This September marked a momentous occasion for the United Nations. During the 70th General Assembly, 193 countries endorsed the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which will guide international development efforts for the next 15 years. Known interchangeably as the SDGs and the Global Goals, these shared objectives attempt to capture the greatest challenges facing people and the planet, including affordable nutrition, health, education, gender equity, water and sanitation, energy, employment and growth, infrastructure and innovation, cities and human settlements, and urgent action to counteract climate change. Yet the inherent nature of lists contradicts the fact that each of these objectives is inherently interrelated.
In the fall issue, we explore the human realities of all these goals, and reflect only a sampling of the cross-sector collaboration needed to achieve them. At the same time, we point to ways in which the goals are interlinked, a concept captured in our cover. Take Shalini, a young girl in India, the last of five children in a poor family. Shalini’s family often cannot afford enough food. Her family does not have access to clean drinking water, so she has had chronic diarrhea for most of her childhood, due to a water-born parasite. Because she is almost always hungry or sick, she often does not have the energy to attend school. Her family does not have electricity, and so even when she does attend school, she can’t complete her assignments after dark. Without attending school, Shalini has little hope of gainful employment, except as a low-skill worker. Without education and employment, how can she advance gender equality? Shalini’s story exemplifies how advancing Goals 2-8 forms a web of individual empowerment, a critical foundation to achieve Goal 1: ending poverty worldwide.
Similarly, Goals 9-17 sketch a matrix of change required at the country and institutional level. Innovation, infrastructure (Goal 9), and efforts to counteract climate change, preserve ecosystems, and ensure sustainable consumption (Goals 12-15) have a direct effect on the safety, sustainability, and resilience of cities and settlements (Goal 11). Peace and justice (Goal 16) provide a critical foundation for human rights, which pave the way to ending inequality (Goal 10).
Goal 17 advocates for partnership, which provides a means to achieving this ambitious agenda. But partnership is just one dimension of efforts governments, companies, nonprofits, and universities can undertake to advance progress. In these pages, we explore how one university is developing leaders to embrace a more empathetic mindset, and how a growing number of companies are deploying their employees as skilled volunteers who deliver sustainable impact at the same time that they architect new and innovative markets and grow as leaders themselves. We showcase how the Power Africa initiative is harnessing an array of blended capital to expand off-grid access to electricity, how different social sector organizations are pioneering market-based sanitation solutions in Ethiopia while multiple partners work to eliminate cervical cancer worldwide.
These inspiring stories stand as an example of ways that organizations bold enough to try can effectively address their own bottom line while.
Alicia Bonner Ness