The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a ‘universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity’. They cover a total of 17 goals with ~169 targets within them. The targets for each of the goals is an interesting mix of systemic and policy interventions, and outcomes to measure. The goals are highly interdependent on each other with the overall intention of balancing environment, economics and society with an emphasis on protecting the vulnerable and those impacted by natural disasters.

As per the last SDG report, there has been tremendous progress made on each of the SDGs. However, the pace at which the problems are multiplying is faster than the resolutions being deployed. For some of the goals, if the problems are not addressed within a given period, the nature of the problem may change radically. For example, if malnutrition in infants is not addressed within the first few years of the child’s life, it can have long-term irreversible impact.

The current approach to address the challenges is to work with various countries to implement the SDG agenda, where the UN plays the role of the facilitator. In this model, governance and implementation planning is driven by participating countries – resulting in significant onus on individual nations to make important contributions to achieve the sustainable development goals.

While the intent and the ambition contained within the SDGs are high, the challenge is large, diverse and complex. Such a large-social transformation cannot be solved by individual ‘crowbar’ like programs, which can force-lift individual, small changes. The shared SDGs need a systemic approach, a more ‘catalytic’ approach – an approach that brings together the society, market and government within nations, or globally, to collaborate, co-create and address the societal challenges in a unified, but not uniform manner.

One of the many ways to crack the SDGs is to supplement the existing ‘top down’ approach by the UN with a ‘bottom-up’ Societal Platform approach by:

  • Re-imagining the SDGs as an evolution of a series of problems being addressed based on the maturity of a nation (as building blocks)
  • Getting the ecosystems (public, private, social enterprises etc.) supporting each of the SDGs to talk to each other using a collaborative platform
  • Introducing a shared digital infrastructure to string together the systemic interventions and track impact

Societal Platforms has the potential to support lifelong learning, financial inclusion, preventive healthcare, building sustainable habitats and emerging livelihoods. A quick analysis suggests that Societal Platforms available today could enable 80% of SDGs. Different ecosystem stakeholders for each of the goals may be looking at the same problem differently and are driven by assumptions, which can be plugged if they collaborate with each other. However, this would also mean situations where parties with conflicting interest may need arbitration and decisions having large-scale implications to be made. For example, climate change goals may require stronger emphasis in terms of policy on renewables versus dependence on fossil fuels. Given that companies dependent on fossil fuels are powerful and run as cartels in many parts of the world, it may pose a serious impediment to the overall roadmap for the goal. Certain goals which are focused on building the production of resources (such as agriculture), development of people impacted by natural disasters, etc., have not been addressed within the current scope of Societal Platform. However, Societal Platform is equipped and designed to plug and collaborate with solutions ‘in-flight’, to help further the big picture.