oikos Vienna

students for sustainable economics and management

From MDG to SDG – Making Goals Tangible

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On January 18th Oikodrom held a conference in Vienna on the topic “From MDG to SDG: New aspects of global development strategies”. The goal of the conference was to provoke a reflective discourse on the UN’s newly introduced SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) via a critical exchange of knowledge and experience. To secure a most diverse discussion on the topic representatives from science, politics, research and civil society have been invited to join the workshops on:

  • SDG 1: Is ending poverty in all its forms everywhere an achievable goal?
  • Measuring the SDG
  • SDG 5: Empowerment of Women in development-projects
  • SDG 11: Sustainable Cities
  • SDG 12: The future of collaborative economy, focusing on “Sharing Economy”

To get an overview we watched a short movie on the NoPoor Projekt followed by inputs on recent developments by six experts of their fields who shared a quick insight on their SDG related working areas.

Rainer Thiele from the University of Kiel started off with a short transition from the MDG which have been active from 2000 until 2015.

In contrast to the SDG the MDG have focused on poverty related issues, for which there have been 8 goals and 21 sub-goals.

The relatively small number of goals in the MDG made it rather easy to oversee them and they could be financed from development aid alone, which will not be enough to fund the SDG. Furthermore, the MDG have been constituted in a way to measure with standardized indicators such as poverty rates, rates of children starting school, where the MDG contributed to an overall improvement over the years.

While the MDG have been goals set up in a top-down approach from the United Nations, the SDG, consisting of 17 goals and 169 sub-goals, are the result of a highly participative process of stakeholders from various sectors. This development process contributed to a higher acceptance and affiliation to fulfill the goals. The shift towards a wider sustainability focus away from solemnly poverty issues makes them significant for a much broader environment (global importance not just developing countries) but also drew critics to the table voicing the fear of poverty issues being driven to the background.

While MDG have been in line supporting one another, the SDG also offer room for contradiction on various fields and might force certain trade-offs, e.g. environmental versus economic growth goals.

Overall the SDG cannot be compared to the MDG, since their field of action is far broader and therefore needs support from national as well as international actors financially and action-based.

Georg Grünberg, ethnologist at the Vienna University reminded the audience of the various different approaches on treating one’s environment. In this context he presented sustainability concepts he learned about during his time in Amazonia, the place on earth with the highest concentration of Greenland and water. The most important difference on cultures there and Western cultures, is that while we see humans as subjects and everything else as objects, Amazonian residents treat their surroundings as interconnected ecosystems and characters in a commonly owned space.

Bettina Kolb from the University of Vienna gave a quick input on how the empowerment of women in developing countries opens up opportunities for them on a personal level as well as for the society as a whole. To move towards that goal, it is necessary to initiate a critical reflection on this topic and start moving away from a woman’s role of being a victim towards more self-responsibility and capacity building.

The architect Matteo Malvani quickly introduced us to sharing best practice in sustainable urban and territorial cooperation followed by Prof. Richard Levine from the Centre for Sustainable Cities (CSC), University of Kentucky, who lead over to the workshop topic of Sustainable City Regions.

Last but not least Sophie Veßel from FIAN pointed out the influence of human rights on local developments. She explained that the focus often lays on export and production rather than structural and social challenges and how poverty is a cause as well as a consequence of human rights abuses.

The second half of the conference was dedicated to the initially mentioned workshops and ideas on how to successfully implement the chosen goal of the workshop team.

In my group, we were thinking about how to implement SDG 11 on Sustainable City Regions. Richard Levine brought in the idea that change has to come from civil society rather than a top down approach. From this idea and our knowledge of community driven projects such as urban gardens, car sharing and such, we span on further thinking about ideas how to bring ideas of local people to the next level and treating the city – which soon will be home to more people than the countryside in total – as kind of laboratory where one can try out new things and experiment. The idea was to create a single point of contact within local authority, which provides support for passionate citizens and their ideas.

A second, parallel approach would be to tender particular project ideas for the community to try out in their neighborhood, to – if successful – bring it to other districts as well or develop it on a bigger scale.

All in all it has been a very interesting conference, accompanied by an awesome buffet provided by Foodsharing, and good talk.

By Anna

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