Think Global, Act Local, and Start Where You Are: My View on the SDGs from Seton Hall University
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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If we truly believe that the Global Goals are valuable, why wouldn’t we want to be a part of the implementation process?

At Seton Hall we have begun to imagine practical ways in which we could be involved; the school’s effort to engage with the SDGs is an ongoing process, shaped by discussion between students, faculty, and administrators.

Before I began studying diplomacy as a graduate student at Seton Hall University, I was not very familiar with the Sustainable Development Goals. This is not unusual: surveys in the United States, the European Union, and Japan suggest that only one in ten people are familiar with the Global Goals. These are not encouraging numbers, as public awareness of the SDGs is necessary to hold policy makers accountable to their pledges to make progress on these comprehensive and globally agreed-upon markers of development.

In my second year of graduate school, I began working with the School of Diplomacy’s Center on UN and Global Governance Studies. The Center spreads knowledge about the UN and its activities on campus and beyond, encourages students’ involvement with the UN through its field study class and UN Digital Representatives program, and serves as a hub for research on global governance.

The Center’s main program for encouraging student involvement in the SDGs is its UN Sustainable Development Challenge. Last year, we received almost three hundred submissions from high school students, college seniors, and college graduates, outlining proposals for advancing the Sustainable Development Goals. Five college graduates and ten high school students had the opportunity to present their proposals before a panel of judges, which included professors at Seton Hall and members of civil society. This challenge spurs students to imagine how the SDGs can be applied in their own communities and around the world, allowing them consider their relevance in global efforts to achieve the SDGs and how they could personally take action to advance them.

Several of the finalists are my classmates at Seton Hall, and the SDGs continue to inform their work and practice. A 2016 finalist – Patricia Zanini Graca – recently published an op-ed with the International Policy Digest presenting her research on links between EU membership and mainstreaming gender to advance SDG 5 (Gender Equality).

The Center also began a series of video interviews of students and faculty that reveal how they are advancing the SDGs. This project has been interesting for me personally, as it helps to reveal how work across the School is helping to advance SDG implementation. This work is paralleled by discussions within the School of Diplomacy as a whole on how we can best integrate these Goals into our work.

A friend who studied psychology once explained that she also used the theories she learned in class to improve her own life. If I really believe that they work, she argued, and if I am going to use them on others, why wouldn’t I use them on myself? At the School of Diplomacy, we are increasingly recognizing that the same principle must be true for the Sustainable Development Goals. If we truly believe that these Global Goals are valuable, why wouldn’t we want to be a part of the implementation process? This is made possible in part because of the unique nature of these goals. The 17 Goals themselves reflect aspirations that are easy for everyone to support—Zero Hunger, Education for All, Sustainable Communities and Cities, to name a few—while the targets and indicators for each goal shape these aspirations into actionable form. These Goals inspire consensus and call to action.

Although the Goals themselves were acceded to by UN Member States, they require change at a local level. At a recent discussion on Development Diplomacy and the SDGs at Seton Hall, we began to imagine practical ways in which we could be involved in this process. Ideas included integrating the SDGs into new student orientation and forming SDG “cells” of students interested in the same goal who could connect with the community to create actionable research to problems faced by our local and global community. The school’s effort to engage with the SDGs is an ongoing process, shaped by discussion between students, faculty, and administrators, but the Center (and myself personally) are excited to see how this dialogue progresses and in what new ways the School will continue to advance the Sustainable Development Goals.

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