Make Leave No One Behind a Reality

Since January 2016, 17 global goals have replaced the Millennium Development Goals as the main international mechanism guiding development in 193 UN member states until 2030. The new goals that make up Agenda 2030 are more comprehensive, including areas like inequalities, peace, decent work, justice and transparency, while also vowing to end violence against women and children, human trafficking and climate change. It is based on the recognition that poverty, inequality, unsustainable consumption pattern, environmental degradation, corruption and increasing conflicts are all interlinked.

African civil society was actively engaged in the post 2015 development process through the African working group and contributed greatly in the Rio process, to the High Level Panel deliberations, the open working group and national processes. Now that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are here, the role for civil society has changed, but it remains incredibly important. The new global goals represent an opportunity to change policymaking for the better. Civil society and grassroots organizations are essential for the successful localization of the SDGs in African countries, and they must play a greater role in defining priorities and designing policies.

Video interview with ACORD’s Salina Sanou on the importance of localizing the SDGs

The role of civil society in promoting and localising the Global Goals

“We must ensure that local structures have the capacity to: 1) mobilise resources for implementation; set up sound accountability mechanisms; and 3) ensure indicators are context specific answering to the needs of people”, says Salina Sanou, ACORD’s Head of Policy and Advocacy.

For the global goals to be implemented meaningfully at regional and national level, it will be critical to ensure synergies and alignment with existing frameworks like the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). Moreover, localization calls for an inclusive approach that utilizes local knowledge to tailor the ambitious global development agenda to specific local circumstances.

“We need to make sure that we are building partnership with governments, the private sector, with research organisations and academia, if we envisage implementing and achieving the SDGs successfully”, says Salina Sanou, Head of Policy and Advocacy in ACORD.

Position paper from the African Civil Society Circle on role of civil society
The African Civil Society Circle, a think-tank that ACORD is part of, has just published a new position paper “The Roles of Civil Society in Localising the Sustainable Development Goals.” The paper argues how fitting the SDGs to the local level can be achieved. Specifically, CSOs must work to localize the global goals in four key areas: i) giving a voice to the poorest and most marginalized citizens, ii) serving as agents of accountability, iii) acting as a service delivery provider and iv) monitoring progress through data collection and reporting.

Leave no one behind is an implicit aim of the global goals. Achieving this will require prioritizing and targeting groups that are currently lagging behind – focusing on the poorest and most marginalized citizens. In this, CSOs like ACORD have much added value to bring. A check list and proposed to do list for CSOs as developed by the Africa Civil Society Circle goes as follows: 1) Listen to people and be aware of what is happening where they live their daily lives 2) Help translate the voices of the poorest and most marginalized citizens into rational and strong recommendations for local governments 3) Develop relationships or partnerships with relevant local government bodies 4) Use human rights as a lens of analysis 5) Link up with and learn from other CSOs in the area 6) Popularize the SDGs and build the capacity of people on the ground.

When it comes to the Accountability aspect, this can be broken down in three interlinked elements: responsibility, answerability and enforceability. While governments are responsible for implementation of the global goals, all stakeholders must contribute. We know that in reality there will be a need to prioritize how to invest limited resources and what to do first. CSOs and citizens should therefore seek to establish social contracts that outline such development priorities in a particular setting. This is something ACORD has experience doing and that we envisage can be an even more important role in future in collaboration with other CSO actors. Answerability of government officials is strengthened by the formation of partnerships and CSO coalitions that can act as watch-dogs. Coalitions also have the advantage of being able to take a more holistic view. Enforcement is however a well-known challenge. The global goals are not legally binding. Nevertheless, if the goals are well localized, there might be some scope for making certain rights and minimum standards embedded in national laws over time. Civil society has a role in keeping government and other stakeholders on their toes, but of course also need to answer accountability demands itself. For example, civil society is often a major service provider in poor countries and is at times inadvertently preventing investments in more durable government systems for meeting the population’s needs.

As for a data revolution, the exponential growth in Internet access and new mobile technologies, could open up for innovations in more participatory and real time monitoring by a larger group of people. It would be important to ensure this is not biased, considering that the most marginalized might still be prevented from participating and ensuring ways that their voices are also heard. Again this is something ACORD considered in the lead-up to the current global goals, when we conducted “under a tree” consultation meetings across the continent, dubbed “Citizen-driven workshops” completing the online My World consultation conducted by the UN system.

ACORD and its civil society partners are seeking for funds to step up its work for localizing SDGs and Make Leave No One Behind a Reality
The work of civil society in helping to domesticate and localize the global goals in Africa has only just begun. ACORD is building partnership and alliances with multiple stakeholders and preparing to support governments. We are currently collaborating both with the Africa Civil Society Circle as well as with Global Coalition Against Poverty (GCAP). Together we are seeking for funds to get this strategically important work off to a head start. We recognize the importance of building a good momentum from the first year of implementation of the new goals and call upon interested parties to get in touch.

Further reading:
Download the position paper of the African Civil Society Circle: “The Roles of Civil Society in Localising the Sustainable Development Goals”
Download the findings from citizen-driven workshops held in 13 African countries: “Africa in 2030: Responsive states, empowered citizens”
The African Civil Society Circle is an African network of think tanks and civil society organizations dedicated to promoting good governance across Africa. More information about the African Civil Society Circle is available here.



  • africa
  • civic driven change
  • civil society
  • sdgs