By Akash Kumar, YES Alumnus 2014-15 | Co-Founder, SDG Society; Junior Undergraduate at IIT Madras 

On 25th September, 2015, the United Nations General Assembly voted for the Resolution 70/1 titled Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. With this broad inter-governmental agreement, the global community adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals. The SDGs build on the successes of its predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) whose mandate ended in 2015.

With the conclusion of the third year since the adoption of the SDGs, we need to reflect on the progress of the goals and the potential for improvement. Learning from the experience of MDGs, the indicators and the SDG Index which measures the progress of every country in implementing the SDGs have been put in place already. The success of SDGs depends on the participation of all the stakeholders in the process. In the last three years, the agenda has seen a collaborative partnership of the governments, non-profits as well as businesses. Governments have set up task forces to coordinate the implementation of SDGs. Non-Profits across the world have aligned their work in line with the specific goals from the SDG framework and Businesses have started figuring the sustainability factor into their fields.


During workshop

But there is something major that is missing. There is a piece of the puzzle still not in place without which any success of the sustainable development agenda would not materialize in the long term. The preamble of the GA resolution 70/A starts with calling the agenda, “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity.” But, it is the common people and their participation that has been largely missing from the scene. The Global Goals are still being understood as a top-down framework which has to be pushed by the governments and big non-profits. While the need of that push cannot be denied, that alone would not ensure the success of the SDGs.

The need of the hour is an evolution of a bottom-up approach for realizing the true potential of the SDGs. Peoples’ participation is the key to the success of the SDGs and it is with this goal in mind that we started SDG Society in 2017. We were fortunate to secure the YES Alumni Grant and pre-incubation support from Nirmaan, IIT Madras. Albeit at a very small scale, it helped us start our operations in four states; Delhi, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

SDG Society focuses on raising awareness and inducing action among school students in line with the SDGs. In consultation with educationists and SDG experts, we are working to design, develop and carry out training modules and workshops on the goals for the school students across India. We are going to schools holding workshops aided by various presentations, interactive modules and fun games. These workshops focus on helping students incorporate sustainable practices in their day-to-day lives and based on the same, we are selecting students for further engagement. We plan to follow the workshops with an action module where we help the selected students organize themselves into small groups, identify a problem in their neighbourhood, brainstorm solutions, evaluate their viability and implement the same. Based on their performance, the student teams will be awarded incentives. The core of our philosophy lies in our approach towards localizing the global goals and taking them directly to the common people.

We feel that the success of the SDG agenda depends on our ability to turn it into a mass movement. The onus of such an ambitious development agenda cannot be solely put on the governments. We must make common people feel involved in its implementation. Solutions to the local issues must be made an important basis for the Global Goals. This would also require us to bring powerful stories to the fore; stories of individuals and communities from across the globe. These narratives when woven together would provide us with a bigger picture of how people from all over the world are helping advance the SDGs at their level.

My exchange year changed the way I looked at the world around me and gave me what I would call a Glocal perspective. AFS has thus played an instrumental role in making me who I am today and as an alumnus, I am glad to see that AFS has active in the dissemination of the SDG agenda. As an organization, AFS is uniquely positioned to create a lot of impact because of both the large scale that it operates at and the connection to people across cultures and countries that it enjoys at the grassroots level.