Postcard from New York: Sustainable development... we can't spread the message if we can't get in

The UN General Assembly is surrounded by a plethora of events dedicated to the progress of Sustainable Development Goals

U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a session on reforming the United Nations at UN Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Anyone who works in the world of development, education, policymaking and international governance, regularly rolls out references to the “SDGs”.

And this week in New York is no exception. From Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales to the CEO of SalesForce Marc Benioff, the regularity of SDG references has only been matched by the plethora of events focussing on them.

And yet for many people outside the circuit of influential thought leaders, the SDGs remain a mystery.

An acronym for the Sustainable Development Goals, the SDGs are 17 goals passed in 2015 and coming into force in 2016 by all members of the UN to have a sustainable future.

The goals have targets that were negotiated over months and months of diplomacy that most development experts and diplomats now look back at as a monumental feat. And the hard work of meeting the goals continues.

The UN’s new Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, recognises this problem and has invested time and effort into elevating the SDGs to be the focal point for much of this week’s meetings.

With 13 years left to meet the ambitious targets, which include ending extreme poverty, all initiatives and work within the UN framework are being channelled to further the SDGs.

The strength of the SDGs is that each member of the UN has signed up to them – and thus diplomats and delegations from the countries attending the UN General Assembly will have to engage with them.


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The challenge remains to get their populations back home to understand and champion them. And so media representatives are invited to events throughout this week to report on the goals and spread the word about what they can achieve.

From a banquet dinner recognising “goalkeepers” who champion the SDGs, organised by Bill Gates, to a roundtable of world leaders moderated by Zaineb Badawi, a familiar face from the BBC, the SDGs are feted in New York. In addition to having policies that succeed in meeting the SDGs, the hope is that the media will pay attention and pass on the message.

Ironically, the SDG media centre outside the main entrance of the United Nations building on 1st Avenue is closed off to the media. And even though every journalist entering the UN building passes by the attractive white tent with sheer windows to draw in curious passersby, they are not welcomed in.

Any journalist who wishes to go inside, has to be escorted by a delegate or media official from the United Nations. They have to walk quite a distance to find an available official “escort”.

One way to get more journalists to understand – and be engaged with the SDGs? Allow them in.