Implementing the SDGs: Further lessons from Finland, Colombia, Germany and Uganda

15 February 2017

On 8 February, Bond, UKSSD and WWF-UK hosted an event "Implementing the SDGs: Lessons from around the world". Chaired by Jon Snow and opened by Rory Stewart MP, Minister of State at DFID, the event shared lessons on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from Finland, Colombia, Germany and Uganda.

In his opening remarks, Rory Stewart was clear about the challenges of delivering on 17 goals and 169 targets, and that delivery of the SDGs could not just be a philosophical discussion but needed to be “tough, honest and focused”.

Rory Stewart MP speaking at SDGs event Feb 2017

The event highlighted the concrete steps that a number of countries are taking to implement the SDGs and deliver clear and tangible action.

Common themes from four different countries 

Despite the scale and ambition of the SDGs, and different contexts for Finland, Colombia, Germany and Uganda, the similarities in approach were striking. Common themes across the presentations included: 

  • The need for high-level leadership 
  • Institutional structures for delivering the SDGs with cross-government integration
  • Openness to accountability mechanisms
  • Working with partners, including civil society and the private sector
  • A focus on data and leaving no one behind
  • Commitment to the SDGs as a domestic and international agenda
  • Processes in place to support policy coherence 
  • And ultimately, a coherent and available strategy for delivering the SDGs

You can see all the presentations from the event here and watch a recording of the event below.

  • Rory Stewart, Minister of State for International Development - starts at 3:30
  • Annika Lindblom, secretary-general, Finnish National Commission on Sustainable Development - 29:00
  • Felipe Castro, director of monitoring and evaluation of public policy, Colombian National Planning Department - 46:00
  • Jorg Mayer-Ries, head of division of Fundamental Aspects of Environmental Policy, German Federal Ministry for the Environment - 1:00:00
  • Humphery Rwabugahya, in place of Paul Okitoi, head of economic and strategic planning, Ugandan National Planning Authority - 1:20:30
  • Q&A - 1:31:00


Cross departmental commitment to the SDGs 

One of the striking commonalities from the four countries was how different government departments are working together in a formalised structure to deliver the SDGs. In Colombia, for example, the SDG institutional framework is closely linked to the Peace Process.

SDGs institutional framework

In Finland, there is a sophisticated architecture for delivering Agenda 2030, with a coordination Secretariat that sits in the prime minister’s office, and in Uganda the prime minister chairs the SDG Policy Coordination Committee. In Germany, the new Sustainability Strategy is seen as "the overarching strategy of the German government", with responsibility sitting with the chancellor’s office and cabinet. This high level commitment and support for the SDGs seems to be a key feature in countries that are particularly progressive in delivering on the SDGs.  

Commitment to accountability and working with partners  

Working with partners and taking an inclusive approach to implementation was another common theme in the four presentations. In Uganda, non-state actors are seen as having particularly critical roles in raising awareness, resource mobilisation, monitoring and flagging areas for improvement. In Finland one of their key recommendations for others was to "partner in an open dialogue with civil society and other stakeholders; they play watchdogs and lobbyists but are also top experts in their fields". 

Panel at the SDGs event

Parliamentary accountability was another feature. When responding to a question from Lord McConnell, Annika Lindblom, secretary-general of the National Commission on Sustainable Development from Finland, spoke of how every department in the government reports back to Parliament on progress and future for the SDGs; with a reciprocal reporting back from parliament. 

Leave No One Behind and data disaggregation 

To have an inclusive approach to SDG implementation, marginalised groups, who are integral - if not primary – stakeholders, need to be included. Without a process for their involvement we risk focusing only on those easiest to reach.

To achieve truly sustainable development we simply cannot leave anyone behind. Data collection and disaggregation have to be part of the delivery. In Germany, 60 quantitative indicators are being tracked across all policy fields and published publically bi-annually. Interestingly, it is the most requested publication of the Federal Statistical Office. This shows an important point – progress towards the SDGs should be judged according to how well groups that are furthest behind are advancing. Only by monitoring data closely can we see this.

Audience at SDGs event Feb 2017

Implementing the SDGs in the UK

The event provided considerable inspiration for what SDG implementation can look like; and common to all was having a comprehensive plan in place. We are anticipating the imminent publication of the UK’s approach to the SDGs, and look forward to working with all government departments to help them deliver it. The lessons from other countries showed that it is time for action to be ambitious, yet tangible; to have political leadership, yet be publically accountable; and plan for delivering the SDGs at home and abroad. 

About the author

Callum Northcote
Results UK

Callum Northcote is policy advocacy coordinator at Results UK and a member of the Bond Sustainable Development Group.