Who’s “we”? According to one of the core principles of the goals, “we” means everyone; all demographics; leaving no one behind.

The hashtag Leave No One Behind is spraypainted on a white wall in red paint.

This article is one of five in an on-going series of reflections by youth leaders on the SDGs in Canada. These initial articles are focused on take-aways from the Together|Ensemble 2022 conference, Canada’s annual all-of-society gathering on the SDGs.

Sometimes we lose sight of our goals. Sometimes those goals are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Lately, even as a student passionately committed to the SDGs, I’ve found myself getting stuck in a routine of hosting meetings and events for the Mount Royal University SDG Student Hub that are not as collaborative or transformational as I had wanted. 

One reason we’re getting sidetracked is because there is just so much uncertainty, from COVID-19 to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We’re all (understandably) so tired. Conceptualizing the scale of change needed to achieve the SDGs by 2030 feels impossible, especially at the rate we’re going. 

But when I catch myself losing focus, I try to remember that the targets are not merely boxes to be checked off. Getting stuck in these technicalities can make you miss the point of the SDGs. They are a tool for progress, not the solution. We are the solution.

Who’s “we”? According to one of the core principles of the goals, “we” means everyone; all demographics; leaving no one behind. 

Yet, as was raised by speakers at the recent Together|Ensemble, Canada’s national conference devoted to tracking progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this language enforces the idea that some people are behind us and that “we” are more ahead, that we need to reach behind and pull people forward. 

This colonial, “ahead”, progress-based mindset is throwing us off course. Maybe asking members of systematically marginalized groups to share how they’ve been traumatized for the sake of “diversity” is continuing to hurt them. Maybe we’re missing out on the power that comes from learning their full story, their full range of life experiences, good and bad. Maybe our best intentions are leading us astray because we fail to fully embrace other people’s experiences.

How do we find time for this deep work when we’re already so busy with “business as usual”? The thing is, a massive systemic transition still happens in steps. They’re just mindful steps. Take some time to reflect on your actions. Are they promoting your values, and embracing the Five P’s of the SDGs? By just shifting your mindset to think about the process over the product, you begin a ripple effect of change. 

You can mold yourself, your project, your system, into something that addresses your community’s needs by starting where you are and working with the tools you are given. We have all the tools available: we just need to see them for what they are. Nature, for example, can heal itself, if we’re willing to protect it. Peatlands store carbon. Trees take in carbon dioxide and give us oxygen. We do not need to wait until we have fancy new technology to fight climate change. We just need to pause for a moment and think about things differently.  

Anjali Mishra at Together|Ensemble said it best: “Students have what they need to be global citizens themselves.” In other words, we are already aware and educated about a lot of what’s going on because we are living through it! We feel the weight of climate change looming in the not-so-distant future. And to really do something about it, we need your trust in us. 

Students need to be respected as knowledgeable stakeholders with our own unique perspectives and ideas, welcomed in places we usually aren’t. We need support in breaking down the barriers to co-create policies with our municipal governments and school boards to secure a sustainable planet.

If you’re anything like me right now, you’re burnt out. You’re not sure why you’re here or what you’re doing this all for. Maybe sometimes you even regret starting in the first place. But we forget that there are people like you and me investing our hearts and souls into this work every single day. We forget that 193 UN member states already have our backs. 

I hope you remember that we can do this – but we can only do this together.


About the Author

Emma Berger is pursuing a BA in psychology and minoring in social innovation at Mount Royal University in Calgary, AB Canada. She is the leader of MRU’s SDSN Youth-backed club for students to learn about and take action on the SDGs.


Funded by the Government of Canada’s Sustainable Development Goals Funding Program.