Oli Henman: Taking Action for Sustainable Development

In early 2015 at the World Social Forum in Tunis, a group of civil society representatives from many parts of the world came together to discuss how to respond to the emerging sustainable development agenda.

We had just stepped out of the meeting Towards a World Citizens’ Movement, hosted by Kehys and CONCORD and we were all considering how to work together across borders to maintain momentum for a more just and sustainable world.

At this point there had been technical discussions on the future of sustainable development, building on the so-called ‘post-Rio+20 framework’ as well as the ‘post-MDG process’, but there was a real concern that the emerging 2030 Agenda would be too closely locked into the machinery of the UN and that the final text would be too cautious. So it was more important than ever to come together with a bold vision for a truly transformative process that would engage citizen action in every country, irrespective of the government approach.

Over the subsequent year, I was very actively involved in the negotiations over the Sustainable Development Goals and managed the SD2015 project on behalf of CIVICUS, which supported the engagement of civil society through the Major Groups and other Stakeholders in the key UN meetings of 2015. While some victories were achieved on the text regarding gender equality, youth engagement, disability rights and the rule of law, there were also some concerns that the agenda became too closely aligned to corporate interests and there was a strong involvement of private sector financing.

Alongside these negotiations, we continued in an open collaborative dialogue with a wide range of partners from around the world, primarily key regional and national partners in Africa, Asia, the Pacific and Latin America. Meetings were held with partners in various parts of the world throughout 2015 to ensure broad-based collaboration, including in Addis Ababa, Istanbul, New York and Paris. Throughout the process, national and regional partners from civil society, including those working with specific communities such as youth or disability, were invited to shape the development of a joint platform.

It was particularly noticeable that every region participated in the process, with key interventions from the Pacific Island Association of NGOs (PIANGO) in the Pacific, from the Asia Platform for Sustainable Development in the Asia region, from the Africa CSO Working Group in Africa, from the Arab NGO Network for Development in the Middle East and North Africa, from ‘La Mesa de Articulacion’ in Latin America and from Concord and SDG Watch Europe in Europe. Each of these partners was in turn establishing their own regional coordination and engaging with the broader conversation on the creation of the platform that became Action for Sustainable Development.

Building on this open, collaborative process a joint vision statement was produced and Action for Sustainable Development was launched at the International Civil Society Week in Bogota April 2016, followed by inaugural workshops at the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York, July 2016.

This was a complex process and it involved many diverse partners from around the world, it required time and careful discussion to respect and respond to differing needs but it ultimately led to a strong base of trust and mutual understanding which is now beginning to bear fruit as the network has reached over 1 600 members in over 150 countries; and the working groups contribute regularly to the High Level Political Forum as well as major mobilisations around the anniversary of the goals and innovation around implementation and monitoring.

Throughout the process Kehys was present in many of the key discussions. Kehys, and in particular Kehys’ Secretary-General Rilli Lappalainen, was able to bring considerable experience from the development education background to provide practical insights into how best to balance competing interests and ensure a good basis for collaboration, as well as some detailed policy knowledge on how best to influence the UN process. In a changing world, it is very useful to work with European partners who are able to respect the voices of those who bring different cultural knowledge and diverse perspectives.

Kehys has been a champion of global citizenship education in CIVICUS. The cooperation between Kehys and CIVICUS will continue for example with the Bridge 47 – Building Global Citizenship -project that aims to mobilize global civil society to contribute to global justice and eradication of poverty through global citizenship.

Action for Sustainable Development is continuing to grow rapidly and has recently secured new funds to enable a more detailed workplan for the coming two years. It will continue to target its skills and resources towards ensuring the voices of all citizens, in particular those who are often excluded, can be heard in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Given the major changes in the global political scenario of 2016, this mission is more important than ever.

Action for Sustainable Development will not lose sight of the urgent need for a broader transformation and will continue to fight for a truly just and sustainable world, where the unequal concentration of wealth and resources can be reversed in favour of the real needs of the people and a respect for planetary boundaries.

Oli Henman

The author is Senior Advisor – International Networks, at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation. He convened a number of the key meetings in 2015-16 described above through the SD2015 and Action/2015 projects, managed by CIVICUS, and is part of the Coordination Team of Action for Sustainable Development.

This blog entry is part of an anniversary blog series that celebrates Kehys’ 15-year journey. The #Kehys15 blog series consists of one guest blog for every year Kehys has been active.

11.12.2017