Global Goals – a complex answer to complicated times

Search for “best jobs in the world” on the internet and you are likely to end up with anything from a professional mattress tester to a tropical island caretaker. But what if your duty was to travel the globe and convince people of the importance of action to end poverty, fight gender discrimination or protect our oceans and lands?

At first glance, the task seems simple. After all, who would argue for the opposite – hunger and poverty in a devastated environment? But ask any of the Sustainable Development Goals Advocates – 17 exceptional people tasked by the UN with promoting the world-changing Global Goals – and they will tell you that their mission is anything but easy.

“SDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals – as beautiful as the term is – are not very easy for people to understand,” says the youngest of the SDG Advocates, medical doctor and activist Alaa Murabit. Somewhat of an understatement, given that she is referring to 17 interconnected goals negotiated by 193 countries and boasting 169 specific targets, spanning everything from child mortality to genetic resources, to reducing food waste.

While challenging from a communications perspective, the complexity of the Global Goals is where the SDG Advocates see its greatest advantage. “We live in complicated times and SDGs are a complicated answer,” says Richard Curtis, SDG Advocate and director of hit movies, such as Notting Hill or Love Actually. “I actually think that if we had a simple answer, it wouldn’t be convincing. This is the one proper plan on the table that deals with every single issue.”

Be it in a school, at a movie screening or at a university lecture, the SDG Advocates remind everyone that the Global Goals are not just an aspiration – they are a commitment by the government of every country in the United Nations to radically change our world by 2030.

“Successful implementation of the SDGs is predicated on people knowing about them,” says Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General of the UN and head of its Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA).

“If people are aware of the bold commitments their leaders made in 2015, then citizens can hold their leaders accountable. This accountability helps facilitate a robust intergovernmental process, and helps to guide UN DESA’s interactions with Member States.”

Secretary-General António Guterres and UN DESA’s chief Liu Zhenmin meet with SDG Avocates ahead of the UN General Assembly

But even with all the world’s governments on board and the UN at the heart of the process, it will take much more than awareness to achieve the Global Goals by 2030. Without the engagement of ordinary people to effect change on the most local of levels, the SDGs will remain on paper.

“If we believe that the UN can do this unilaterally, we’re not being very realistic,” says Alaa Murabit. “The idea is that everybody is working towards the Sustainable Development Goals. We need people to work with the NGOs, within their businesses, within their families.”

“The way, in which we can engage best, is talking to people on a very personal level about how they can engage on the goals. It’s about connecting it to things they already care about.”

Alaa Murabit, is convinced that the only path to achieve the SDGs leads through the economic and social empowerment of women and girls, and through ensuring that they have access to education.

For Dho Young-Shim, head of the UN World Tourism Organization’s ST-EP Foundation and SDG Advocate, the entry point for conversations on SDGs is education. “When I was born, Korea was one of the poorest countries of the world. But then you see the Korea of today. We are a G20 country. How did that happen? Education. There was a consensus among our parents that the next generation was not going to inherit this absolute poverty. Education really brings wonders and we are an example!”

Renowned economist and passionate SDG Advocate Jeffrey Sachs agrees. “Education is a core goal for inclusion and a core goal for being ahead of the curve on a lot of the changes,” he said during his #SDGLive interview at this year’s UN General Assembly.

Throughout the high-level week of this year’s General Assembly, the SDG Advocates were hammering home their message that the Global Goals belong to everyone and we can all make a colossal, global change by making small differences in the areas we care about.

To learn more about how to take SDG action, go to or download the SDGs in action app.


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