The SDG Academy at HLFP 2019

Each year, the United Nations convenes its High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), the highest level of SDG reporting, in which stakeholders meet to review and discuss the global sustainable development agenda. During HLPF, UN member states present their Voluntary National Reviews, comprehensive written reports on national and sub-national progress towards the SDGs. HLPF 2019 took place from 9-18 July with the theme “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.” Six SDGs were reviewed in depth, including SDG 4: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” The SDG Academy’s New York team was privileged to attend a variety of exciting discussions on education, partnerships, and the future of learning in a sustainable world. 

Highlights from the Academy’s HLPF experience include the launch of UN SDG:Learn, a new online platform developed by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and the United Nations System Staff College (UNSSC) to ensure that SDG learning from across the UN System and key partners is easily available to broad audiences. The SDG Academy is proud to be a partner in this exciting initiative to bring the best SDG learning–including SDG Academy courses–together in one place. Speaking at the launch event at HLPF, the Academy’s Florencia Librizzi expressed her hope that UN SDG:Learn “can and will become a valued contribution to learners to effectively scale up positive impact for our world.” 

Academy team members also attended a side-event hosted by our Tech For Good course partners UNESCO Montevideo and on “Education & Digital Technologies: policy innovation and strategies for monitoring and implementing SDG 4.” Speakers emphasized the need for more robust data to assess progress on SDG 4 and discussed the role of technology in both delivering and measuring solutions. UNESCO and also announced the publication of a new policy paper on “ICT for Sustainable Development: Recommendations for Public Policies that Guarantee Rights,” which presents policy recommendations for boosting the use of digital technologies as tools for achieving sustainable development, bearing in mind the risks that poor use of ICT can pose to privacy, inequality, and human rights. The policy paper is a companion to the SDG Academy course Tech for Good: The Role of ICT in Achieving the SDGs.

Finally, the SDG Academy attended the annual meeting of the UN Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI). A joint initiative of several UN agencies, HESI recognizes the important role they play in educating current and future decision-makers in creating more sustainable societies by bringing together hundreds of institutions to advance education for sustainable development. The meeting’s theme was “Green Jobs & Green Minds,” and featured panel discussions about higher education’s current commitments to advancing SDG education and next steps for ensuring that students are prepared to thrive in a sustainable future. 

Reflections from the SDG Academy:

The HLPF 2019 brought many productive sessions, some of which I attended. I was pleased to represent the Academy at the UN SDG Learn Platform launch which will provide a unique gateway to empower individuals and organizations with a rich repository of SDG-related learning products. I was also privileged to provide input in the HESI meetings, specifically their strategic workshop to discuss ideas on how to scale up content dissemination and work together to deliver the systemic change needed to achieve the SDGs. – Florencia Librizzi, Head of Program and Partnerships

HLPF is always an inspiring event– providing the space for countries to come together to discuss progress, address short-comings, and seek new avenues of collaboration is why the U.N. is such a pivotal global institution. During the forum, I had the fortunate opportunity to attend a session hosted at the African Union called “Looking Ahead: Emerging Issues for Equitable, Inclusive Education.” This session centered on discussion of how to measure SDG 4, including the value of data to understand both where we’ve been and where we’re going. Critical tools such as UNESCO’s GEM report and evaluations by UIS were presented. As a data enthusiast, I enjoyed the thorough overview of SDG 4 reporting products. As a data critic, I’d hoped to address more deeply questions of where and how we are sourcing data to understand if we’re using the most effective methods in the complex world of global education data. – Amber Webb, Senior Advisor

I was grateful for the opportunity to attend a variety of events related to SDG 4 and education for sustainable development, including a fascinating discussion on ICT and Education organized by Tech for Good course partners UNESCO Montevideo and But I think the most impactful for me was a panel discussion hosted by Club de Madrid on “Political Leadership in the Implementation of the SDGs,” featuring Helen Clark, former PM of New Zealand; Cristina Gallach, Spain’s High Commissioner for Agenda 2030; and Lucas Gómez of Colombia’s SDG Commission. Each panelist offered inspiring examples of national dedication to achieving the SDGs and stressed the critical importance of multi-stakeholder engagement–getting every part of society involved in the movement so that no one is left behind. – Shannon Kobran, Education Manager 

I learned a lot from the session “Looking Ahead: Emerging Issues for Equitable, Inclusive Education,” which emphasized that spending less than 4% of the GDP on education would hinder progress in achieving the SDG 4 by 2030, and concluded that data is key in making progress. I especially enjoyed hearing  from Mr. Lang Yabou, Permanent Representative of Gambia, who shared how his country was able to collect data on their student-teacher ratio and attendance rates in schools by fostering competition amongst schools and awarding “star” statuses to schools who delivered the most robust data. While the panel agreed that this is one way of measuring progress and collecting good data, coordination amongst different ministries to ensure that education is accessible even to the most vulnerable remains an issue. I remain optimistic after learning about the small steps that countries are taking; yet realism kicks in, compelling all of us ask whether quality education can be provided to all by the year 2030. – Astha Kiran KC, Education Intern

This was my first time attending anything related to HLPF, so I was very excited to have the privilege to attend many thought-provoking events. My favorite moment was SDSN’s side-event on “The Role of Spillover Effects in SDG Implementation.” At this event, Jeffery Sachs spoke about how negative externalities are hindering SDG implementation, stating,  “Developing an economy is hard. Destroying one? That’s easy.” This quote stayed with me because it captures the essence of what the role of sustainable development in developed countries should in part be: fostering sustainable development everywhere, not “kicking away the ladder,” as economists say. The panel discussions outlined the need for a more comprehensive evaluation of the negative externalities of countries’ actions, and how sustainable development should address these effects. One such example brought up by Dr. Guido Schmidt-Traub is deforestation caused by palm oil and palm oil’s  needless use in products like ice cream. – Zoe Heard, Education Intern