7 July 2020
Grassroots Action for SDG Implementation When Your Government Isn’t Taking Action
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The US is the only OECD country to not have reported yet to the UN on their implementation of the SDGs.

As a result, volunteers have even more responsibility to create the avenues for our participation and ensure our voices are heard.

Volunteer-driven, dedicated and accountable community-based organizations that are already providing leadership within communities are best positioned to promote the SDGs, as well as to show how they can be achieved.

Since the historic adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by all 193 UN member states, 142 countries have submitted Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) on their progress in implementing the 17 Goals at the country level. Some states have submitted VNRs twice, with their second report building on lessons from the first. This month, 26 more countries will present VNRs for the first time at the July 2020 High-Level Political Forum, 20 more countries will submit a second VNR, and one country will submit its third VNR.

Hundreds of NGOs and other stakeholder groups organize year round to participate in planning and implementing the Goals in their nations and to have their participation and data included in their government’s national voluntary reports. This engagement is consistent with the mandate that the 2030 Agenda is a “people’s agenda” and that all groups, from labor to farmers, women, youth, health care professionals, educators, small businesses, environmental scientists, and other stakeholders, are to keep government accountable to the achievement of the Goals with a “whole of society” approach that leaves no one behind.

Some national governments welcome the involvement and input from nongovernmental stakeholders and involve them in planning, implementing and data collection for reporting. Many of these governments have established national sustainable development councils, held town hall meetings and surveys, and solicited input through other such avenues. Some governments make it more difficult to be included.

In the US, there are no mechanisms for input to a VNR because our government has not volunteered to compile one. The US is the only OECD country to not have reported yet to the UN on their implementation of the SDGs.

The fact that the US has not submitted a VNR does not mean we — grassroots and volunteer organizations representing low-income communities and other groups of people in most need of these Goals—do not have a voice or a role in implementing the SDGs in our country. It means we have even more responsibility. We must build the awareness of the importance of the SDGs being implemented in the US through our actions, and create the avenues for our participation and to ensure our voices are heard.   

Several US city governments have begun planning what SDG implementation looks like in their local context. Los Angeles and New York are two of the cities that have developed “VLRs” (voluntary local reviews), and have discussed them on the sidelines of the annual HLPF event. Even in these cities where the SDGs have been endorsed, grassroots organizations must still organize their participation in municipal processes. In this context we are pleased that the July 2020 session of the HLPF will highlight, through a special event, the role of volunteering for the 2030 Agenda, and the Commission on Voluntary Service & Action (CVSA) is pleased to offer its insights to this important discussion.

CVSA first launched our Community Education Campaign for the Implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2016, to increase the publicity and level of action on the SDGs in the US. We report on the need for SDG implementation in the US in our membership newsletter, providing examples from other countries of sustainable development gains achieved through the SDGs and stories about community-based organizations in the US who are working to achieve specific Goals. We provide a ToolKit of publicity and promotional materials for local organizations to adapt for their own use in building a local groundswell of awareness and participation to achieve the SDGs.  Through speaking engagements and workshops, CVSA has introduced the SDGs to university classrooms, professional associations, and faith congregations.

A growing number of grassroots organizations, churches, and professional associations in the US support SDG implementation, developing organic, local leadership through the process.

In our work with these organizations, CVSA encourages them to: 

  • Publicly endorse and promote the SDGs.
  • Identify the specific Goal(s) their organization has already been pursuing and highlight that Goal(s) in all of their outreach.
  • Build partnerships for the SDGs with other local nonprofit and volunteer organizations (as well as schools, businesses, congregations of worship, and professional and labor associations) in the community and develop strategies for getting the SDGs on their local government’s agenda.

To jump start these three approaches, CVSA encourages organizations to start by:

  • Holding a staff meeting to discuss which SDGs the organization already addresses and how its work helps to achieve them.
  • Print the 17 Goals in their organization’s newsletter, post the 17 Goals on their organization’s website, and feature the icon(s) of the Goal(s) their organizations are directly working towards.
  • Plan a community meeting about the SDGs, to discuss what else the organization can do.
  • Set up presentations in local schools, congregations of worship, or other community groups to talk about why their organization endorses the SDGs and how the other organizations can participate.
  • Build partnerships with other stakeholders to: 
    • discuss the possibility of forming local SDG Planning Councils, if they have not yet been created, to involve all local stakeholders, especially with the urgent need to “rebuild better” following the COVID-19 pandemic;
    • enlist volunteers and students in compiling lists of government policies and corporate practices that are counter to the achievement of particular Goals within your community; and
    • prepare lists of solutions, proposals and demands, based on your experience and determine strategies to achieve them.

Volunteer-driven, dedicated and accountable community-based organizations that are already providing leadership within communities are best positioned to promote the SDGs, as well as to show how they can be achieved.

These steps are adaptable for many communities in many nations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, community organizing has faced new challenges, as gatherings must adhere to social distancing guidelines or virtually, but the need to ensure that the marginalized are not left behind is greater than ever. 

CVSA is available to assist other NGOs to build momentum for achieving the SDGs through community mobilization and volunteer engagement, to enable all communities to strive to “build back better.”

This article was authored by Susan Angus, Executive Director of Commission on Voluntary Service & Action, a consultative and coordinating council of independent, nongovernmental voluntary service and action organizations based primarily in North America as well as around the world. Founded in 1945, CVSA is publisher of INVEST YOURSELF, the most comprehensive compendium of volunteer opportunities with nongovernment and community-based organizations. CVSA’s staff is entirely volunteer. 


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