Mobilizing Efforts Around the Sustainable Development Goals

Akbar Aziz, an undergraduate student in Mechanical Engineering, was McGill's first Sustainable Development Goals Campus Coordinator.

In an increasingly connected world, the opportunities to develop as a unified whole – rather than as divided parts of a disparate world – are limitless. In 2015, in an effort to increase coordination across efforts at global development, the United Nations introduced the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – 17 Goals with 169 targets to improve the world by 2030.

This academic year, I’ve had the pleasure of working with United Nations SDSN Youth – a global organization empowering youth to further the SDGs and achieve sustainable solutions – as McGill University’s first SDG Campus Coordinator working under the Office of Sustainability and the McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative. My goal? To raise student awareness around the SDGs and mobilize efforts to achieve practical solutions. As part of my position, I worked with student organizations across various faculties, acting as a link between all SDG related activities on campus. Most notably, in collaboration with the McGill Office of Sustainability and the SSMU Environment Committee, I contributed to the founding of the Students Sustainability Network (SSN).

Person giving a presentation.The SSN arose from an observed lack of interconnectedness between various campus organizations. Within a few weeks, we connected numerous student groups and ultimately organized the Network’s first event in January 2020. This inaugural event attracted 100+ participants and ultimately increased collaborative efforts while introducing opportunities for involvement within sustainability-oriented organizations. As SDG Coordinator, I worked directly with a number of student organizations including: the International Development Studies Students Association (on their SDG Conversation Series), the Desautels Sustainability Network, the McGill’s Bicentennial Student Sustainability Challenge (Impact200) Student Committee, and Alliance Étudiante en Développement Durable de l'Université de Laval (presenting at their SDG Workshop Event) amongst several others.

Personally, this position has been quite fulfilling by allowing me to learn from both students and staff who are sincerely engaged in their work to improve the world around us. Through my position, I’ve been fortunate to have had significant positive impact as I:

  • Connected with 300+ McGill students and staff
  • Helped organize and present at more than 15 events
  • Collaborated with at least 10 Student Organizations for various events

Organizing these events and connecting with students begins a chain of thought which ultimately sparks conversations that are critical to the future of the SDGs at McGill – inspiring students to engage with the goals and developing well-informed leaders of tomorrow who grasp the dimensions of sustainable development.

What is sustainable development and why are the SDGs Important?

Sustainable development refers to development that enables the current generation to prosper without jeopardizing the future generation’s right to prosper. The SDGs are an attempt to unify all countries under one development framework and to ensure that all nations are working towards the same general targets in their capacity to do so.

The significance of such a framework should not be understated. For starters, the SDGs increase public pressure on world governments as well as introduce healthy peer pressure on the global level to meet development targets. Moreover, such a framework improves transparency within development operations via the implementation of monitoring frameworks requiring each country to report to the United Nations. Perhaps the current global pandemic is the prime current example of how connected our world is and the catastrophic effects of a lack of global coordination efforts.

Ultimately, educating students about the SDGs is integral to sustainable development practices and in turn the future of the world. For example, the policy makers of tomorrow must be equipped with an in-depth understanding of the importance of partnerships for global development (Goal 17); the engineers of tomorrow must learn the necessity of eliminating the environmental impacts of all projects (Goal 13); and the business leaders of the future must contribute to sustainable economic growth (Goal 8).

At McGill, there is a visible commitment from the students and staff to work towards the Sustainable Development Goals. My hope is that this will lead to an increase in SDG education-oriented efforts.

You can learn more about the SDGs and how to contribute here:

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