Sweet 16?

28 September 2016 Robert Parker

One year since the launch of the 2030 Agenda, Saferworld’s Robert Parker reviews global action on peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

The 2030 Agenda and associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are designed to be taken forward at the country level, where internationally-agreed goals hold the potential to make a difference by catalysing and supporting local and national action.

Realising this potential however requires many ingredients. Change-makers – individuals and institutions already committed to the issues but who see the value-added of the 2030 Agenda - are arguably the most important factor. But progress on delivering the 2030 Agenda at a country level is the subject of a future piece…. In the meantime, I want to share my thoughts on last week’s UN General Assembly (UNGA) where I joined a motley crew of world leaders, ministers, UN agency heads, foundations, academics, private sector and civil society representatives in a hot and muggy Manhattan to discuss action at the global level.

With one well-heeled shoe in the policy corridors and a sturdier boot rooted firmly in the messier reality of various conflict-affected contexts, Saferworld has a particular interest in the way in which multi-stakeholder initiatives – the type that thrive in the post-agreement international policy space - can help countries meet their national commitments to peaceful, just and inclusive societies, which cut across the SDGs but have Goal 16 at their heart.

A key take-away from a Saferworld/UK/Netherlands workshop earlier this year was that despite the range of existing multi-stakeholder initiatives potentially relevant for aspects of Goal 16 - such as the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (IDPS) – there is more that can be done to channel support for peaceful, just and inclusive societies at the national level. You can find the workshop background paper here and the box below outlines what we think such a platform should look like.

With this in mind, it was almost exciting that the UNGA showcased not one, but three new initiatives. They’re all in their infancy, but here’s a general idea of what they’re trying to do:

  1. Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Promoting Peaceful, Just, and Inclusive Societies: catalysed by UNDP and guided by a steering committee of member states, private sector and civil society, this initiative seeks to support effective and meaningful member state reporting on Goal 16 and its interlinkages across the agenda
  2. Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies: supported by the Center on International Cooperation (CIC) at New York University and co-led by Brazil and Switzerland, this initiative seeks to highlight examples of national implementation with a focus on innovative approaches, visions, models and tools
  3. The Goal 16+ Forum: hosted by the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) secretariat and national UN Associations with the leadership of several member states, this initiative seeks to showcase priorities, strategies and initiatives being pursued by its members


After attending various launch events I was encouraged by the levels of political commitment and enthusiasm to making Goal 16 a reality. Notably the recognition and desire for partnerships between state and society across sectors, and the examples of action taken under Goal 16 given by many states. An emerging group of ‘pathfinder’ governments providing much-needed visible backing for Goal 16 implementation, opportunities to pull together different communities across an expansive thematic area, and a dash of competition as different organisations vie for position, might catalyse innovation and the need to demonstrate genuine results.

What is not yet clear, however, is how meaningful buy-in is outside of New York. Will any or all of these initiatives really support the change-makers in-country? Where is the shared vision and envisaged workplan? And how will they engage with the more established multi-stakeholder initiatives? Is the peacebuilding voice loud enough within them and what should the peacebuilders’ role be in connecting the policy and programming worlds? Indeed, the biggest risk is that those who actually do the job of delivering change on the ground - the reformist ministers, community leaders, progressive business people and tenacious activists - are disconnected from these initiatives which then risk becoming window-dressing for lacklustre performance and a poor substitute for genuine political will.

Given the wealth of experience and commitment on offer in New York last week I am sure that the risks can be managed by those directing and coordinating the initiatives and with the constructive participation of the wider peacebuilding, governance, justice and human rights communities. And it should be stressed that these three initiatives are not all that is going on. Focusing on reaching those left furthest behind, the Leave No-One Behind multi-stakeholder partnership touches heavily on issues of peaceful, just and inclusive societies. The Transparency, Accountability and Participation Network of civil society actors is turning its focus to supporting Goal 16 implementation. Saferworld and several other independent organisations are working on the SDG16 Data Initiative, which seeks to collect, curate and communicate data relevant to tracking progress on the goal.

Coordination and coherence at the global policy level is not as important as ensuring that each initiative is delivering where it counts: in the complex contexts on the ground where the progressive issues we fought to include in the new agenda are being heavily contested. We don’t need global action for the sake of it. We need global action because: conflict and forced displacement have spiked; violence remains stubbornly high in many places; the spread of inclusive and participatory politics is under threat; states across the world are closing down the space in which a free media and civil society operates; populists are mobilising fear and marginalisation to close their countries off from the world; and hard-nosed geopolitics retains a stranglehold on progress at the national and local levels in many contexts.

On the other hand, there are people everywhere dedicated to creating more peaceful, just and inclusive societies. In New York it was encouraging to see so many people brave the heat, roadblocks, and additional security measures to participate in vibrant discussions on action to implement Goal 16. Our friends and colleagues seeking to create peace and justice in conflict-affected or repressive contexts endure far harsher conditions - international initiatives must recognise this and support their efforts in a genuine and effective way.

There is a case for a new initiative to help deliver peaceful, just and inclusive societies on the ground by mobilising and harnessing global capacities, expertise and political will. Whether though a single partnership or efforts on multiple fronts, they need to do the following: 

  1. Set out a shared vision and story of progress which unites global stakeholders, convinces them of our ability to succeed, and inspires action
  2. Identify a clear strategy and package of interventions which draws on evidence and lessons learned from around the world
  3. Maintain a tight focus on national level results through actively channelling support to change-makers at the national and local levels
  4. Mobilise a group of global champions – e.g. notable activists, retired leaders, prominent businesspeople –as a source of political support for change-makers
  5. Establish an innovation and learning hub as a source of knowledge for change-makers
  6. Create a core group of pathfinder states that move ahead with concerted efforts to realise the ‘peaceful, just and inclusive societies’ agenda in their countries
  7. Respond to transnational issues that are holding back progress at national level
  8. Get existing multi-stakeholder partnerships to learn from one another and move in the same direction


Read about our work on peace and the 2030 Agenda.

“We don’t need global action for the sake of it. We need global action because: conflict and forced displacement have spiked; violence remains stubbornly high in many places; the spread of inclusive and participatory politics is under threat; and states across the world are closing down the space in which a free media and civil society operates.”

Robert Parker