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All hands on deck for the UN Sustainable Development Goals

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals have become a focus point for global calls for action, challenges, competitions and other idea-producing initiatives all over the world.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015, provides a blueprint for prosperity for people and the planet.

At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, spur economic growth – while tackling climate change and working to preserve oceans and forests.

The UN SDG programme has incorporated the most urgent and grave issues that mankind can no longer ignore, and has therefore become a great focus point for globally spread calls for action, challenges, competitions and other idea-producing initiatives all over the world.

These are held annually by both the UN agencies themselves and independent organisations– as long as the ultimate goal is to contribute to developing and establishing those projects and ideas that will be helpful on the way to achieving the global welfare.

The UN’s own SDG Action Campaign has been running the UN SDG Action Awards since 2018, which have been identifying and celebrating changemakers across the world who have been re-thinking ways to drive progress towards the 2030 Agenda.

Mobilise, inspire, connect

The Awards seek initiatives that mobilise, inspire and connect people to drive action towards a more sustainable future on a healthy planet — those that are flipping the script and rethinking how we live and what progress and development look like. This year the Awards also seek individuals — Changemakers — that inspire and empower others through their actions.

Last year, the Awards received over 2,000 applications to the three application categories from more than 140 countries. The 2022 programme is still in progress.

Another SDG-focused competition is from a private philanthropic initiative, BE OPEN, and it is one year younger. Unlike the Action Awards, every year the competition chooses to focus on one particular goal; the current one is called “Design to Nurture the Planet” and offers five cash prizes of a total 15,000 euros, awarded by the foundation for proposing a solution to the global food crisis. Due to quite specific criteria and expectations of feasibility the competition imposes on its participants, it allows for a more pragmatic selection of projects.

This is year three of BE OPEN’s involvement with running competition programmes that collect ideas and advance the SDGs. Each year is dedicated to one goal: previous programmes focused on SDG11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, and SDG12: Responsible Consumption and Production.

As with the UN SDG Action Awards, selecting the finalists and awardees of the core prizes is done by an international jury, while there is another prize awarded via an open online vote.

The objective of the competition is to recognise and promote leading projects developed by the younger creative generation that are able to tackle the tasks set by the SDG programme; to produce new ideas with the potential for true impact.

No one left behind

There are SDG-related competitions that appeal to even younger and creative audiences as well – in preparation for World Food Day, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has called on kids from five years and older all over the world to create a World Food Day poster showing a world where no one is left behind, and everyone has access to healthy and affordable food.

Three winners of the World Food Day Poster Contest in each age category will be selected by a jury and announced in December. Winners will be promoted by FAO offices around the world and receive a surprise gift bag.

The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) is another United Nations agency that runs annual SDG-related competitions: with the overall goal to promote sustainable and universally accessible tourism, UNWTO holds a Global Start-up Competition. It accepts submissions that approach all the SDGs at the same time, and selects the best start-up for each of the SDGs.

They look for the most disruptive projects that are changing the way people travel and how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are reached all over the world. They provide a platform for great ideas to be visible for the global tourism ecosystem, provide mentoring, exposure to the sector and investments.

The projects above are only a glimpse of the great plethora of actions being developed constantly by those who understand that it is more important than ever to shine a spotlight on hope and togetherness – and on people making a difference everywhere – especially during this challenging moment we are currently facing.

Old models have not delivered and we need new ones to fulfill the SDG promise of what most people want: more inclusive and sustainable societies.


This content has been produced in collaboration with an Emerging Europe partner organisation.