Alicia Bárcena Ibarra, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Photo by: Kim Haughton / U.N.

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — In Latin America, tackling inequality and unemployment is critical to helping the 61 million people living in extreme poverty attain sustainable livelihoods and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, Alicia Bárcena Ibarra, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, told Devex.

“For us, jobs are the key, the master key to get people out of poverty,” she said. “Agenda 2030 is a rights-based approach in terms of equality which is the main challenge of our region — inequality. Inequality of wealth, income, of access to education and health and public goods in general.”

Later this month, ECLAC’s 33 member states will gather for their second sustainable development forum, aiming to give countries an opportunity to do some peer review and to help countries develop tools to both finance and implement the SDGs. Participants will discuss everything from how to incorporate the SDGs in national development plans, to what indicators they could focus on, and how to further mobilize domestic resources.

“What we want is a different paradigm of discussion, not only a discussion, a platform, where only governments discuss, but we want to engage in a dialogue that everybody discusses what we can achieve together goal by goal and then of course in an integrated fashion,” Ibarra said.

Progressing the SDGs: What are the barriers and solutions to national implementation?

At Australia's second Sustainable Development Goals Summit, held in Melbourne on March 13, participants highlighted a number of barriers to implementing the SDGs on a national scale, in a country that considers the goals more linked to the Millennium Development Goals than to domestic politics.

Last year, at the first summit of its kind, ECLAC did a baseline analysis with countries looking at and mapping what institutional frameworks they have in place, what institutions are already taking certain actions, and where more progress is needed. To help countries, ECLAC has developed a five-step approach that includes information about how to incorporate the SDGs into national action plans, effective frameworks for partnerships, how to monitor SDG progress, implementation of the SDGs and the impact of the technological revolution.

While some countries in the region already have national action plans, others don’t, so ECLAC has a methodology that can be used when working with countries to determine how to incorporate the SDGs into their national plans and how to “move from rhetoric to the public budgets,” she said.

ECLAC, which houses the Statistical Conference of the Americas, is helping each country determine which of the 230 indicators they track, which ones will be the most important to track and how to improve national statistics systems. ECLAC is also working with big data companies to try to figure out the best ways of aggregating data, as often key statistics sit in different government agencies.

Much of ECLAC’s work is also focused on helping countries implement the SDGs. On the financing front, ECLAC is doing a comparative analysis of fiscal policies in the region and how much countries are spending of their own resources on key social issues including health and education, she said. Beyond the mapping exercise, ECLAC is helping countries mobilize domestic resources, in large part through controlling tax evasion, which accounts for a 6.7 percent loss of gross domestic product, or $340 billion a year, each year.

“We are not asking for an increase in taxes, we know this is very controversial, but at least tapping into the resources that are going away from the region, so that’s one,” she said. “And also we are trying to see how the finance ministers can become much more active into this agenda.”

Many countries in the region also suffer greatly from vast inequality, which can easily lead to stability and unrest. So ECLAC is looking to help the region more equitably leverage improvements in trade, and increased funds that come through trade into programs that truly benefit a community.

About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.