Whether you are a resident of Delhi worried about increasing levels of pollution, or a constituent in Limerick concerned about access to housing, the SDGs are quantifiable goals that can be used to hold your government to account.
However, if elected officials aren’t aware of the scope of the Goals, the commitments that underpin them, or the tools they offer to bring about positive change in the communities they represent, this cannot happen.
In 2019, I was invited by IDEA as part of the EU Bridge 47 project to develop a training on Political Leadership for Sustainable Development. Working together with Women for Election, a non-partisan organisation that encourages women in Ireland to run for political office, this training would support women councillors to strengthen their knowledge and understanding of the role of the SDGs, what they could do to support the achievement of the Goals and what the Goals can do to support them in their work.
Part of the brief was to use the participatory methodologies that comprise the Global Citizenship Education approach.
It was also critical that the day was tailored to reflect the specific role of councillors, what they have power and control over, and the different levels of prior knowledge and experience of the SDGs that a diverse group of councillors from across the country would bring.
As a result, the training was designed to be practical and action-focused: giving participants the tools to come up with action plans, share experiences and identify concrete steps they could take in their own areas to advance the SDGs. As well as providing participants with tools and content to strengthen their knowledge about the SDGs, it was critical to ensure they had the time and space to reflect on what this new approach could mean for their office, as well as the opportunity to brainstorm with other women in the same role. We used scenarios that were commonly faced by councillors, and participants linked them to the relevant SDGs, working together to identify strategies and approaches.
The inclusion of an external speaker with a political background to talk about the importance of the SDGs meant that there was an opportunity to ask questions of someone who had been in the same position, with the same challenges, and brought an important sense of realism and opportunity to the day.
Three trainings were held, with representatives from across Ireland.
The energy and enthusiasm with which the participants engaged in the day is hugely encouraging, as is their recognition that the SDGs matter for local government. It will take some time to see if this new understanding will change their approach, but one thing is clear: If we are to make significant progress on the SDGs, political leadership for sustainable development is essential. However, if the engagement of the women councillors who participated is anything to go by, there is reason for us to be optimistic.