24 September 2020
First Voluntary University and State-level Reviews Demonstrate US Engines of SDG Action
Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
story highlights

Carnegie Mellon University and the US State of Hawai'i launched Voluntary Reviews outlining their plans to implement the SDGs.

Additional announcements included the impending launch of a Center on Sustainable Development at The Brookings Institution, and an SDGs activities index that will help LA residents find new partners.

Speakers emphasize the role of local leadership and dialogue with multiple sectors to identify local strategies.

Carnegie Mellon University and the US State of Hawai’i have launched voluntary reviews outlining their plans to implement the SDGs. The launches took place as part of an event on ‘American Leadership in Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals.’

The side event was organized by The Brookings Institution and the UN Foundation. It convened virtually on 16 September 2020. John Allen, President of The Brookings Institution, welcomed participants and announced that Brookings is creating a new Center for Sustainable Development. 

To set the stage for the event, Fatimata Cham, youth poet and activist, performed a poem that concluded with the assurance, and challenge, that “Hope is the sound of your own voice.”

The multiple challenges we are facing demonstrate the importance of local leaders.

Anthony Pipa, The Brookings Institution, highlighted that the 2030 Agenda is an agenda for all sectors, not just national governments. He said the multiple challenges we are currently facing demonstrate how important local leaders are. 

Representatives of US cities and companies discussed their work as “engines of action” to implement the SDGs. From the City of Los Angeles, California, Mayor Eric Garcetti said “Leadership is defined by how we react to things that we did not expect to happen,” and noted that the SDG framework helps to make our choices clear when considering policy options. He called attention to LA’s online dashboard to track its progress, and reported that LA is launching an SDGs activities index to help LA residents find new partners. 

For the City of New York, Penny Abeywardena, Commissioner for International Affairs, recalled that in 2018, New York launched a Voluntary Local Review (VLR) on the sidelines of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). Since then, over 200 local governments and cities have committed to producing VLRs, she reported.

Rose Stuckey Kirk, Verizon and the Verizon Foundation, discussed her company’s work in relation to SDG 4 (quality education), especially to address inequalities in connectivity. Yvette Pearson, George R. Brown School of Engineering, Rice University, highlighted the need to incorporate societal input into the design of solutions. She said this requires adjustments in engineering curricula. 

Launching the first Voluntary University Review (VUR), James Garrett Jr., Carnegie Mellon University, expressed hope that more universities will follow CMU’s lead. He emphasized the importance of dialogues – with local government, NGOs, and the private sector – when creating the VUR. 

Governor of Hawai’i David Ige launched the first statewide review of the SDGs (voluntary state review, or VSR). He reviewed the dialogue process used to develop the VSR, with state and local governments, community organizations, and the private sector working to identify shared goals. He said the state will measure progress through a data dashboard to hold itself accountable. 

Ige noted that the SDGs provide a common language “to align our canoes in the same direction.” Hawai’i’s US Senator Brian Schatz said policies need to “paint a picture and paint me in it” – they need to work for people, and the SDG framework ensures that policies work for everyone. 

Dustin Liu, UNA-USA Youth Observer to the UN, reiterated the discussion’s emphasis on the role of dialogue with multiple stakeholders by calling for including youth voices at all levels of decision making. 

Elizabeth Cousens, President and CEO, UN Foundation, said it is inspiring to see how groups are using the SDGs. She shared her experience as a government representative who helped negotiate the SDGs five years ago, saying those negotiators did not expect them to resonate across so many groups. Multiple groups have embraced the Goals because, as Cousens emphasized, they are universal, interconnected, and about real challenges faced by people around the world. [SDG Knowledge Hub sources] [Event webpage and recording]

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