“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” While Charles Dickens was certainly not thinking of the 21st century when he wrote those words in 1859, they ring very true today. As a global community, we face challenges on a massive scale. For example, more than 16 million people in East Africa are facing what many expect to be the worst famine since 1945. Meanwhile, the financial impact of continuing global violence is estimated by the 2017 Global Peace Index at more than $14 trillion. That’s the equivalent of nearly 13 percent of the world’s GDP. And certainly there are many political developments around the world that give rise to concern.
Fortunately, in parallel, there are significant signs of progress on the issues that most matter to humanity. For 93 of the 161 countries tracked last year, the 2017 Global Peace Index improved. Additionally, the rate of extreme poverty has steadily declined over the last 15 years and overall measures of global health have continued up and to the right.
But we need to work methodically together to accelerate this progress. One of the most significant developments in recent years was the 2015 adoption by 193 countries under the auspices of the U.N. of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change. It includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These bold and transformative goals are intended to propel the world forward with the ultimate objective of significantly reducing pain, struggle, and evil by the year 2030.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals
These goals paint a comprehensive picture of the global changes that must be adopted to create an environment of peace and prosperity. Each goal is not a standalone target—they are all intertwined and indivisible. As progress is made on one goal, it creates a residual effect that moves the other goals forward. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true—a lack of progress on a forgotten or deprioritized goal will ultimately lead to stagnation of progress towards the other goals.
We will not achieve a poverty-less world without every global citizen having access to food. We will not eliminate climate change without creating sustainable cities. We will not see worldwide access to education without gender equality.
Because each SDG represents a global challenge, we will need multiple perspectives, cultures, and tactics to address the many related issues that stem from each primary goal. For example, Google’s efforts to provide global internet access must incorporate efforts to combat unintentional machine-learned bias that would otherwise undermine the effectiveness of searches and the accuracy of the results. Progress is rarely a one-way street, but rather an ebb and flow of pros and cons, tough choices, and roads not taken. Ideas from all corners of the world, from every industry, and from every economic class must be coordinated and considered to reach worldwide solutions.
As awareness of the 17 SDGs spreads around the world, thousands of individuals, organizations, and countries have started initiatives to help move them forward. However, a key piece to the puzzle is missing.
If these efforts are to be sufficiently effective around the globe, we need a global digital platform to facilitate worldwide collaboration. The collective tool for humanity should be accessible by every global citizen and organization to contribute their innovations and knowledge. This is the only way for us to build solutions that will not simply be isolated branches of progress, but rather an intertwined forest that can reach every race, ethnic group, socioeconomic class, and nation-state.
Innovators, entrepreneurs, and the world’s creative thinkers will be the soldiers in this battle to create a prosperous and peaceful world. We need every innovator and entrepreneur from every walk of life to walk together. Each global issue must be tackled with unique thinking, out-of-the-box ideas, and bold risk-taking. Investments must be made in unique, risky innovations, rather than safe ideas with minimal impact.
Only by combining efforts in a platform that transcends time and space, and creating networks to address each global issue from every angle, can we truly reach successful solutions with global reach. UNICEF, where I have focused my work in the past few years, would see enormous benefit if the world’s technologists and believers in progress contribute to building such a platform. So would many other worthy efforts and campaigns.
Thousands of companies and individuals are already contributing to the progress of the SDGs, but there are opportunities for everyone to be involved. Worldwide challenges will take worldwide collaboration to address. That means quickly raising $1 billion globally to fund innovative ideas that support the SDGs. It means increasing awareness of the goals’ existence to encourage resource sharing across time zones and country borders.
It means bringing your own unique solution into the ecosystem of innovation to maximize impact. But this ecosystem must exist. By creating a collaborative digital platform where all the world’s efforts can become as intertwined and indivisible as the SDGs, the deadline of achievement by 2030 will be possible. With such high stakes, failure is not an option.
Remember, we are one world, and we must work as one collective unit to achieve the SDGs. We must create the collaborative platform to bring every resource and idea together. We must build a world that does not progress in peaks and valleys, benefiting only a percentage of the global population, but rather progresses together, in the interests of every country, nation, race, ethnic group, gender, and socioeconomic class.
Claudia Romo Edelman is a special advisor of UNICEF, after serving as UNICEF’s Global Chief of Public Advocacy for three years. She has also worked extensively in the office of the UN Secretary General on communicating the importance of the SDGs and on ways to achieve them.