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SDGs: are they the ends or the means?

Pyae Pyoe Maung asks whether the Sustainable Development Goals are a motivator for change, or whether they are just a tool for sustainability of aid agencies themselves.

In September 2015, over 190 member countries of the United Nation (including Myanmar) decided to set the new Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) - 17 broad development goals with associated 169 targets and about 300 indicators.

SDGs envisage that our world will become a more liveable and peaceful habitat along with just and inclusive societies.

By setting very high expectations, for example, the extreme poverty and hunger will be ended everywhere in the world, SDG openly states itself as a ‘supremely ambitious and transformational vision’.

Yet while setting the best target for the good of everyone and everything on the earth and planet is great, if these goals are seen as the ends (that must be achieved within 14-year period) they will become a burden for a developing country like Myanmar.

For example, SDGs’ very high expectations - such as limiting food price volatility, reducing impact of road traffic accidents, accessibility to affordable tertiary education, sustainable industrialization, achieving at least 7% GDP growth in least developed countries - are hard to achieve.

Operationalizing them requires very complex and expensive interventions and courageous political commitments.

They also reach beyond just accessibility to materials and infrastructure, to include changes in people in their perceptions and behaviours related efficient natural resource use and controlling the free market.

In other words its achievement primarily depends on complex mentality of people (political and social motives, self-centredness, ego, etc.).

If we see such a great vision as a motivational factor to drive the commitment to collectively work for our development, then SDG process is really a welcome one.

But the most important thing to avoid is using SDG as another layer for sustainability of the development industry itself (for the sustainability of development organisations and positions rather than the quality of results).

If that is the case, its value will be really in question.

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