In 2015, when the United Nations ratified 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to transform our world, Julie Wright was working at the Waterloo Global Science Initiative (WGSI) — a project tasked with producing a decade-long summit series on complex global issues. The timing was perfect for Julie, who was developing an energy summit to focus on those underserved with modern electrical systems, looking at energy access, transition, and decarbonization.
“As former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated, ‘Energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, social equity, and environmental sustainability.’” says Julie. “When we were developing the briefing document and benchmarking data for the energy summit, the UN ratified the SDGs. We realized that we had a framing opportunity because SDG seven (affordable and clean energy) is at the heart of all people achieving the SDGs. From that point, we began focusing entirely on the SDGs.”
The summit series continued to evolve, and WGSI played a pioneering role in localizing the SDGs in Canada as a field catalyst. The organization developed the Generation SDG Blueprint with insights into inclusive community ecosystem mapping and planning, partnership strategies, accountability practices for partnerships, program and data management, and innovative financial instruments and programs for funding the SDGs.
A helpful framework for civil society
As momentum built around the SDGs in 2017 and 2018, civil society emerged in a leadership role. For example, the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation was working with the private sector, and the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation was advancing policy elements, including benchmarking and reporting. Community Foundations of Canada started convening conversations, forming alliances and providing support.
“In those early years, organizations and people were galvanizing locally. Civil society was so far out of the gate with relationship building and understanding the gaps, and we were asking the government to support us through infrastructure at the federal level,” says Julie. “Many of us were already working on the SDGs even if we hadn’t previously labelled them that way. However, by giving us a common language, the SDGs helped us to figure out how to leverage partnerships and facilitate broader collaborations in our communities. It was a framework that gave me permission to do the work in a much bigger way.”
Today, Julie is the Director of Partners for Action, a research initiative aimed at empowering Canadians to become flood resilient and influencing flood risk preparedness on an individual and collective level. Julie is also a Councillor for the City of Waterloo, which uses the SDG framework to align and operationalize its strategic plan. Embedded in her work, and in that of many of her peers, are the five Ps of the Global Goals:
- People: ending poverty and hunger
- Planet: protecting the planet from degradation
- Prosperity: ensuring that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives
- Peace: fostering peaceful, just and inclusive societies
- Partnership: mobilizing the means required for implementation
A moment of reckoning: getting to action from this mid-point
COVID-19 has threatened progress toward Sustainable Development Goals due to its adverse effects on social services and capacity. In Julie’s view, this makes the current mid-point a moment of reckoning that will require conversations about the remaining work to be done, and following the lead of those closest to the problems.
“We must be unrelenting about our efforts to make the future inclusive. In Waterloo, we are deeply concerned about affordable housing and climate action. We want to be a city that looks to the future and anticipates the type of change we’ll facilitate in a resilient way.” Julie emphasizes the importance of municipalities and others identifying those already doing the work: “Who are the champions within the community that need assistance? Who needs help aligning with other organizations doing similar things? Make connections, form partnerships, and find out what is already happening that you can support.”