Using the Sustainable Development Goals as a Global Gateway

The SDGs, when understood and used effectively, can help associations in many ways.

By Bonnie Koenig

Milan, Italy, High-rise house with trees, shrubs and hedges in the city of Milan.
Milan, Italy, High-rise house with trees, shrubs and hedges in the city of Milan.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs or Global Goals) are a list of 17 goals agreed upon by world leaders in September of 2015. These goals, which range from ending poverty to climate change action, are a broad blueprint allowing ample opportunity for engagement that are being used by many organizations as a gateway to connect globally.

The Global Goals and Agenda 2030 build on the success of the Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015) and aim to go further to end all forms of poverty. The United Nations conducted the biggest public consultation in its history to ask which issues should be included in the new goals. It was agreed that 17 Goals were needed to accommodate a wide range of people’s views. They include several areas under the umbrella of fighting poverty including clean water, climate change, education, energy, health and infrastructure. Like other documents and efforts with universal appeal (and media attention) the SDGs, when understood and used effectively, can help associations in many ways including:
  • Finding like-minded partners to forward their own work and increase their impact.
  • Learning about how others around the world are tackling similar challenges.
  • Enhancing their opportunities to catch the attention of policy makers, funders and others who are following these broader global issues.
Introducing the SDGs to a wider audience has been catching on and there are now many online portals such as SDG insights ( and SDG Guide ( that curate information about the SDGs that can be useful to organizations looking to engage with them. The SDG Philanthropy Platform also has a very useful indicator wizard ( to show which SDGs relate to your work and some ideas for how you can track your association community: “…The implementation of the SDGs opens up new avenues. Now, more than ever before, being strategic…means forging partnerships and becoming a force for action in various multi-stakeholder coalitions under the SDG umbrella.” And as an added bonus, you get to use the colorful, eye-catching Global Goals logo! Here are some Association Forum member examples:
  • The Public Library Association (PLA) staff shared that over the next few years, the Public Library Association will be introducing SDGs to their work with US public libraries. Libraries have evolved and are providing services that meet critical community and societal needs, and SDGs are a good framework for connecting and articulating this work. They are not well understood in the U.S., but the PLA hopes to make more information on them available through promoting the work of its partner, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, (IFLA). The IFLA’s work includes a publication available to help local libraries and their users make connections to the SDGs and Action 2030 Agenda and a report launched at the UN High Level Political Forum on SDGs in 2017, Development and Access to Information (DA21). The reports show how access to information (a key function of libraries) contributes to the SDGs—all over the world, including in the US. It also demonstrates that access to information enables social, economic and political development and can transform lives.
  • In November, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a new policy statement, “The Role of Pediatricians in Global Health,” which describes how the SDGs, and global health principles provide a shared frame of reference for a) pediatricians addressing health inequities both within the United States and internationally, and b) for the AAP’s partner international pediatric societies. NCD Child, a global coalition for which the AAP serves as secretariat, provided two AAP members—Mychelle Farmer, MD, FAAP, and Francis Rushton, MD, FAAP with a small grant to educate pediatricians in the United States about the relationship between their clinical practices at home and the needs of children around the world, and to help mobilize pediatricians for action. On the global level, the AAP advocated for the inclusion of children in relevant health-related SDG targets and indicators, and the AAP supports partner societies to achieve SDG 3 (“good health and well-being”) targets in their own countries. The AAP provides support through trainings, curricula, and other programs, including Helping Babies Survive, tobacco prevention and cessation projects, and a partnership to strengthen capacity for global pediatric immunization champions.
  • The Lion Clubs International notes that the SDGs are closely tied to the work that they do as an international service organization. In 2016 they launched a video contest challenging youth to show how they support the SDGs locally. The contest was heavily promoted on social media and incorporated both trending (#SquadGoals) and UN (#SDG #GlobalGoal #Youth4GG) hashtags to gain traction. The hashtags associated with global goals helped to reach an audience beyond current members and highlight our relevance in the global arena. Some of the user-generated content received through the video contest was high quality and is now be shown at international events and UN partner meetings.

About the Author

<strong>Bonnie Koenig</strong> is a consultant working with associations on international engagement and other program and governance strategies. She is the current facilitator of Association Forum’s International Conversation Circle. She can be reached at <a href=""><strong></strong></a> or 773.233.5755.

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