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The UN Sustainable Development Goals: A Global Convergence

Impact Perspectives

Reading time: 6 minutes
Lorena Rodriguez

Lorena is passionate about using technology to solve the impact measurement challenges in the social sector, such as impact strategy, data collection, data aggregation, validation, reporting, visualization, and evaluation.

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Posted on 2017-08-18

Overview of the SDGs

The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also referred to as The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, is a set of 17 Global Goals, 169 associated targets, and 230 individual indicators. This international collaboration between 193 UN Member States and global organizations and agencies is outlined in the UN Resolution A/RES/70/1 established in September 2015.

 

 “We don’t have plan B because there is no planet B.”

- United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon


 

 

Prior to the SDGs, the UN launched the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of 8 Global Goals outlined in 2000. There were mixed reactions at the close of the 2015 campaign as to the success of the project. Most agreed that the absence of targets and indicators hindered actionable and measurable collaborative effort. This aspect was purposefully incorporated in the subsequent SDGs.

The SDGs are seen as a step towards international collective impact efforts, focusing and guiding the interventions of humanitarian efforts around the globe.

 

Aligning with the SDGs

Many in the impact space are orienting their social impact metrics to the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) with the hope that convergence will make everyone better able to have a positive impact. What’s more, while they might be iterated upon over time, the SDGs aren’t going anywhere. So it might be worth looking towards alignment sooner rather than later.

Of course, with such a global reach, there are some contextual considerations. While a global vision is important, context and the unique nature of your operations and environment cannot be compromised. The granular details of the atmosphere you operate in is important to take into consideration in order to measure for outcomes.

So, while you align with the UN SDG targets, understand that your outcomes are contributions to those targets, but you will need metrics or indicators that are closer to your scope. To do this, you will need to decide if the indicators outlined by the SDGs allow you to maintain the integrity of your results. This will differ depending on your organization’s focus area and your physical location.

For example, if you are an organization working on Advocacy and Policy, the indicators will vary depending on the geopolitical context. Or if you are a big company trying to align your operations and value chain to the environment and sustainability-related targets, SDG indicators pose obvious limitations. 

In these cases, you might want to complement your SDG indicators with other standard metrics like IRIS and GRI.  

  

Sector-Specific Tools for Organizational Alignment

Sustainability

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is dedicated to sustainability reporting, transforming it from a niche practice to one now adopted by a growing majority of organizations. 

GRI recently linked its sustainability indicators to the SDG indicators in this SDG Compass. This guide allows those reporting on sustainability to participate in the global dialogue around the Sustainable Development Goals. 

 

Impact Investing

Toniic is the global action community for impact investors. Their alignment strategy for the SDGs is a hybrid approach that fuses the Goals outlined in the SDGs with IRIS indicators.

Toniic's hybrid approach is followed in their new T100 Project, a tool for impact investors to converge around the SDGs while adhering to the context of their unique activities, environment, and investment requirements.  IRIS metrics are known for being widespread amongst the impact investing community. The decision to link IRIS with SDG Targets was to join two compatible worlds: global impact convergence & impact investment. 

 

Why it all Matters

As we saw with the Millennium Development Goals, social impact measurement paired with realistic expectations is vital for the endurance of any process for convergence. The Sustainable Development Goals were born out of the international learnings of the MDG movement and represent the growing trends towards transparency, accountability, and strategic planning in social impact management.

No matter how you do it, there are benefits to joining the movement. While Impact Investors are keen to find the right organizations to invest in, organizations are struggling with resources to carry out their missions. The SDG alignment serves as a middle-ground where they can find each other, quickly identify the match between their core values, and collaborate on achieving the impact goals that are closer to their hearths, but that will also enhance human development.