Friday, July 22, 2016
In September 2015, the United Nations adopted a set of 17 goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years. How wi

In a three-part blog series, I will outline a path that I proposed at a UN-sponsored meeting in Switzerland this past April. This first blog deals with the imperative of converting SDG vision into action and highlights the conspicuous absence of implementation mechanisms in the SDG discussions. Forthcoming posts will 1) summarize lessons learned from successful implementation of government policies and programs in a diverse set of countries; and 2)  applying these principles to improving the implementation of policies and programs to propose a plan for ensuring effective implementation of commitments made by countries while signing on to SDGs.


By most accounts, the scale and scope of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals is awe inspiring. A global agreement on this ambitious development agenda is an impressive achievement in and of itself and an important first step towards realizing the lofty vision.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda proposes bold and transformative steps, which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets, which have been adopted by the community of nations demonstrate the scale and ambition of this new universal development agenda. This agenda is indeed a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity.  Watch the video of President Obama speaking about SDGs at the UN General Assembly


In what follows however, unfortunately the debate and discussion on SDGs seem to be stuck on this first step of vision creation with an implicit assumption that the challenge of implementing this agenda is not intellectually rewarding and somehow the great ideas embodied in SDGs will self-implement. I hope to fill an important gap in the literature and offer a practical, actionable and proven methodology for translating SDG vision into realty.

The Implementation Challenge.  A review of literature shows that while a lot of discussion and commentary on the topic of SDGs deals with the content of the SDG agenda, almost negligible attention has been given to the implementation aspects of this agenda. To be sure, the word ‘implement’ occurs around 76 times in the outcome document of the United Nations Summit for the adoption of the post 2015 development agenda. Yet, there is no clear path for implementing the SDG agenda in member countries. To illustrate the general nature of advice on implementation, following is a representative list of general statements in the outcome document:

  1. All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan.
  2. We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalised Global  Partnership for Sustainable Development.
  3. We commit ourselves to working tirelessly for the full implementation of this Agenda by 2030.
  4. We reaffirm our commitment to international law and emphasize that the Agenda is to be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the rights and obligations of states under international law.
  5. All of us will work to implement the Agenda within our own countries and at the regional and global levels, taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting  national policies  and priorities 

The extensive literature on Sustainable Development Goals seems to discuss every conceivable aspect other than practical implementation of SDGs by individual countries. Some of the papers continue to discuss desirability of these goals, long after the prolonged debate on this topic has been settled and outcome document adopted.

Then there are studies that acknowledge the importance of appropriate measurement and put forward a critique of the proposed targets for measuring SDGs.

Some come close to discussing implementation issues. None of them, however, comes close to offering any actionable and operational advice. In part two of this blog series, I propose to begin filling this glaring gap in the existing literature regarding implementation aspects of SDGs. It offers a practical proposal based on the widespread success of performance management techniques in developed and developing countries.

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