Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا


Brainstorming for the SDGs and beyond

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We’ll be hearing a lot of “goal” talk this World Cup Football year.

But goals are already trending in the development community, with governments, policymakers, researchers and international organisations hard at work on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Before delving into the highly complex but inspiring process of designing the SDGs, though, here is some background on how the whole thing started.

The Millennium Development Goals

In the year 2000, the international community came together to tackle the world’s development issues. They endorsed a set of 8 goals—the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—to achieve by 2015, ranging from halving extreme poverty to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, to achieving universal primary education. Ambitious as they seemed, the MDGs proved that we can accomplish a great deal by joining forces and getting focused. Even before the target date of 2015, some of the goals have been met., e.g. halving the proportion of people without access to safe water and reducing extreme poverty rates by half. In fact, a report by a panel tasked by the UN Secretary-General to advise on development beyond 2015 states:

“The 13 years since the millennium have seen the fastest reduction in poverty in human history: there are half a billion fewer people living below an international poverty line of $1.25 a day. Child death rates have fallen by more than 30%, with about three million children’s lives saved each year compared to 2000. Deaths from malaria have fallen by one quarter.”

Moreover, the MDGs raised awareness of the world’s social, economic and environmental issues, and brought huge momentum to the global development agenda.

But the year 2015 is almost upon us, and we still have a long way to go. The big question is “What next?”

The birth of the SDGs

The existing sustainable development agenda has failed to deliver a fairer world in the face of current threats, such as the economic crisis, disruptions to food and energy supplies, inequalities in distribution of wealth, loss and degradation of vital ecosystems, and pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Also, the MDGs overlooked key linkages between goal areas. As the report of the High-Level Panel concedes, “the MDGs fell short by not integrating the economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainable development…and by not addressing the need to promote sustainable patterns of consumption and production. The result was that environment and development were never properly brought together. People were working hard – but often separately – on interlinked problems.”

In June 2012, participants at the United Nations Rio+ conference agreed to start developing a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The idea was to frame a “transformative” development agenda that would be relevant for all countries and would address the root causes of poverty, generate conditions for global well?being, and advance in a balanced way the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability.

This, of course, is no easy task. In fact, James Murombedzi, Responsive Forest Governance Initiative Coordinator at CODESRIA, is of the view that the “SDGs may already be running into the same challenges that the MDGs encountered, mainly the inability to challenge the structural and systemic causes of unsustainability.

In recognition of the giant task ahead, the UN has established an inter-governmental Open Working Group (OWG) on the SDGs. In February 2014, the OWG identified 19 SDG Focus Areas, as a basis for starting to build consensus, making it clear that the document is not a ‘zero draft’ of the OWG report that is to be submitted at the UN General Assembly session in September 2014. In other words, the business remains of identifying and agreeing on the specific goals and accompanying targets.

What is the IRF2015?

We stand on the threshold of a new global development agenda, and this agenda needs to be informed by diverse voices and credible research.

The Independent Research Forum (IRF2015) was created in response to this opportunity, to gather different perspectives, co-create knowledge and inform policy by engaging in a dialogue with decision makers.

A collaboration of research institutes from across the globe, IRF2015 provides an independent source of critical thinking, integrated analysis and awareness-raising on the SDGs and the post-2015 development agenda. Having worked for years with communities that face development realities on a daily basis, IRF partners aim to reflect the voices and concerns of these stakeholders by sharing vital experience, evidence and thinking when informing the post-2015 development agenda.

IRF2015 is supporting the OWG and contributing directly to the SDG drafting process. Two IRF2015 retreats have taken place so far, the aim of which is to support the OWG. The retreats included participants from UN member states, UN and World Bank representatives, and members of IRF2015. A third retreat is scheduled for April 2014, and outcomes of the first and second can be found on the IRF website.

IRF2015’s vision for a post-2015 development agenda

IRF2015’s vision is a post-2015 development agenda that recognises the mutual dependency of economic, social and environmental outcomes; is grounded in local experience and needs; and is adaptable to diverse contexts and capacities. While the MDGs articulated a global vision of development around a common set of goals and priorities, the next era of international cooperation should focus action at local, national and global levels on the deeply entwined economic, social and environmental challenges that confront the next generation.

Much of IRF2015’s work thus far has focused on how to integrate these different dimensions of development in a new post-2015 agenda. An IRF2015 brief from March 2013 offers principles and approaches for doing so, and a recent brief by IRF member Stockholm Environment Institute focuses on ways to use the water-energy-food nexus as a model for cross-sectoral integration in the SDGs.

Taking part in the planning

This is an exciting time, as there is tremendous opportunity to frame a powerful development agenda for the next 15 years, getting it right where the MDGs missed. Moreover, now is the time to join the conversation and share your ideas. The IRF2015 blog welcomes comments and discussions on the post-2015 development agenda. The UN has also set up the My World survey where everyone can submit ideas and suggestions. The aim is for this process to be as participatory as possible.
Still, no one said it would be easy.

Scoring a goal this World Cup seems a simpler task…
IRF2015’s current members are:

Caribbean Natural Resources Institute

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa

Development Alternatives

Institute for Global Environmental Strategies

International Institute for Environment and Development

Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa

Overseas Development Institute

Latin American Center for Rural Development (RIMISP)

Stockholm Environment Institute

World Resources Institute

Saadia Iqbal is the IRF2015 Communications Officer.

March 26 2014



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