Development or “crisis” prevention initiatives can be successfully measured by whether you are able to reach your audience or not. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft took the initiative this week by creating a joint global forum to counter and prevent violent extremism. In partnership with a United Nations counterterrorism committee, the forum is to “identify how best to counter extremism and online hate, while respecting freedom of expression and privacy.”
Over the last two years, tech firms have participated in several online experiments to combat online extremism. Many studies are skeptical regarding the effectiveness of counternarratives in deterring radicalization. A study conducted by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based think tank that has been working with Google on countermessaging research since 2014, suggests “such efforts could be effective in reaching target audiences and driving conversations among them, though it remains unclear whether counternarratives can actually deter radicalization,” according to a 2016 write-up in the Verge, an online tech publication.
Creating new narrative on global development is just as important. There have been decades of negative communication about poverty, hopelessness, inequality and vulnerability, resulting in a negative public attitude that development does not work. News about progress that creates hope and motivation for action needs to spread. Thus, the challenge is in how to shift “humankind’s course” from an unsound trajectory to a more viable one.
Many institutional and academic reports on the year 2000 Millennium Development Goals have been produced and disseminated covering its creation, progress and data. However, the people who really knew about it over the 15 years of its implementation felt that the MDGs were not going to make it, not even close.
It has been almost two years since September 2015, when the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, a 15-year plan for “everyone,” was adopted. The annual high-level political forum held this year on July 10-19 in New York under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council has been a platform for reviewing progress achieved on the global goals. Moreover, it brought together some of the “world’s best minds,” representatives of governments, civil society organizations, the private sector and academic institutions to “unlock key drivers of the Agenda 2030.” Some 2,458 registered stakeholders gathered under the theme “Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world,” aiming to strengthen global partnerships for the implementation of the SDGs with almost full participation of U.N. member states, among which 44 countries volunteered to present their national reviews.
Several studies collecting perceptions on the SDGs were conducted to support decision-makers in their review process. The results of a research study, part of the MYWorld 2030 project, were presented during the high-level political forum. A survey of 100 SDG questions was conducted in 11 countries this year, engaging 7,772 people. One third of those surveyed said they were aware of the SDGs, with younger respondents more acquainted with them than older ones, and with huge differences among countries. In addition, it is interesting to note that for the last two years, people have been choosing the same top issues.
Launched July 17, the “Sustainable Development Goals Report” gave an overview of implementation efforts to date, emphasizing areas of progress and those that still need action. The report found that “the pace of progress has been insufficient and advancements have been uneven to fully meet the implementation of the SDGs.”
The challenge of localizing MDGs is a lesson to be learned; driving progress on the SDGs at the speed and scale necessary requires a shift of focus to local communities, stressing ground implementation where transformative impacts occur.
The report also shows the importance of “harnessing the power of data.” The lack of disaggregated data, for instance, is a major challenge for tracking progress. There is a great role for communities to play in measuring how progress is done. The gap between expert and on-the-ground analysis means there is a real need for data sharing from communities and translating the traditional monitoring framework into simple tools that communities can directly conduct themselves. Alternative narratives will then be designed by telling the story through data.
Every person on Earth can make an impact. Everyone is part of the solution. An intergenerational dialogue will take place at U.N. headquarters on Aug. 1 aiming to build awareness of the great value youth and the elderly, as agents of change, can bring into the SDG process.
However, we need to do things in different ways. There is a broad spectrum of innovative practices, models and policies. Among these innovative strategic means is the capacity of the SDGs to address the conditions and root causes that encourage the development of violent extremism. Highlighting long-term strategies for preventing violent extremism with a sustainable development approach is a key path to peace building and social stability.
If the power of innovation is not utilized to inspire the implementation of Agenda 2030, reaching the global goals will remain a promise we made to our grandchildren and those who will come after them.
Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine is executive director of the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.