Mobilizing the Global Goals through Collective Action and Collaboration

October 1, 2020

The United Nations General Assembly in 2015 established a shared set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for achieving sustainability and prosperity around the world by 2030. To achieve the 17 goals and 169 targets by 2030 will requires collective action to occur at a scale never witnessed before and sustained collaboration from sectors such as government, business, civil society and academia. These realities are more evident than ever, as progress on the SDGs since its inception has been variable according to the Sustainable Development Goals Report 20191, although there are clear indications progress is being made in some critical areas. Extreme poverty has declined considerably, marine protected areas have doubled since 2010, and 150 countries have developed national policies to address challenges associated with rapid urbanization 1. However, with the ongoing deterioration of the natural environment, increasing sea levels, global warming, threat to biodiversity, increase in global hunger, and discrimination against women there is need for urgent collective action

Call for Local Action

Cities are at the forefront of sustainable development issues. To mobilize the SDGs at a local level, there is need for improved awareness, capacity-building, public, and private investment with local partners. Localizing the effort requires inclusion of the SDGs in local and national frameworks for cities to effectively implement and monitor the SDGs. For example, the National Confederation of Municipalities of Brazil, in cooperation with the UN Development Program (UNDP), established the ART Initiative to support municipalities in integrate the SDGs into their local plans and build monitoring and accountability systems. Another excellent case is the Global Goals Municipal Campaign in the Netherlands, which seeks to engage stakeholders in implementing the SDGs2. Cities need to collaborate more closely with other cities in developing tools on decision-making, cooperative governance at multiple levels (local, provincial, national, global), sustainability metrics including monitoring and evaluation, aligning local sustainability frameworks to the SDGs, accountability, transparency and resource mobilization to better understand and drive transformation change in cities2. If cities do not develop sustainably, neither will the rest of the world.

The Need for Multi-Sector Partnerships – Creating Shared Value

Civil society can play a critical role by generating and sharing knowledge, capacities, resources, skills and technology in areas such as poverty eradication, health, education, food security, social protection, sustainable energy and climate change. They are well positioned to serve as international catalysts for national and global activities and can assist in bringing citizens’ voices to local and international agendas3. Such partnerships are instrumental in not only raising awareness and educating local citizens, but also in driving innovation by developing alliances and networks at the grassroots level.

To drive transformational and systemic change, action by individual firms is necessary, but not sufficient. Like cities, collaboration will be essential among companies themselves, and on a cross-sector and multi-stakeholder basis. The business benefits from understanding and aligning activities to the UN 2030 Agenda will be profound and salient in terms of impact on people and societies4. A recent study classified 49 motivations for why companies should embrace sustainable development and found that most companies move on the SDGs only to find possible benefits in terms of greater market shares and profits5. Yet interestingly, literature reviews from over 700 of the most influential companies in the world indicate that the interest in the SDGs is growing over the years, and that this interest is becoming less generic59. It is important to understand that in the industrial context, innovation appears as the fundamental driver for SDG implementation. However, there are limitations concerning metrics associated with the SDGs. Although metrics for the quantification of environment and economic impact are fairly well-defined, one of the greater challenges is quantifying the conditions of society well-being and ethical issues5. The challenges associated with the SDGs provide countries with an opportunity to collaborate and develop new approaches to address these problems and generate shared value. Each sector has a valuable role to play, and in the spirit of global solidarity and collaboration, real transformation of society can occur.

The Higher Education (HE) sector plays a key role in advancing the SDGs globally. Education serves as a basis for achieving fundamental goals, including reducing inequalities, improving health, achieving gender equality, fighting hate speech, xenophobia and intolerance, protecting the planet’s resources and nurturing global citizenship. According to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “Education transforms lives”10 and is an “essential pillar to achieving the UN SDGs”11. Through research, higher education institutions can also address complex global problems with innovative solutions and technologies. Through teaching and learning, universities can contribute to curriculum development, generate new leaders and foster creative thinking to drive social and economic development; and through multiple stakeholder engagement at a community level, universities can achieve local, national and global impact. Universities serve as an engine of transformational sustainability by adopting sustainable policies and practices across these various platforms as well as through their own operations. Recent data from a multiple case study involving sustainability-led transformations in three universities (UK, Bulgaria and USA) showed that the role of leaders and the ways in which the senior management hierarchy engage with community of social networks is key to delivering the SDGs12 . Partnerships within and with universities both locally, nationally and globally will help universities become more connected to society which will help accelerate the UN 2030 Agenda. Importantly, the SDGs can be used as a new framework for the future of international higher education by serving as a moral global compass to address cultural differences by creating better-educated and more thoughtful public citizens through knowledge sharing and collaboration.

An example with far reaching national and international implications is the global Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) initiative, developed by the UN, hosted at the University of Waterloo, Canada. The goal of the SDSN is to promote integrated approaches to implement the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, through education, research, policy analysis, and global cooperation. By collaborating with the SDSN, universities, research centres, civil society organizations and knowledge institutions can share best practices, which can potentially lead to the development of international research projects. For example, the University of Saskatchewan hosted a People Around the World (PAW) conference on ‘Sustainability the World Needs: Development in Action’ to strengthen collaboration with key organisations such as SDSN Canada and the United Nations for Training and Research (UNITAR)13. The world is in great need for collective learning from one another, and such collaborative efforts and information exchanges create strong impacts both at an institutional and international level.

Our intention is for this article to empower creative and critical thinking for furthering sustainability not only in relation to the UN SDG agenda but also beyond 2030. As boundaries between sectors become blurred, interdependencies become more pronounced, and more important. Innovative and new approaches will be required as diverse actors work together to find common ground to develop solutions to address complex sustainability challenges and share approaches leading to peaceful, just and inclusive societies.


4. Dangelico, R.M. What drives green product development and how do different antecedents affect market performance? A Survey of Italian Companies with Eco-Labels. Bus. Strateg. Environ. 2017, 26, 1144–116
5. Scott, L.; McGill, A. From promise to reality: Does business really care about the SDGs? PriceWaterhouseCoopers: London, UK, 2018
6. PwC. Make it your Business: Engaging with the Sustainable Development Goals; PriceWaterhouseCoopers: London, UK, 2015
7. PwC. SDG Reporting Challenge 2016; PriceWaterhouseCoopers: London, UK, 2016
8. PwC. SDG Reporting Challenge 2017: Exploring Business Communication on the Global Goals; PriceWaterhouseCoopers: London, UK, 2017
11. Purcell, W; Henriksen, H; and Spengler, J. (2019). Universities as the engine of transformational sustainability toward delivering the sustainable development goals: “Living labs” for sustainability. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education. 20. 1343-1357

Dr. Meghna Ramaswamy & Darcy D. Marciniuk

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Dr. Meghna Ramaswamy

Director of the International Office in the Office of the Vice-President of Research, University of Saskatchewan
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Dr. Meghna Ramaswamy is the Director of the International Office in the Office of the Vice-President of Research, at the University of Saskatchewan, where she leads the internationalization strategy and the international research and partnerships portfolio for the institution. She has traveled and worked extensively with institutions, government, funding agencies and businesses around the world, including those in Europe, Africa, China, Russia, Philippines, Brazil and India. She loves interacting with people from different cultures and backgrounds, and uses these deep learning experiences to build vision, and guide sound strategy development for international education, focusing on sustainable development. She leads by example, always doing her best and encouraging others to do the same.

Meghna is an Executive Committee member of the Commission of International Initiatives (CII) at the Association of Public Land Universities (APLU). She serves as a Steering Committee Member of the International Relations (IR) Learning Community (PLC) at the Canadian Bureau of International Education (CBIE), and the International Education Strategy group for the SaskAlliance, a provincial government initiative of the Ministry of Advanced Education, in Saskatchewan, Canada. She is an advocate for sustainable development in International Education and is a member of the Education and Academia Stakeholder Group anchored to the United Nations (2013 Resolution A/RES/67/290) to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on SDG 4: Quality Education. She also recently published a book chapter on Interdisciplinary Research Teams for the SDGs, in the Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals - Volume 17: Partnerships for the Goals by Springer Nature.

Prior to joining the University of Saskatchewan in 2018, she led the Centre for AIDS Reagents in the UK, the only HIV repository in Europe, where she developed international scientific projects and partnerships with key organizations such as the World Health Organization, the European Commission, the National Institute of Health, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She has been an Expert Advisor to the World Health Organization, the European Commission and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on a number of initiatives and has attracted over $19 million in funding as a Principal Investigator. She was Chair of the External Advisory Committee for the European Research Infrastructure for Poverty Related Diseases, funded by the European Commission under Framework VII. Her strong links with the private industry during the course of her career have led to the development of many new partnerships and novel products in the health sector.

She was an adjunct lecturer in Kings College London, and taught undergraduate courses to medical students. Dr. Ramaswamy earned her BSc in Microbiology from Kings College London, MSc in Virology from The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and PhD in Clinical Infection from University College. She lives in Saskatoon, with her husband and her St. Bernard.

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Dr. Darcy Marciniuk

Professor & Vice-President Research, University of Saskatchewan.
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Darcy D. Marciniuk; MD, FRCPC, FCAHS, Master FCCP
Professor of Medicine; Respirology, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine
Associate Vice-President Research, University of Saskatchewan

Dr. Marciniuk is recognized internationally as an expert in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and clinical respiratory physiology with 420 invited international presentations and more than 200 peer-reviewed publications. He is a past-President of the Canadian Thoracic Society and American College of Chest Physicians, and served as Chair of the Forum of International Respiratory Societies. Dr. Marciniuk is a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, and Deputy Editor Outreach for the journal CHEST. As Associate Vice-President Research, he led the development of the University of Saskatchewan’s International Blueprint and currently chairs the institution’s Pandemic Response and Recovery Team.