Seamus Jeffreson, CONCORD Europe: We should find the right way to talk about SDGs

Шеймъс Джеферсън, CONCORD

In August 2015, 193 countries agreed to cooperate to achieve 17 goals, also known as Sustainable Development Goals. Often people say that Goals are abstract, “good wishes,” but they do not see how they can fulfill them. We asked Seamus Jeffreson, Director of CONCORD (European Confederation of NGOs for Development) what is his vision of their implementation.

S.J. We have to manage to move beyond the very bureaucracy administrative UN process into something that many people are involved in and feel it important and useful and really means something in there lives. Societies perceive the SDGs as a document that an international organization has adopted, governments have ratified it, but we must give it meaning in people’s daily lives and turn it into something very valuable and useful for them. Governments and the UN do a lot to achieve it, but often the language they use is very technical and does not relate to people so they can understand the problems and to find their solutions. So I think we should first find the right way to talk about the Goals and why they are important to all of us.

How CONCORD is working on the implementation of the Goals?

S.J. All our members want to work at European level. The European Union is an organization that is very influentially globally. An example is the big Aid program which develops. We want to encourage the EU to use it’s external programs to promote the SDGs and to be part of the policy.

But the SDGs are not supposed to be just for Africa, Latin America and Asia they are supposed to be for Europe as well. Through its programs, the EU needs to give them voice.

At the moment, the budget negotiations for 2020-2021 start in Brussels and what we want to see is a truly coherent budget with the Goals. We will try to call on them to be affected in the investment proposals for the budget. The EU is not supposed to just say “we think it’s great agenda 2020-2030” and then not invest in its implementation. The SDGs needs to be reflected in the spending proposals, because without the funds there is no way to fulfill them.

This year, for the first time ever, Bulgaria is entrusted with the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in your view how can this role of our country contribute to the implementation of the UN plan?

S.J.  Every EU Council Presidency can do two things. The first and most important thing is to make sure that the Sustainable Development Goals are discussed in the program for their presidency. The second thing they should do is when they are discussing the budget to ask how it relates to the plan set by the UN and how it can be implemented. This should not be done only when calculating finance, but at any time when it comes to development.

CONCORD brings together various non-governmental organizations. What is their role in implementing the 2020-2030 Program?

S.J.  Non-governmental organizations help to achieve the Goals by allowing many volunteers to be part of popularizing them as well as in their implementation. For example, agricultural and fisheries organizations, with their work, are implementing objectives 13, 14 and 15 that affect the environment. They are a field in which there is room for anyone who wants to do something for the world.

What can young people do to implement the 2020-2030 Plan?

S.J.  Young people are tightly closely related to the issue and that is the whole bureaucracy process which should be made meaningful for people. Because what’s going on is exciting but sometimes appears as bureaucratic and even a little bit dead at times.

That is why I believe young people, as well as youth organizations, with the help of their creativity and innovative thinking, should try and shed some more light on the problems which agenda 2020-2030 is working to solve.

What I mean is that they can use their creativity to find new ways and methodologies to explain what the different goals are. They can influence local government, government, and even higher levels. Young people have many opportunities to engage in different organizations and increase the knowledge of others.

We all wear clothes today, but few people wonder what’s behind them. Somewhere it is child labor that is used to make them and elsewhere people do not even know what branded clothes are because they have no drinking water. It is in this explanation that young people can be involved in influencing the society in which they live to accept the goals as something important and significant to them.

At the conference “Development Cooperation in Time of Changing Paradigms”, which took place in Sofia on 21-22 March, you mentioned that societies in Europe are looking negatively at the migrants, but that should stop and people have to integrate them. In your opinion, how can societies be prepared for this process?

S.J.  Many people are worried about the presence of new people living in their community. I think it’s quite natural, and always was like that. So, in my opinion, the first thing to do is educate people about the issues that worry them. They are most often related to the economy, such as whether there will be enough jobs. Social services are also subject to anxiety, for example whether there will be enough places in kindergartens and schools, whether children will get along with each other, but that is all understandable. Maybe because today there is a lot more migration of people compared to 20 years ago, especially in Bulgaria. I feel that what can be done by us and non-governmental organizations is to help people adapt to changes.

The most important thing for integration is to stop seeing people as migrants. It’s just statistics. Behind every number in it, there is a human history, there are often quite complex reasons why people move. We have to try to listen to their story. When people do not know, and it’s just a statistic like “20 refugees died while crossing the Mediterranean,” they might think “maybe these people were not supposed to move”. Questions like these need to be answered: why they had to escape, what happened to them and what are their hopes. If this happens, societies will understand that these are not just data, they are real people.

Author: Tsvetina Ivanova, UNA News Bulgaria intern