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Partnerships Are Key To Counter Backslides on the SDGs

Sustainable Development Goals

Partnerships Are Key To Counter Backslides on the SDGs

By Devin Hibbard

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which ran from 2000 to 2015, are largely considered one of the most successful anti-poverty campaigns in history. In addition to reducing global poverty by nearly half, the success of the MDGs resulted in greater equity in public education, broader access to sanitation and clean water, and significantly lower infant and maternal mortality rates. Their successor, the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs, seek to go even further — with audacious targets that include eradicating poverty and ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls globally by 2030. 

Achieving the 17 targets laid out in the SDGs would be a colossal feat even under the best of circumstances — a phrase that hardly describes our current reality, a year into a global pandemic and facing the most severe economic downturn seen in a generation. The threat to global upward mobility  for women in poverty is clear, and experts are concerned. Over half of those working in sustainability fields believe that COVID-19 will continue to slow progress toward achieving the SDGs, according to a report released in February by GlobeScan and The SustainAbility Institute by ERM. 

The push to eradicate poverty and achieve gender parity is at risk

The COVID-19 pandemic caused up to 124 million people to fall back into poverty in 2020, the first increase in global poverty seen in nearly two decades. Ultimately, the U.N. estimates that up to half a billion people may fall back into poverty as a result of the pandemic. That equates to one out of every 12 people on the planet who fought against all odds to create a better life for their families, only to have their progress erased by circumstances out of their control. 

This scenario is devastating for everyone, but research indicates the economic fallout of COVID-19 does not impact everyone equally. Women are nearly 20 percent more likely to fall back into poverty than men. Although the poverty rate for women was expected to decline by 2.7 percent between 2019 and 2021, projections now point to an increase of 9.1 percent due to the pandemic. 

When taking a closer look at the research, it’s not hard to see why women face an outsized risk. For example, while women make up around 20 percent of the global workforce, they accounted for more than half of total job losses as of last fall. Further, women are often expected to take on even more unpaid domestic work as daily lives transition almost entirely into the home, further expediting their exit from the workforce.  

These insights are troubling, to say the least — particularly because realizing zero poverty and gender parity are key levers to achieving all of the SDGs and creating the better, more equitable world we all wish to see. 

What’s needed to counter backslides on the SDGs? Partnerships for women’s entrepreneurship opportunities, health and economic solutions, and more

Authentic partnership in the NGO sector is needed now more than ever as extreme poverty grows, NGOs face funding challenges, and we grapple with racial justice in the social enterprise and sustainable development ecosystems. 

Partnerships are so important to the SDGs that an entire SDG target is dedicated to promoting them. “The SDGs can only be realized with strong global partnerships and cooperation,” the U.N. Development Program notes in describing SDG 17. 

At Street Business School, we couldn’t agree more. We’re on a mission to help 1 million women lift themselves out of poverty by giving them the training they need to become entrepreneurs. Through the power of partnerships with like-minded organizations, our women’s entrepreneurial training programs of sustainably tripling women’s income has grown from being in one country in 2016 to 22 countries today. Our partners are collectively working to achieve 14 of the 17 SDGs. They represent a variety of missions, yet all share an understanding that uplifting  women in poverty is key to progress on the issues they are seeking to resolve. 

Hero Women Rising

SBS graduates from Hero Women Rising

“Through this program, I am going to help women in DRC leave poverty and change their lives,” said Jeanne Namunezero of Hero Women Rising, an SBS partner that works to improve the lives of women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

The urgency of authentic collaboration is even greater in the wake of COVID-19. SBS therefore brought our partner training workshops online to continue mobilizing changemakers in the fight against poverty even when in-person women’s entrepreneur training programs weren’t possible. 

Organizations working across industries around the world are similarly locking arms in a collective push to deliver vital supplies and services to those who need it most. In another example, the Community Health Impact Coalition (CHIC) — a group of organizations working to resource and empower community health workers in more than 40 countries — was put to the ultimate test by the pandemic, and they embraced one another even more closely in response. 

By August, they’d launched the largest mobilization of personal protective equipment to Africa, with the aim of enabling 1 million community health workers in 24 countries to continue their work while protecting themselves from COVID-19. The groups continue to share resources and plans via regular meetings and a shared wiki that is updated at least 15 times a day by users all over the world. 

“It’s relationships that drive the work,” Madeleine Ballard, executive director of CHIC, said at the 2021 Skoll World Forum this week. “The more people feel like they’re connected and they trust each other, the more they can commit to shared plans of action together.” 

The time for action is now

We know this work is far from over. Just this week, former Unilever CEO Paul Polman warned the global community that “the pandemic has put us back probably 20 to 30 years” on the Sustainable Development Goals. “Once more, the people that were already marginalized in society, including the gender dimension … these people have suffered disproportionately,” he continued.

If we are to truly “build back better” and counter the backslides we’ve already seen, we must center on those who are most affected — including women in poverty — and to do it effectively, we have to do it together. 

About Street Business School: Street Business School’s women entrepreneurial training program, honed over a decade of on-the-ground experience, drives impact across robust metrics including increased income, and women business ownership to help graduates sustainably rise above the global poverty line, earning $4.19/day on average within two year of graduating from SBS.

SBS provides NGOs with proven women’s entrepreneur training services ranging from staff training to turn-key white label to customized individual components that meet the unique needs of each partner to help them amplify their impact on women empowerment.

The scalable SBS curriculum can be tailored to address cultural differences in multiple countries, which, through women-owned business reduces poverty, and supports and magnifies the impact of NGOs’ core programmatic focus areas ranging from children’s education, to health care, to climate change.

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