“We can be the generation that no longer accepts that an accident of latitude determines whether a child lives or dies – but will we be that generation? History will be our judge, but what’s written is up to us. Who we are, who we’ve been, what we want to be remembered for.” This is a quote, from BONO in 2004, mentioned in the foreword of Jeffrey Sach’s book “The End of Poverty”. In his book, professor Sachs indicates that precisely our generation, as heirs of two and a half century of economic progress, can make a realistic picture of a world without poverty. Through technological advances, we can provide in basic human needs on a global scale and achieve an unprecedented level of prosperity. It’s up to us. Hunger, illness and waste of life due to extreme poverty are an indictment to all of us.
"We can be the generation that no longer accepts that an accident of latitude determines whether a child lives or dies – but will we be that generation?"
When I was seven years old, I ambitiously and enthusiastically started improving the world. I had two dimes on my school desk: one for poor kids in Biafra and the other for the missionaries in New Guinea. It was around the time that the Ministry of Development Cooperation was established. The approach was to make developing countries economically independent and self-reliant. Dutch policy in the second half of the 20th century was mainly built around (financial) aid.
Now, more than 50 years later, I am standing here as a Global Goals ambassador of the VNG (Association of Dutch Municipalities). Without two dimes this time, but still with the ambition to make the world a better place for all. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by the United Nations consists of 17 Sustainable Development goals with 169 underlying targets, all aimed at making the world a better place. It presents a vision for both poor and rich countries regarding poverty, hunger, health, climate and peace. According to the World Bank, it is an investment agenda of billions of euros. Not only the public sector should be financing, but the private sector as well. There’s work to be done for all of us, including all governmental levels in the Netherlands.
The VNG sets steps in the right direction with their Gemeenten4GlobalGoals (Municipalities for Global Goals) campaign. The connection between the Global Goals and the municipal tasks is mapped out in guidelines and regional meetings. Participating municipalities inspire each other with the diverse set of initiatives that are taken to fulfil the tasks.
The municipality of Renswoude, for example, added the SGDs to the strategic agenda of the Food Valley region. Leeuwarden connected their broad cultural program with the principle of open communities (‘iepen miênskip’ in Frisian). Breda developed an SDG game to show employees how their work and the SGDs are connected. I think these are beautiful examples. One thing I notice is that a lot is achieved through the collaboration with residents, social organizations, schools and entrepreneurs.
Only 64 Dutch municipalities are actively involved in the VNG campaign. No surprise, because a large part of the municipalities has to deal with substantial internal austerity measures in the Social Domain. Budgets are tight, resulting in other policy areas to be cut as well. De Volkskrant recently wrote about the closure of libraries, the reduction of road and building maintenance and the increase of municipal taxes as a consequence of the substantial shortages. Such problems cause municipalities to focus on their internal matters, although I think you could also use the SDGs as a frame of reference for those matters. Municipalities have an important role to play. Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that 65% of the SDGs cannot be achieved without the explicit commitment of local governments.
"Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that 65% of the SDGs cannot be achieved without the explicit commitment of local governments."
In my municipality, the municipality of Hellendoorn, it took a while before we could join the Gemeenten4GlobalGoals campaign. This was partly due to a lack of knowledge and awareness of the usefulness and necessity of the SDGs. This year, however, we show our ambitions with our governmental program that is titled “Duurzaam Durven Doen” (“Dare Acting Sustainably”). We go beyond generating clean energy and reducing energy consumption. We also take our responsibility within the Social Domain, economy and the living environment. An intern, who has chosen to do a graduation project about the SDGs, is currently making an inventory of how our policy relates to the Global Goals. How are we doing right now, what are our goals, and how will we communicate this with society?
Yes, for sure. We need society to really make a difference. With entrepreneurs from various business clubs, we organize inspiring meetings about the usefulness and necessity of the SDGs. We also discuss how entrepreneurs can use the SDGs in their marketing strategy. This discussion is aligned with the ambitions of Twente, the high tech region. Entrepreneurs and start-ups developed numerous smart solutions for global problems, and market it using the “Earth is calling Twente” title. Twente is an ecosystem with innovative entrepreneurs, ambitious professionals and talented students, who seize or create ample opportunities both nationally and internationally, with the ambition to connect the world with Twente.
Education wise we are working on realizing an energy neutral secondary education school. Sadly, however, financial regulations and high housing prices are not matching our ambitious. Building sustainably is very complicated in this case.
An active role of communes, district teams, citizen platforms and volunteers is needed more than ever to tackle major societal challenges. With co-creation, we can create initiatives that are broadly supported, for example, regarding solar and wind energy. The same applies to poverty and debt counselling, topics that we are actively discussing with society as well.
"An active role of communes, district teams, citizen platforms and volunteers is needed more than ever to tackle major societal challenges."
As I mentioned before, only 64 out of the 355 Dutch municipalities are actively involved in our campaign. I’m quite sure every municipality is dealing with the SDGs, but that they don’t always communicate it using the SDG terminology. For example, a “Mazzelkontjes” campaign was recently launched in Hoogeveen, aimed at stimulating parents to use cotton diapers, reducing waste per child with 200 kilos per year. A great example of sustainable awareness from day one!
I will conclude with the following. Generation Z, our young people, shows how important they feel the Global Goals are. Thousands of them demonstrated at the Malieveld in The Hague for a better climate and to call the government to act. Not using dimes, but by taking initiatives. This gives me a lot of confidence!
We can and we will!