• Mere business as usual will not enable countries to meet their SDGs
  • Partnerships and innovation are critical to the future success of the SDGs
  • UNDP is helping PNG's national government work for *all* its people

I am writing this from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) offices in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea (PNG). In truth, I try to avoid spending too much time behind my desk. Of the many privileges that come with serving as UNDP’s resident representative in PNG, a particular highlight has been my frequent visits across the country, meeting citizens and stakeholders and hearing their thoughts and insights. Theirs have been stories of optimism, tempered somewhat by the frustrations that go hand-in-hand with living in a country that missed every one of its Millennium Development Goals.

But that is the past – what of the future? We now have a new series of targets to pursue, in the form of the Sustainable Development Goals. For us in PNG, this means helping the country’s government meet its national priorities and ensure that it works for all its people – in particular around our core issues of sustainable development, democratic governance and peacebuilding, and climate and disaster resilience.

Sounds good, right? Certainly, few would argue against the goals of no poverty, zero hunger and gender equality – to name but three. Achieving them, however, won’t be easy – mere business as usual will no longer suffice. This means that governments and official aid agencies need to ask themselves if they have changed any aspect of their work in response to the SDGs. In the UNDP’s case in PNG, the answer to that question is yes, we have.

Time to partner up

When the SDGs were agreed in September last year, global leaders recognised the importance of partnerships to address the critical challenges that the world faces. Here in PNG, we are doing this in several ways – starting with our work with the Department of National Planning and Monitoring (DNPM).

With UNDP support, the government is now in the process of “bringing SDGs home” – it is developing its national targets and indicators and looking at how to mainstream SDGs into national strategic policies and plans. As part of this work, the DNPM and the UNDP have brought together all the relevant and strategic partners from the government and its agencies to consider existing national strategies and their links to SDGs, as well as to discuss a roadmap for SDG implementation. This won’t happen unless women and young people, for example, are properly involved in the overall process.

Given that business leaders are key to SDG implementation, we have invested more time and resources in strengthening our engagement with the Business Council PNG, the Chambers of Commerce, private sector leaders and academia. This is because businesses create jobs for people – a proven way of helping people out of poverty. Promoting environmental and socially sustainable business practices is not only good for the planet but also helps make businesses more profitable and productive.

In addition, we have invested in strengthening the network of humanitarian partners to help support PNG in reducing its disaster risks. We have reached out to faith groups, national and provincial authorities, official development agencies and UN agencies to build a stronger network for preparedness and response to the natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, droughts and tsunamis, which regularly affect PNG.

And finally, we recognise that parliaments are uniquely positioned to lead key developments in UN countries, including how those countries can prioritise national development plans and the implementation of the SDGs. With this in mind, the UNDP is working with PNG’s National Parliament and the Bougainville House of Representatives to strengthen their capacities. This is being undertaken through organising study tours to exchange ideas (within the Pacific region), hosting joint parliamentary round table exchanges, supporting ICT upgrades, and enhancing ICT use, knowledge and skills.

Innovative insights

Moving beyond business as usual also demands greater creativity and innovation in what we do and how we do it. A good example is an innovative project for safely reporting suspected corrupt practices by phone. The response has been overwhelming: more than 29,000 text messages were received from 9,000 users in the first six months. This led to more than 200 cases being investigated and several officials being arrested for mismanagement of funds.

This project, which won a recent global GovInsider Innovation Award as “best citizen engagement” in Asia, shows the potential of PNG to drive positive change. It is also further proof that eradicating poverty in all its forms requires us to think and act in new ways. This is because if governments, development partners, individuals and institutions continue doing what they have always done and in the same ways, many countries are unlikely to achieve the goals. We need to challenge ourselves to be more creative and innovative in the way we do our business.

All of this requires us to be more adaptive, responsive and proactive. We are now starting the second year of the SDG implementation journey to the 2030 milestone. Are we doing all that we can to bring about the change that we want to see? Let’s hope that, come 2030, the answer – and results – will be a resounding and triumphant yes!


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  • Open all hours. Liz Carolan explains how open data can help accelerate development progress around the world
  • Mind the gap: from theory to implementation for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The applause that greeted the ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals was well merited, says the UNDP’s Max Everest-Phillips. But meeting these targets will require some course adjustment
  • Open data: unlocking development potential in Africa and Asia. Dr Savita Bailur sets out how open data can empower ordinary people to participate in development
  • Into the light. The International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, is helping deploy private sector investment to spearhead sustainable development around the world. Here, Hemant Mandal explains how an innovative new programme has had a huge impact in lighting up Papua New Guinea.
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