“Leave no one behind” is one of the boldest commitments in the UN’s 2030 Agenda. But what exactly does this mean?
Prof. Shyama Ramani and Dr. Maty Konte of the UNU Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT) joined the Global Festival of Action for Sustainable Development in Bonn in March to explain the Institute’s work and efforts across the board. They stressed the importance of research, outreach, and evidence-based policymaking to ensure that truly no one is left behind.
Leading a plenary session, Prof. Ramani said that UNU’s holistic approach, working on all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while respecting the interconnections, will be key to achieving the agenda. Yet research alone — even world-class research — she warned, is not enough. Research has to be filtered, translated, and made relevant both to funders at the top of the pyramid and to voters at the bottom.
Research must be made digestible and accessible for both policymakers and the general public. The control and flow of knowledge is critical in this regard — but never has it been so challenged or manipulated as in our “post-truth” era, said Ramani. This has led to real-world trade-offs in power relations, with knowledge used as currency or ammunition at all levels (from family circles to civil society to the international community).
As the fine line between opinion and fact blurs, research and expertise are at risk of being swept away by the media tsunami. While shoring up the scientific method and peer review process as the “gold standard” in the quest for “truth” can help, that is only half the battle.
As a global think tank and research network, UNU must improve its communications and connections to both citizens and decision-makers by both broadcasting and “narrowcasting” — making sure that UNU’s research is widely read and well understood, and that it ultimately feeds into policymaking. To this end, Ramani pointed to various UNU initiatives including Site4Society, the UNU Jargon Buster, and the Reach and Turn’ science reporting series.
Later in the day, Dr Maty Konte was interviewed on UN WebTV for the festival’s SDG Studio (followed by Dr. Mathew Kurian from UNU-FLORES). Speaking about her upcoming book — Women and Sustainable Human Development – Empowering Women in Africa, Konte stressed the dual importance of education and political participation, and the need to mobilise knowledge. This means better schools; better opportunities for girls; and fairer, more transparent political processes for women.
Her key message is that women will not be empowered by focusing solely on SDG5 (“Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”). Rather, said Konte, we need to put women at the centre of all the SDGs, and mainstream their participation in a kind of gender full spectrum approach. She added that her book focuses on Africa because it is one of the regions where women have clearly been “left behind”. In closing, Konte weighed up the ambitious timeframe of the SDGs, saying that the agenda is not likely to be achieved by 2030 — although 2050 may be possible.