyone who is interested in being part of this collaboration.
Leave no one behind – a brave and bold ambition that forms the theme of the Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to eradicate poverty and injustice by 2030. The international community, including the civil society sector, takes this as guidance for its programmes and projects. As part of that ambition, one area of focus will include the most marginalised communities and people in every country. And there are many: discriminated ethnic minorities, mutilated war victims, impoverished children, desperate refugees and displaced families, to name but a few.
Last week, the global ‘Leave No One Behind’ (LNOB) coalition met in Dhaka, Bangladesh, bringing together several of the largest international civil society organisations. The aim: to join forces to raise the voices of the most marginalised. The group has been working in five pilot* countries over the past six months and is developing a plan to combine data, distil learnings and use those for better programming and advocacy nationally and globally.
Bringing together many actors from different national contexts has many complexities, but provides for valuable learning, and hopefully, greater impact through a collaborative approach. In one country, for example, Vietnam, this coalition is already becoming the principal voice of civil society vs the Voluntary National Review which is submitted annually to report progress on SDGs. One overriding theme at the meeting was indeed, how the coalition can input into those government-led monitoring mechanisms, which too often lack disaggregated data and the voice of marginalised communities. And it proved beneficial to have representatives of the Bangladesh Government attend part of the meeting, which was hosted by the influential NGO BRAC, in order to discuss better linkage of monitoring between state and civil society.
Figuring out what marginalisation means is a key, and difficult task, because of its highly contextual nature. Bangladesh, again, is a good example of this, as it is now hosting one of the largest vulnerable and marginalised refugee communities, which fled from neighbouring Myanmar last year. Giving Rohingya people a voice is imperative, without losing consideration of those communities that are less visible.
Inclusive data gathering needs to cover quantitative data according to the many SDG indicators that exist. But every marginalised person has a story, which should be told so that underlying causes for discrimination and injustice are understood and addressed. In a world of increasing use of big and small data, their protection and the concerns for privacy need to be dealt with seriously, especially as marginalisation often has highly political dimensions. The LNOB coalition is seeking expert advice on data use so that people‘s rights are not violated.
The High-Level Political Forum of the UN exchanges progress and challenges on the Goals every year. The LNOB project is aimed at this Forum and will be represented there this year. It will link up with similar initiatives to bring the voices of the most marginalised and poorest into the centre of discussions. Without prioritising them, the international community will not achieve the Goals, nor live up to the needed structural changes that need to happen in social, economic and political terms.
If your organisation is interested in joining the coalition or in finding out more, then please contact the project manager Peter Koblowsky at email@example.com
*Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nepal and Vietnam