By Arnaud LANGLOIS, -  Forus Advocacy Team 

On April 30th 2020, Forus organized an English-speaking webinar jointly along with: Action for Sustainable Development, Transparency, Accountability and Participation Network (TAP) and Together 2030. In which we heard from Oli Henman from A4SD, Adriana Aralica from Forus member, SLOGA, John Romano from TAP Network, Jyotsna Mohan Singh from Forus member Asian Development Alliance (ADA) and Arelys Bellorini from Together 2030. They debated together how civil society can best engage with Sustainable Developments Goals (SDG) implementation nationally, regionally and globally during these challenging times. 

in the first place, Oli Henman from A4SD talked about his work with other coalitions to collect members' impressions about SDGs implementation during the past 4 years in this period he has noticed a lot of progress, except for the current year 2020, in which COVID-19 has significantly affected this progress. In order to ensure CSO’s leading role in implementing Agenda 2030, they brought together various practical approaches adopted by their members in order to create a SDGs monitoring mechanism by using score cards. Those key steps are aimed to give an opening on how to implement and follow the progress of SDGs within societies, to assess the situation in each country. Each goal achievement can be given a score from 1 to 5, as a way of comparing countries and goals between them, and to be able to observe that every goal has an impact on the others. Rating every goal’s achievement allows easier visualization of the progress made and provides figures that can be documented by all CSOs before being presented to national governments, allowing stronger advocacy. (Check A4SD website for further information about tools for implementing SDGs in your country) 

Secondly Adriana Aralica from SLOGA, talked about the current Slovenian national context with SDGs implementation. Slovenian government started its second VNR in 2019, after the first one in 2017. SLOGA and various stakeholders have been consulted for what seems a much more inclusive VNR process this year. Thematic workshops gave birth to insightful NGO’s recommendations for VNR, even if COVID-19 outbreak stopped the process. Furthermore, SLOGA decided to write their own first Civil Society Report to be drafted this year, focused on the role of Civil Society Organizations in SDGs implementation. This proves that writing a shadow or spotlight report can be complementary with VNRs, to point out incoherencies, deal with specific targets, and to highlight possible changes. By providing mapping and analysis for advocacy, research, monitoring and capacity building, SLOGA hopes this first CSR will be a resource for other stakeholders and strengthen the coalition. 

Thirdly, John Romano presented the follow-up process that TAP Network tries to encourage between each VNR presentation. According to TAP, VNRs are a good entry point to engage with governments to do more than reporting the achievements. SDGs should be considered as a bare minimum, a baseline, but CSOs advocacy’s role is also to push for more detailed plans on how to implement SDGs every year. In that context, TAP Network is elaborating a resource guide detailing what needs to happen after a VNR presentation. Case studies and inputs from all members are welcome to enhance this project, especially in a COVID-19 context. Indeed, John Romano reiterated that the pandemic urges us to focus on governmental responses to this pandemic, because states could have an excuse to not consult SCOs and legitimate shrinking civic space. In a nutshell, TAP Network’s core work is about accountability from governments to SCOs. In this regard, the campaign for a decade of multi stakeholders’ accountability was launched this year, in order to consult with national and local level to determine how accountability on SGDs is going in each country. (To be part of this wider group of allies answering the current situation, can sign up on TAP Network’s website, in which you can also find a handbook on SDG accountability).  

To illustrate the importance of regional level for SDGs implementation, Jyotsna Mohan Singh presented ADA. This regional CSOs leader at the Asian level, Forus’ member, born in 2013, makes a point at speaking for the voiceless by coordinating 18 constitutions divided in five sub regional representations. Jyotsna highlighted the impact of Covid19 on SDGs implementation in Asia, fearing that many of them might not be achieved on time, especially SDG 1 on multiform poverty eradication. The example of India shows that the Covid19 situation is affecting economic, social and environmental areas, threatening the lives of millions of people. Jyotsna deplores that these topics are not discussed with the Indian government nor mentioned in the VNRs. However, as opposed to 2017 Indian VNR, the Indian government showed more interest in working with the private sector and CSOs for its second VNR presentation this year. Some uncertainty remains about how much CSOs inputs will be integrated to the final VNR. Jyotsna concluded by recalling the importance of advocacy during Covid19 pandemics, precising that strong advocacy will only be possible with proper use of digital connectivity and collaboration in data sharing. 

Finally, Arelys Bellorini from Together 2030, based in New York City, recalled that the High-Level Political Forum focuses on two segments: on one hand, the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), and, on the other hand, the thematic segment. Indeed, the 17 SDGs are divided into six entry points, six thematic sets of SDGs. The uncertainty brought by Covid19 makes the HLPF likely to be a virtual forum, CSOs should advocate towards their governments for being included in a digital process. Indeed, Arelys Bellorini raised that the few online consultations that already took place did not include CSOs. Furthermore, an onsite meeting would be worse, to the extent that it would only include New York based participants.  

To conclude Arelys Bellorini highlighted the importance of strong advocacy, not only for participating to a likely digital HLPF, but also to bring forward the transformative aspect of SDGs during the extra time given by COVID-19 pandemic.