5 Things Civil Society and the SDGs Can Do for Each Other

Members of multi-purpose community cooperative during a meeting with CSOs in Manila, Philippines.
Members of multi-purpose community cooperative during a meeting with CSOs in Manila, Philippines.

By Suzanne Nazal

How can CSOs contribute meaningfully to the new SDGs, and how can the post-2015 agenda support civil society’s development efforts over the next 15 years? Here are 5 ways.

The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a blueprint for eradicating poverty in low-income countries, while addressing problems of unsustainable patterns of consumption and production in the developed world. The SDGs will be driven not primarily by governments, but by evolving partnerships between governments, civil society, and the private sector. Over the lifetime of the SDGs, the nature of citizen participation will also evolve.

Here are 5 ways that civil society organizations can contribute meaningfully to SDGs, and that the post-2015 agenda can support civil society’s development efforts over the next 15 years.

1. Protect civil society space.

In a recent speech to commemorate the International Day for Democracy, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on governments to ensure enabling environments for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to operate. This has been a welcome development in view of the fact that in 2014 serious threats to civic freedoms were reported in almost 100 countries around the world. The UN chief also noted: “The role of civil society has never been more important. Soon we will start to implement an inspiring new development agenda, agreed by all the world’s governments.” Post-2015, governments should ensure that CSOs are able to effectively contribute to achieving the SDGs, and meaningfully engage in their monitoring and review.

2. Include civil society in emergency response.

The SDGs acknowledge that more frequent and intense natural disasters threaten to reverse much of the development progress made in recent decades. Experience tells us that CSOs are often the first to respond during calamities, like when Cyclone Pam devastated Vanuatu in March 2015, or when a powerful earthquake struck Nepal in April 2015. After Typhoon Haiyan in 2014, CSOs in the Philippines realized their enormous responsibility in helping communities reduce their vulnerability to future natural disasters, and they have started to mainstream disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in their interventions. This trend will continue over the next few decades, particularly in disaster-prone countries.

3. ‘Go smart.’

CSOs have discovered that information and communications technology can help them deliver services in a more efficient way. In a health project, for example, development workers in the field can instantly report medical information through their smartphones so that appropriate health care can be delivered more efficiently. Mobile phones, tablets, applications and software are also used to collect data in rural communities to perform monitoring and evaluation in agriculture projects. This should be scaled up in the post-2015 era.

4. Power to the people.

The digital age has also opened up access to massive amount of information, happening in real time and at practically no cost. Social media has transferred power to the people and has given rise to online activism. It has never been easier to start a campaign and express support for a cause. Online communication offers alternative forms of dialogue and has the potential to build a network of committed, active citizens that can positively influence the implementation of the SDGs.

5. Target the youth.

Young people are crucial civil society actors, and most of them live in developing countries. Our future lies in the hands of today’s youth, who will pass the torch to future generations. The current young people will mature in the next 15 years, the period covered by the SDGs. They will be the generation that will experience the impact of the success or failure of the SDGs. Therefore, SDG implementation should be inclusive and responsive to the needs of the youth - get them educated, help them develop sustainable livelihoods, and empower them to contribute more fully to a better society.

This collective journey calls for greater awareness of the contribution of civil society as we endeavor to see the SDGs met for all nations and peoples, and for all segments of society.