Opinion: How to transform the development sector for a decade of action and delivery

ONE’s co-founder Jamie Drummond sees global development regaining its confidence, with entrepreneurs and activists set to not just transform the sector, but to help transform society around it. Photo by: Dylan Lowthian / UNDP / CC BY-NC-ND

It’s been five years since the Sustainable Development Goals were agreed, but it isn’t just the rise of populism that has slowed the sectors progress toward delivering the goals. The sector itself hasn’t risen sufficiently to the challenge.

All within it must take a hard look at ourselves, and act decisively. The sector must be challenged to transform by activists within every organization — from staff, to board members, to funders.

We must put an end to the development sector, and truly become the sustainable development sector.

2020 is the time for that transformation to truly begin. We can make this happen by realizing these four actions: agreeing to some core shared messaging and branding; networking for advocacy and policy change impact around key moments in 2020; upskilling core operational best practice especially around digital, data, and transparency standards; and looking deeply at our behavior and our funding to ensure true 2030 compliance throughout the sector.

Messaging and branding

In 2020 the Global Goals for Sustainable Development branding will make the decisive shift from a B2B brand to something far more public facing. It’s time entities across the sector fully embraced the “wheel” logo, wherever possible co-promoting it with their own logo.

The moments we achieved the most impact in the past was when we co-promoted various brands — for example around Drop the Debt, Stop AIDS, the Global Call to Action, Make Poverty History, or Publish What You Pay.

An open call to action is being shared across the sector to promote action for the goals in 2020 and shared messaging #forpeopleforplanet. All partners should assess how they can best amplify this 2020 call to action. All must deliberate on the delivery and disaster data outlined in recent United Nations’ reports, and decide whether or not to declare an emergency for people and planet.

We must now truly get behind the global goals’ branding — no ifs or buts or laters — and wear that wheel logo with pride and passion.

Invest in networking for policy and advocacy impact

As we enter a new year, and a new decade, one thing that is utterly critical is that the people and planet deal made in 2015 becomes real. There is no better test of our sincerity about the SDGs than whether we truly conjoin the call “for people” with that “for planet”.

We must put an end to the development sector, and truly become the sustainable development sector. There are tough trade-offs in sustainable development, but the solution is no longer to find the nearest sand to put your head in. That sand is now just too hot.

In 2020, development actors must partner with environmental campaigners and gender equality campaigners, and vice versa, around key moments throughout the year — from the Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance replenishment, to the Generation Equality summit, to COP 26, and the U.N. Biodiversity conference in Kunming, China, among others.

We must also together invest in networks such as the youth power panel being assembled by Project Everyone, Restless Development, and CIVICUS, and develop some shared, sector-wide advocacy asks.

Strong contenders for such asks include:

• High-quality data — especially real-time data.
• Transparency policies, especially in public contracts, budgets, and opening secrecy jurisdictions.
• Scaling hyperlocal social, financial, and statistical accountability through groups like Tracka and networks like Follow the Money.
• Win-win fiscal reforms such as eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and frontloading sums saved into universal health coverage and quality education.
• Backing Mark Carney’s vital work on financial system reforms and expanding on it to include gender equality and social inclusion disclosure alongside climate — and then ensuring we all have our pensions and investments in SDG compatible products.

Upskilling and sharing for best practice

Organizations talk a good game about technology and innovation, but too few have updated strategies and staffing. It isn’t about hiring expensive cut and paste power-point consultants.

More specifically, partners must apply the Principles for Digital Development and build and share data science skills and capacity, for example through data.org which will relaunch this week at Davos.

Sector-wide shifts will accelerate as embedded data scientists across public, private, and civic partners exchange ideas and innovations. This can also help facilitate necessary mergers across the sector in a positive disruption of key policy and advocacy partners.

While there are certain groups pioneering the rapid dissemination of best practice implementation, such as Apolitical, it is remarkable the sector hasn’t already set up a system for sharing best practices. However, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network is exploring a new generation of SDG Action & Innovation Trackers to facilitate this dissemination of best practice, building on the model of the Climate Action Tracker.

2020: Time to transform

The development sector is regaining confidence, and now has the growing energy, entrepreneurs, and activists within it to not just transform itself, but to help transform society around it.

But only if we each own the change.

As called for by the team at Project Everyone and the U.N., each one of us must make our own plan for the decade ahead, and challenge those around us — our employers, our communities, our countries — to own the goals and put together a decadal plan, reported on annually, through to 2030.

Together we can make the goals work on the inside and the outside — creating both helpful decision-support tools for policymakers and engaging every citizen to challenge those policy makers, and force far greater progress in the decade ahead.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Jamie Drummond

    Jamie Drummond is an advocacy entrepreneur who co-founded ONE with Bono and other activists. ONE is a global organization with over 9 million members campaigning against extreme poverty, for the transformation of developing economies, and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Jamie was the global strategist for Drop the Debt, helping to cancel $110 billion of mainly African debt. He is now working with a range of public, private, and civic sector partners to design a campaign strategy for an SDG super year of activism in 2020 to launch a decade of delivery for the Global Goals through to 2030.