Transnational Webinar – Sustainability Leadership ProgrammeExchanging experiences of working with the SDGs on subnational levels among participants from Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia.
Global Challenge (“Global Utmaning”, in Swedish) organised its first transnational webinar for the participants in the Sustainability Leadership Programme – Localizing SDGs in the Eastern Partnership Countries. It was the first time the participants from the three countries Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia were given the opportunity to meet and exchange experiences of working with the SDGs on subnational levels.
The aim of the webinar was to discuss the linkages between national, regional and local sustainability work. To that end, a selection of partners to the programme was invited to share their experiences of supporting the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and discuss how they are working with local stakeholders in Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus.
The webinar speakers were Oleksandra Khalim, researcher at Uppsala University; Natia Tsikaradze, SDGs National Coordinator for Government of Georgia; Gulnara Roll, Secretary to the Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE); Mustafa Sait Ametov, United Nations Development Programme Ukraine (UNDP); Nino Kakubava, UNDP Georgia; and Andrei Abramiuk, UNDP Belarus.
Prior to the webinar, the participants of the programme have participated in national webinars, which focused on the theoretical background of SDG implementation and the impact of urbanisation and globalisation.
In order to make the leadership program as tailor-oriented as possible, participants were given the opportunity to suggest what the upcoming meetings should focus on. The purpose of this leadership program is in the end to meet their needs and be designed according to what they want to get out from this experience. Some of the suggestions were to learn more about how the national level supports sub-national stakeholders in terms of SDGs implementation.
The day started with a presentation by Oleksandra Khalaim, researcher at Uppsala University, and the findings of her desk study on the state SDGs implementations in Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus commissioned by the Sustainability Leadership Programme. Conclusions that can be drawn from the countries’ situations are that SDG projects in the three countries are very similar, they have a common design, aim and approach. A common challenge for the three countries is that the SDG monitoring systems provide national data. They do not monitor local SDG progresses. Accessibility to local data is considered a vast issue. The different frameworks do not specify timelines, action plans or any budget located to the SDG work. This makes the link between national strategies and local implementation non-existent. The division of responsibilities among the different governmental bodies is unclear and overlapping. The awareness and understanding of SDG implementation among the civil servants and citizens is low. The lack of experience from local SDG implementation remains an issue. Therefore is this leadership program very valuable to the participants. The leadership program creates a platform for peer learning. Organizing local trainings for civil servants on the linkage between ongoing work, SDGs and budgeting would be of great relevance. Further, creation of a common platform for UNDP colleagues from all 3 countries where they could exchange experiences and initiatives taken with their SDG work is encouraged.
Oleksandra presented some general recommendations moving forward. It is important to eliminate the lack of connection between national SDG framework and local governance. The national SDGs should be included in local strategic documents and budgets as well. Proper monitoring of SDGs on local levels should be organized. This would increase the amount of local statistical data. The gained experiences from pilot projects of SDG localization should be systemized and shared among the regions and municipalities. Stronger cooperation between donors is also necessary. Increased levels of awareness, both for local civil servants and citizens, is necessary. Today, there are misunderstandings between the linkage between being sustainable and constant economic growth which has to be eliminated. The lack of SDG knowledge results in good initiatives on local level are not counted as SDG work, because they do not see the connection to Agenda 2030. With more education on the matter, more of the good local initiatives would be articulated as SDG work.
Gulnara Roll, UNECE emphasizes that local governments are becoming a very important actor globally in relation to SDG implementation. Last year, UNECE launched ‘Forum of Mayors’ bringing mayors from different parts of the world together to amplify local solutions to address today’s key challenges. Cities have become key partners to tackle challenges and support the efforts to reach the SDGs in the remaining ten years. The last decade has been an eye-opener to see the importance of cities and the central role they play in SDG work. They have noticed that a lot of the actions are in the hands of local levels. On a local level, changes can be made very quickly, which also has been proved during the ongoing pandemic. She invites the participants of the program to participate in the next SDG 11 day, October 4th, 2021. UNECE is open to include more partners in its exchange of experiences. Gulnara came to the same conclusion that the lack of disaggregated data is one of the biggest challenges moving forward. The UNECE is currently working with 15 other UN agencies to improve city performances towards sustainability. They are at the moment developing guidelines on how to handle data in the Voluntary Local Review (VLR) process. They hope the document will contribute with more depth in the data process than the already existing handbooks do. She also emphasizes the importance of relating local achievement to the SDG work. She invites participants to sign up to the Regional Forum on Sustainable Development on 19 March 2021.
Natia Tsikaradze, the SDG national coordinator from Georgia, presented the efforts made in Georgia. Georgia submitted its first Voluntary National Review (VNR) in 2016, prioritizing the most important goals for Georgian context. The localization of SDGs has been done according to the national context, with a top-down structure starting with the global goals and narrowing it down to the local context. They have created a national website where they are publishing performances of public agencies and their work with SDGs. The new VNR from 2020 is focused on 4 themes: 1) Economic development, 2) Democratic governance, 3) Social inclusion and 4) Sustainable development and environmental protection. The VNR will be based on the UN pledge to ‘leave no one behind’. The Georgian internal SDG priority list places human capital development and social welfare as their key priorities and is related to SDG 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 10. At second place economic growth is found, which is related to SDG 7, 8, 9, 10, 12. Thirdly, democratic governance is a prioritized area in the Georgian strategy, which can be related to SDG 5,10,16. It is important to include all sectors in Georgia, on all levels, in the same way this meeting is organized. SDG implementation is not only a governmental responsibility, all stakeholders have to get involved. At the moment, the work of localizing SDGs to municipality level is being paused due to Covid-19 pandemic and is planned to be continued after the crisis. This should not be understood as a drawback, but rather as a temporary pause.
UNDP Ukraine representative Mustafa Sait Ametov presented the current SDG work in Ukraine. In 2019, President Volodymyr Zelenskyj issued a decree on presenting more promising SDG results. The decree set the ground for more coordinated work, where clear responsibilities between agencies were assigned. It sends the message that SDG has to be integrated into all strategic documents implemented at the subnational levels. UNDP Ukraine published a report in 2019 on how SDGs can be translated into local level context. The report identified universal indicators that are applicable at subnational level. Ukraine size demands an establishment of a functioning regional network, where the UNDP SDG officers from the different oblasts are able to communicate and function. UNDPs long presence in Ukraine has helped them establish strong partnerships on local levels with actors from various sectors. They see this network of UNDP SDG oblast staff as a good basis for establishing stronger partnerships at subnational level and gathering different local stakeholders. Their work today is focused on community mobilization and raising awareness about sustainable development.
To achieve successful SDG localization, a strategic vision to include SDG in sub-national development strategies is needed. In addition, it has to be budgetary incorporated. The SDG monitoring at sub-national levels has to be improved. But the most important element for success is to increase peoples’ motivation and capability to change. This element has a lot of potential, however a lot is yet to be done.
The lesson learned from SDG localization is that SDGs are applicable at all levels in society. In the case of Kivshovtata village in Kyiv oblast, they have based the city strategy on SDGs. It poses as a great example for other cities to copy. Strong leadership is crucial, where the cities Ivano-Frankivsk and Voskresensk pose as good examples. Awareness and strong motivation in the local community of Trostyanets can be used as an inspiring example for other cities. In Trostyanets, all public servants have completed a course on SDG, which will allow them to deliver very promising results later.
Success factors in Ukraine have been the establishment of communication platforms and the continuous dialogue with various stakeholders in the process. Once a regional platform is established, it allows you to summon actors from different sectors to collaborate. This creates the basis for SDG implementation, monitoring and mobilization of resources. Citizens’ participation at all stages of the process is important, it makes sure projects meet the people’s needs. People empowerment is the key factor to success. Without motivated people no change will be achieved. A motivated team would be able to improve the strategy as they are implementing it. UNDP Ukraine has developed three online courses for 3 key groups of actors that can contribute to sustainable development; civil servants, businesses and civil society. They are thinking of translating the material to English and Russian as well, to make the material available for others to use.
Representative Nino Kakubava from UNDP Georgia describes how UNDP has acted as the main supporter to the government in regards to localizing the SDGs process. Last year they started developing an action plan on localizing SDGs, which will be used as a guide for local civil servants. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many activities have been postponed. The lack of achievements made in 2020 should not be understood as a drawback in Georgian SDG implementation, but rather as a temporary pause of the work. The ambition is to gather the administrators in 2021 to continue the work where they left off.
UNDP Belarus representative Andrei Abramiuk was the last speaker of the day. As all previous speakers noted, he was very appreciative of this exchange initiative between the three countries Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. It has been a very valuable exchange for all participants. The complex SDG organisation structure in Belarus demands national coordination in order to streamline SDG localization. The thematic areas that UNDP Belarus is working on are partnership and SDG financing, socio-economic development and environment. Parallelly, they have conducted a number of projects relatable to SDGs. First project is to assist the government in accession to the WTO. Other projects concern supporting economic development, entrepreneurship development and tourism industry at local level. They are also supporting green urban development in small and medium-size Belarusian cities. The last mentioned project has been very successful. It is working in parallel directions of urban planning, infrastructure projects and developing a methodological database listing criteria for green urban development.
After this transnational webinar session, the participants have obtained an overview of the SDG processes in the respective countries. The upcoming seminars will in-depth examine participants’ own contributions to localizing SDGs. The upcoming seminars will contain a more dialogue-focused structure. Until the next seminar taking place on 25 March, participants are given the task of mapping their countries’ challenges and opportunities related to each SDG. The aim for the task is to visualize how the different SDGs are interrelated with each other, which could facilitate in future strategic planning on how to cope with them.