High-Impact Initiatives for the Sustainable Development Goals: Opportunities for Libraries
05 January 2024
In September, the UN announced 12 High-Impact Initiatives as a package intended to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These offer a variety of opportunities to highlight the work of libraries, and seek recognition and support, at national and global levels.
The SDG Summit in September 2023 marking the half way point in the 2030 Agenda was marked by pessimism about the progress made towards the Goals set out back in 2015, and encouragement to act while there is still time.
At the heart of the latter were a set of ‘High-Impact Initiatives’, defined by different UN agencies, and which, in their own areas, are intended to accelerate change.
The Initiatives are a mix – some were already well-established even a year ago, others are only now coming into focus. Some are focused on bringing about broad systemic change (and so admittedly are likely not far from what the agencies were already doing in their advice to governments), others are focused on addressing specific challenges.
They are interesting for libraries at two levels. Firstly, at the national, almost all of these initiatives are framed in terms of countries getting involved and implementing reforms. Insofar as we can show that libraries are essential – or at least contribute – to success, this can help ensure recognition and success.
In concrete terms, library associations and libraries may wish, in their contacts with UN Country Teams, to ask about whether relevant Initiatives are being implemented nationally, and if so, think together about how to get involved.
Secondly, there is the possibility at the international level, in a more concrete way than around the SDGs, to demonstrate the role of libraries as partners across the policy agenda.
This article runs through the twelve High-Impact Initiatives, setting out in each case the reasoning behind it, what it contains, key dates, and implications for libraries.
Transforming Education (link)
Why: We are off track on SDG4 – quality education – and facing twin crises of equity and access, quality and relevance in the sector. Hundreds of millions of children out of school, and 25% of young people are not in education or training. Illiteracy and low-literacy remain common among youth and adults.
What: First of all, the Initiative will highlight those countries that are taking action, and develop a dashboard to monitor commitments. There will also be work on education financing and support to developing countries. The Initiative will also promote resource mobilisation (including through tax), and better development spending by funding agencies. Finally, it will strengthen global support for movements of youth, teachers, civil society, aiming to identify ways to help them to engage most effectively.
- Dec 23 – assemble a Transforming Education Coalition
- May 24 – carry out a stocktaking exercise on the sidelines of the Global Education Meeting
- Jun 24 – expand the Coalition
- 2030 – measure progress against goals
Library opportunities: as already highlighted in our previous work around Transforming Education, there’s a strong case for libraries both in terms of our focus on equity, but also on relevance. What is interesting here is the focus on leading countries in taking a better approach (are there examples where libraries are being integrated into planning?), and the focus on how to help libraries as well as other groups engage most effectively in policy-making.
Power of Data (link)
Why: we need stronger data systems to support the SDGs and make digital transformation happen. Yet data is too often not seen as a priority, or is dealt with in a siloed and fragmented way, without proper efforts to build capacity. Too often, development assistance is not used to generate, gather and use data, despite its impact on success. Governments need help in improving how they work with data in order to revolutionise decision-making, accelerate digital transformation agendas, and open up opportunities. In addition, there is a lack of comparable data in a lot of countries, even on key issues, which often serves to hide the situation of vulnerable groups.
What: first of all, it’s about political leadership for new national data partnerships, for a common approach, efficiency, ethics, and to catalyse new investments. Next, the Initiative will focus on driving more and better investment by development partners to support these efforts more effectively, while ensuring ownership of programmes by recipient countries. Finally, there is a need to raise performance in generating SDG data.
- Mar 2024 – establish 10-20 national data partnerships and strategies
- Sep 2024 – create more such partnerships, and then capitalise on these in different international meetings, followed by regular reporting thereafter.
Library opportunities: there is a potential role here both for government/special libraries in supporting data collection and making available, as well as for academic and research libraries as data managers. It would certainly make sense to involve librarians in overall planning here.
Why: localisation is essential for the SDGs – if we want to deliver, we need to support local actions, by all stakeholders. However, at the moment there are big questions around the recognition of this role, and the capacity of multi-level governance frameworks, as well as how to improve coordination and delivery.
What: the Local2030 Coalition is already looking to bring together different stakeholders across the UN system, local and regional governments and others in order to share expertise, develop regional and local solution hubs, provide advice and technical support, and scale-up good practice. The idea with the Initiative is to work on advocacy more broadly around the importance of localisation, action to facilitate local implementation through technology, capacity-building and financing (for example a localisation window in the Joint SDG Fund, as well as the localisation of national financing frameworks), and finally monitoring and reporting, including through Voluntary Local Reviews.
In particular, there’s a focus on six transitions – food systems, energy access and affordability, digital connectivity, education, jobs and social protection, climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution – and four pillars – supporting capacity building of local and regional governments and local actors; strengthening local and regional hubs; leveraging greater financing, and specific initiatives targeting excluded or marginalised populations (women, children and youth, refugees).
- 2023 – 50 local and regional governments join the coalition
- 2024 – raise more money for the localisation window in the Joint SDG Fund, support the Women-led cities initiative, and bring more UN agencies on board
- 2025 – develop more Local2030 Hubs on four continents
- 2028 – boost private investment, 100 Voluntary National Reviews should be connected with Voluntary Local Reviews
- 2030 – 1000 local and regional governments on board
Library opportunities: there is lots in here, both in terms of support for research and knowledge, and also in terms of realising the potential of the Public Library Manifesto in this space. In particular, we can look at how to draw on the potential of libraries in localising the SDGs, and how to ensure more consistent engagement of libraries in Voluntary Local Reviews.
Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection (link)
Why: there are still a huge number of people not earning enough to live on, while unemployment remains high and there is a jobs gap. 4 billion people have no social protection, with a major shortfall in funding to provide a social protection floor for all, while workers are too often in unsafe, insecure jobs. There is a need to strengthen institutions for social protection and jobs creation, as well as skills development and business support.
What: The Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection was already created in September 2022, working to promote integrated and coordinated employment and social protection policies (covering social protection, skills, minimum wage, sustainable business, sectoral policies and effective implementation in sectors such as the green, care and digital economies), in the context of wider efforts to mobilise resources for proper social protection. A second element of this work is to improve multilateral cooperation on jobs and social protection, and ensure better coordinated efforts nationally.
- 2023 – launch a Global Accelerator Steering Group and call for proposals, as well as finalising roadmaps and implementation plans in 8 countries
- 2024 – mobilise financing, and launch a second call for proposals
- 2027 – implement the Global Accelerator in at least 20 countries
- 2030 – implement the Global Accelerator in at least 30 countries
Library opportunities: partly this will be about supporting research and knowledge sharing, but there’s also the argument that libraries are part of wider social protection systems, not only as a basic public service, but also as a complement, for example, to employment and welfare policies.
Why: we need a different way of working in government in order to deliver the SDGs in a changing world. There needs to be more about anticipating risks, and adapting/transforming public sectors to respond and deliver inclusive and sustainable development. Gaps in capability are often gaps in delivery. In particular, there needs to be better adaptation and learning in the face of incomplete information and radical uncertainty, more effective use of systems thinking and foresight, and social and policy innovation beyond digitalisation.
What: the idea is to guide Member States through ‘transformation journeys’ to improve how they design, finance, deliver and evaluate public services. There are three pillars of action – building skillsets in the public sector, including through having a shortlist of priority skills including in improving agility of public service delivery, designing systems to generate effective policies and investment decisions, and working across boundaries; shifting mindsets towards systems thinking and foresight, including through data science and digital literacy; and enabling more social and policy innovation with use of accelerator platform sand innovation labs. The idea is to provide technical assistance, channel resources, facilitate intergovernmental learning, and to be a knowledge platform. There’ll also be a digital portal as a clearing house for research, policies, strategies and more.
- After the SDG Summit, build a coalition of frontrunner member states and institutions as a group of friends of FutureGov, ready to support others through the FutureGov Facility.
- June 2024: launch the Group of Friends
- Dec 2024: Engage at least 10 countries for work on SDG Target 17.6 (focused on knowledge exchange), and build a coalition of 20 FutureGov front runner countries, as well as launching the digital portal.
- Dec 2025: Demonstrate impact through engaging with 15 beneficiary countries.
Library opportunities: there should be strong potential to highlight the value of library and information services as a means of delivering on this agenda. Potentially we can see what the group of friends can offer us as well, through engagement by government and parliamentary libraries in particular.
Digital Public Infrastructure (link)
Why: Digital transformation is necessary for SDG success, but a key factor in allowing this is putting in place proper underlying digital public infrastructures. This is more efficient that separate systems, and offers new possibilities to build systems around individuals and respect their rights, as well as to allow for innovation. Otherwise, it is more expensive to create services, and they are less effective.
What: develop universal safeguards, agreed globally, to make clear how Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) can be designed in a way to protect rights; innovate for last-mile innovation, by bringing people (including those with disabilities) online and giving them the skills to use it, notably through DPI partnerships with the private sector and community-based organisations; promote affordable and open safe and scalable solutions for all countries so that they can make the most of the potential of DPI, including through better connectivity, experience-sharing between governments, and promoting digital commons; to use DPI to develop transparency, data sharing and innovative green financing; and to find ways to finance DPI for sustainable development.
- 2024 develop DPI safeguard principles and set up the Safeguards Action Hub, follow up on DPI financing, track the development of DP technology
- 2025-27: continue to strengthen political and financial support, and look in particular at applications
Library opportunities: libraries can be key to partnerships for last-mile innovation, as well as supporting the development of digital commons. See our briefing on Digital Public Infrastructure for more.
Spotlight Initiative to Eliminate Violence against Women and Girls (link)
Why: despite its human, social and economic costs, violence against women and girls remains prevalent, and is harming progress towards the SDGs. Meanwhile, investing in women and girls would make a big positive difference. We need a holistic approach.
What: the Initiative aims to take a whole of government approach, as well as raise investment funds, to offer services, run prevention campaigns, allow for big increases in budgets on gender equality, pass laws on violence against women and girls, support civil society organisations, and increase the influence of grassroots groups. The main pillars of the Initiative are: laws, policies and institutions; prevention and changing social norms; response and services for survivors plus accountability for perpetrators, and support for civil society organisations.
When: while no dates are given, the Initiative will start by working with developed countries to build experience. This will feed into a state-of-the-art knowledge platform and technical hub to support responses, engage more counties, top up funding, and make sure that gender-based violence is included in all Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks.
Library opportunities: libraries already often are a key part of the wider public service infrastructure that supports women, in particular in situations where they are at risk of exclusion from other spaces. As community centres, they can also be key relays in wider efforts to provide opportunities and promote behaviour change. See our review of the place of libraries in published strategies for gender equality for more.
Why: Trade has grown but is not inclusive, and in particular supports a system where some countries end up exporting raw materials and low-value materials, rather than developing their potential for value-add, entrepreneurship and more. We need to build productive capacities in the context of wider economic transformation.
What: in addition to getting political recognition that business-as-usual is not an option, the Initiative focuses on the formulation of comprehensive country profiles based on assessments of productive capacity and multistakeholder consultations. Finally, there is work to build consensus on the need to mobilise adequate and predictable financing.
- 2024: Incorporate a holistic approach to economic development into Common Country Assessments (used by the UN to coordinate engagement within countries) and forthcoming programmes of action. Then build a focus group of interested development partners, before mainstreaming the whole approach in general.
- 2030: have at least 20 countries implementing plans
Library opportunities: these are less direct here, but arguably libraries are indeed a key part of any effort to transform a country and ensure that there are the skills and innovation needed to move up the value chain.
The SDG Stimulus (link)
Why: There are shocks that have harmed progress towards the SDGs, but also serious challenges in accessing finance to achieve the Goals. Countries that need help most are least able to access it. There needs to be a way of financing change, both short and long-term.
What: firstly, the Initiative will look again at debt distress (where countries have unsustainable levels of debt) and the tools out that exist for relief and payment suspensions. Then it will look to scale up long-term affordable finance for development through various means (including longer periods for repayment), and expand contingency funding where needed.
- 2023-25 is about advancing the idea of the idea of the SDG Stimulus in major fora, especially International Financial Institutions (IFIs), and to start raising more money.
- 2026-30 is about achieving the target and reforming IFIs in general.
Library opportunities: again, there are few direct ones, but clearly where countries can access funding for structural change, this could benefit libraries as essential public services.
Nature Driving Economic Transformation (link)
Why: Healthy ecosystems and biodiversity are key for supporting many human activities, especially for poorer people. There is a need to shift economic policy-making in favour of more sustainable use of resources, and to show viable pathways.
What: firstly the goal is to advocate, using experience, science and evidence to leverage the full value and potential of nature. Then, there needs to be work on environmental-economic accounting frameworks, to make sure we better measure what matters, and can plan on this basis. Finally, we need concrete action, including finance, institutional reform, and policy.
- 2024 – more governments to announce biodiversity-based economic policies, launch an advocacy campaign.
- 2025 – increased investment to biodiversity-focused economic projects
- 2027 – identify champion states to lead the way and encourage others to get involved
Library opportunities: this is an area where libraries are likely to have a role more as part of wider partnerships, for example by supporting interdisciplinary research, helping to ensure management of data around the monitoring of success, as well as facilitating exchange of knowledge.
Food Systems Transformation (link)
Why: food is essential for the SDGs, but we are a long way from everyone being able to feed everyone, even if there is progress in some places. We need more sustainable, efficient and resilient food systems, both for nutrition and environmental sustainability. We also need to push for system transformation pathways which also empower people, combat waste, extend social protection and build value chains.
What: the Initiative focuses on providing policy and technical advice and assistance, innovative tools and solutions, building national capacity to run processes, mobilising finance, supporting science, data and innovative solutions, and better governance. There are three pillars in particular – tools, methods, models and analyses to get better solutions; a flexible and innovative approach to partnerships focused on finding solutions; and pooling finances/developing new financial instruments. This all takes forwards the outputs of the Food Systems Summit, and the development of the UN Food Systems Coordination Hub.
- By 2030, in 134 countries, aim to scale up means of implementation, including coalitions, science advisory, and others, to find new and innovative ways to give access to tools, data and analyses, increase and accelerate investments and support, provide support, and strengthen capacities.
Library opportunities: there is likely a role for libraries both in supporting knowledge management within governments and at the international level, plus as a portal within communities to share ideas.
Energy Compacts (link)
Why: there are both 675 million people without access to electricity, and 2.3 billion without access to clean cooking, but at the same time, renewable energy represents only 20% of total generation capacity, and current energy production creates a huge amount of greenhouse gases. There needs to be progress to phase out coal, end fossil fuel subsidies, stop the licensing of new oil and gas exploitation, and stop the exploitation of existing reserves. There also need to be more investment and partnership.
What: the Initiative focuses on developing Energy Compacts as voluntary commitments to action with targets and timelines in order to drive progress. There are already over 180 such compacts with a wide range of stakeholders, with annual tracking, but the UN will work to set up more. In particular, there will be more active outreach to governments, inter-governmental organisations, the private sector and civil society organisations to mobilise further commitments, drive collaboration across Energy Compact participants to boost investment and encourage technical exchange and capacity building, establish and maintain coalitions on key themes, such as health, gender and others.
- After the SDG summit, work to build up financing, launch partnerships towards net zero, and accelerate positive impacts on other SDGs
- 2025 – progress towards universal access to electricity and clean cooking, as well as a doubling of renewables capability, improvements in energy efficiency, and generate more jobs in green energy
- 2030 – access to electricity and clean cooking for all, doubled rates of improvement in energy efficiency, more investment in renewables, and more jobs
Library opportunities: there are few direct links here, but clearly libraries’ role in showcasing energy efficiency and driving behaviour change will count.