What the SDGs Mean

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) define the world we want. They apply to all nations and mean, quite simply, to ensure that no one is left behind.

Once, realizing such dreams was almost always up to national Governments.

But in a world where billions of people can communicate as they wish, many more groups and individuals demand, and have, a say in creating the future: business big and small, civil society, academics and scientists, to name just some.

In the resulting mix of voices, the United Nations has the power to convene the myriad new debates that arise. Above all, by adopting the map of the world we want to see in 2030, the United Nations has given everyone, everywhere a voice in determining the future and the right to ask governments, at any level and anywhere in the world, what they are doing to realize it.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals ARE the 2030 Agenda, the map of the world we seek.

Everyone, but particularly the youth of today who will dominate tomorrow, has the chance to shape what that world will look like. And to communicate to those who still doubt or do not know that they have this incredible chance to mould their existence.

That means being where the young now are—in virtual reality, digitally connected, experimenting every few seconds with images and accustomed to change at the press of a button. Their universe is visual. Long and complex messages must be introduced gradually.

And, in the spirit of leaving no one behind, it is up to the United Nations and all its partners and supporters to ensure that everyone has access to the SDGs and their inclusive message. That means that the UN, unlike purely commercial ventures, must preserve, as long as they are relevant, the ‘old’ means of communication. Radio, for instance, is still the only way to reach 64 per cent of Pakistan’s population, living mostly in mountain valleys where the Internet has not yet penetrated.

Equally clearly, the youth of the world will keep leaning out for love—and connectivity. And the SDGs, or the Global Goals, are the primary means for the United Nations to satisfy that demand, which is both emotional and existential.

The UN already has numerous ways to do this. For UN staff, there is the Be the Change initiative, involving people in goals as simple as urban gardening or rejecting use of all plastic. The SDG in Action app, the Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World, the SDG Book Club and Lesson Plan are aimed at young people in particular. The SDG Media Zones organized on the sidelines of big UN events also target young audiences by featuring engaging speakers in short-session formats.

Other key assets reaching ever larger global audiences include:

  • SDG branding in all six official UN languages and in many local languages, translated by the 59 UN Information Centres scattered around the world;
  • The SDG website, also available in the six official languages, the third most visited website on un.org; and
  • The UN Global Goals accounts on Twitter and Facebook.

Working with media of all kinds is an essential part of the campaign. Having spent almost 40 years as a journalist, I know how much media organizations disdain the acronyms and alphabet soup on which the United Nations often appears to thrive.

Particularly when translated, UN documents can sound clunky and unnatural. And that is worth bearing in mind not just when we seek—and get—the attention of the world’s media. Conversation laden with acronyms can also turn off audiences. Let’s make sure that whenever we are talking about the SDGs that we also explain that these goals are the key to our survival in the kind of world we want. It only works if all the interdependent goals are realized. But let’s also make sure we know that Goal 5 is the one we want for gender parity, or Goal 16 for peace and justice, Goal 6 for clean water, or Goal 8 for decent work. Let’s make sure to get beyond the numbers and the jargon to the people we serve, and who we wish to reach.

The modern world gives us those means in abundance. We can amplify our messages in ways we have never envisioned before, measuring to the millisecond how many people are merely watching what we do, how many are engaging for a few more seconds, how many are lingering and wanting to discover more about our work. Ideally that happens through effective storytelling laced with hard facts. And the United Nations certainly has those in abundance. I am fond of noting that there is not a subject on or beyond the planet Earth that the UN has not researched and reported on. All that knowledge adds up to probably the biggest single pile of Big Data in existence. As custodians of this information, we are ready to enhance access and spread knowledge of our treasure trove, and use it to shape the best world we can by 2030.

Media organizations are indispensable in this task. This is why we aim to mobilize leading media around the world to leverage their resources to support the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. The main focus will be on increasing editorial coverage of the SDGs. Participating organizations will gain priority access to newsworthy content from the UN system and to UN newsmakers. Entertainment media will be able to draw on the expertise and advice provided through the Creative Community Outreach Initiative run by the Department of Public Information. Participating media organizations will be publicly acknowledged, providing an additional incentive to join a media compact on the SDGs. We anticipate the launch of this effort at an event in the context of the next session of the General Assembly (GA 73), with high-level UN participation.