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When Sustainable Development Goalkeepers Fail To Make A Stop

The COVID-19 pandemic, war, geopolitical rivalry and a growing climate crisis have dominated the news, but very few things match the importance of the 17 sustainable development goals the UN has defined for the future of humanity. The goals can be achieved but only by calling into question the prevailing practices.

Sustainable Development Wheel Illustration 3D rendering on top of green forest. Corporate social responsibility. Sustainable Development for a better world. 3D Illustration. © MintBlac /

November 11, 2022 08:17 EDT

The recent Goalkeepers Report spearheaded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has called for a “change of approach” in addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Whenever anyone asks for a change of approach it means that something is visibly wrong.

I have been thinking about this subject matter for some time now and could not help noticing that there are as many International Financial Institutions/Regional Development Banks/Funds as there are SDG’s! That is as inefficient as it is unsustainable.

COVID-19 has to a large degree pushed back the realization of these global goals and slowed down whatever dynamic previously existed. It’s time to get the machine going again and full throttle this time. The long and the short of it is that all the development partners must urgently reconsider deploying their current approach towards the delivery of their development finance work aimed at the recipient countries. This is the only way we can cover the lost ground and hope to achieve the SDGs by 2030. 

The UN must exercise its leadership

The first idea that comes to mind is for the United Nations (UN) to step in and encourage the International Financial Institutions, the Regional Development Banks and Funds to refocus their future country partnership frameworks, strategies and programming priorities. They must move away from the present overstretched exposure and instead zoom in on just a couple of SDG’s. That  means that each IFI/MDB/Regional Bank/Fund should be thinking about taking the lead in targeting at least two key SDGs while studiously avoiding overlap from the others. At the same time it means pulling back and placing less emphasis on the remaining SDGs. This would be a vast improvement over the current muddle in which each International Financial Institution Bank and Funds tries to target all the SDGs at once.

For example, the World Bank Group could take the lead in SDG1 & SDG10. At the same time the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) would focus on SDG2 & SDG15 and so on. These are just examples. But if this is done, each developing country in the world will have a diverse (and a more specialized) set of institutions, banks and funds addressing all its 17 SDGs. This contrasts with the current ineffective way in which everyone is trying to do too much at once and then wondering why nothing is successful! 

Of course, each country will still have the obligation to continue to address all its applicable SDGs. But the International Financial Institutions, Regional Development Banks and Funds need not be distracted by attempting to attain all the development goals of the same country at the same time. When each development institution focuses on what it does best, it has a much better chance of supporting the developing countries in their quest to catch up on what is missing or lagging behind concerning their SDGs.

Is Sustainable Finance More Hype Than Hope?


Moreover, it would become paramount for all the International Financial Institutions, Regional Development Banks and Funds to meet regularly, preferably every quarter until 2030, which has been designated as the final year set to reach the global goals. This should become the most urgent global development agenda item today. It would be the ideal means of reaffirming the message of seriousness in the pursuit of these goals. We absolutely must redouble all our efforts in the fight against poverty since development partners and developing countries need to be continuously involved in a dialogue permitting them to discuss among themselves and report on progress. More crucially they must decide on the redistribution of the SDGs among themselves, in other words, which partner will be leading, and which one will be supporting which goal.

This in my opinion is a much more efficient way of allocation of scarce resources. It takes into consideration the spirit of the “Paris Declaration” by instilling amongst all the development partners and countries the ‘H.O.R.M.A.’ principles: H=harmonization, O= Ownership, R= Results, M=Mutual-accountability, and A=Alignment.” That is the best way of putting back on the agenda of development cooperation the question of “who is jointly-responsible for which country’s development program and results”.

An SOS call

The above proposal is a “Save Our Ship/Souls” call. It is required since there seems to be no other way today to reach these global targets by 2030 other than seriously rethinking, refocusing and redefining our current process in “delivering development.” This is also an open call for International Financial Institutions, Regional Development Banks and Funds to refrain from their current “keeping up with the Joneses” routine, which has led to many replicating and duplicating each other’s work, with the added effect that they become stretched so thin they accomplish little or nothing at all. As one famous Arabic saying goes, these global goals end up looking a bit like “blood spilt among the tribes as no single International Financial Institution, Regional Development Bank or Fund can be explicitly held responsible for the realization of any single goal.

How the G7 and UN Can Make Multilateralism Sustainable


In summary, each development partner would focus on its comparative advantages and what it can deliver best rather than trying to address all the 17 goals or 169 targets under the SDGs. This should also move the current dialogue from being an internal ‘beauty contest’ to an external “global plan for action.” And since the developing countries will always be in the driving seat, the institutions, banks and funds must continue to facilitate this process and shoulder more responsibility with regard to the decaying human condition.

On a final note, we have a UN Security Council that seeks to prevent the killings of innocent people by preventing wars or conflicts. We now urgently need more than ever a similar but Socio-Economic Council within the UN with the teeth to prevent the death of millions of humans who die every day as a result of abject poverty, hunger, and spreading diseases due to the misallocation of scarce natural and human resources. This might be the last chance for the UN system to make a real impact and a difference to unite for peace and development.

I do hope and pray that the SDG’s will be achieved by 2030, but for this to happen, we must all act together and NOW, and embrace with utmost care the delivery of development cooperation.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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