Why We Care about the SDGs… And What We’re Doing About It

By Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, Center for Financial Inclusion

Why We Care about the SDGs

Nearly 1000 people from 130 countries are gathering in Denmark this week for UNLEASH, a collaborative initiative designed to make progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

This week and next, three Accion staff — myself, Pablo Antón Díaz, and Kathleen Yaworsky— are working with about a thousand other people to make progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during UNLEASH Lab 2017. As the website explains, “The first UNLEASH event is held when talents from all over the world come to Denmark for nine days to create real, scalable solutions to the Sustainable Development Goals.” Before I left, a friend of mine asked what the goals have to do with my work, since they don’t explicitly include financial inclusion. The answer is quite simply that financial inclusion is an enabler of the SDGs. We encourage and advance financial inclusion so that people’s lives can be better in many of the ways the SDGs address — from education to health care to housing.

UNLEASH Lab 2017 is an audacious experiment that brings together people from 130 countries who work in academia, health, education, economic development, infrastructure development, city planning, and more. The idea is that with adequate brainpower and resources, a group of people like this can move the needle on the SDGs. The events team, with support from Deloitte, Dalberg, and others, and drawing on input from more than 200 “knowledge and talent partners”, has loaded the agenda with inspirational speeches, team-based design workshops, and competitions. At the end of the event, some of the better ideas that emerge will receive funding. And apparently Ashton Kutcher will be there too for a little extra star power.

In other words, if this event doesn’t advance the SDGs, it is doubtful that other efforts will succeed.

By way of brief history, the SDGs are a set of 17 development goals spearheaded by the United Nations in 2015, and follow on the Millenium Development Goals which helped focus the world’s attention on specific targets, especially in poverty alleviation. The SDGs are daring enough to assert that by 2030, with our collective effort, the world can be free of poverty, hunger, and gender inequality. The SDGs include goals for quality education, action on climate change, and responsible consumption and production. The goals may appear unrealistic, but they are also brave.

The UNLEASH event is focused on seven themes based on the SDGs:

  • Water
  • Food
  • Energy
  • Sustainable Production and Consumption
  • Education and Information Communication Technology (ICT)
  • Urban Sustainability
  • Health

Pablo and I are participating in the track dedicated to education, while Kathleen is in sustainable production and consumption. Pablo and I submitted proposals that describe financial education and financial capability-building as essential to creating a workforce that is prepared for the complex management of their financial lives. And as activities get underway, we’re sure to encounter a flood of additional ideas, with passionate people advocating them. We will join up, form teams to craft solutions, and who knows what will happen next?!

We’re open to ideas from you, too. What other connections can we make between the SDGs and financial inclusion? How can existing efforts to advance financial inclusion contribute to other SDGs?

Wish us luck…We’ll let you know how it goes!

Sonja Kelly is Director of Research at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion. A version of this post was previously published on the CFI Blog.

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