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Acting globally, thinking locally

This article introduces three global organisations working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
A woman holds a globe against a background of newspaper cuttings.

Internationally, there are many organisations, big and small, which are already working towards the goals and targets of the SDGs. You are also most likely doing things in your everyday life which are helping us as a global community to achieve these targets.

Let’s look at some of the examples Mark mentioned in his introduction video in more detail, and then we can consider what is happening on a more local and individual level where you are.

Engineers without Borders

We have already heard from Natalie, from the Engineers Without Borders (EwB) group based in the University of Bristol. EwB are, however, a UK-wide organisation which acts globally. They believe that engineering is the “catalyst for the change that the world needs”, and that by putting people first engineers can inspire solutions that are “ethical, culturally sensitive and environmentally sound”. They organise and promote a variety of clean energy projects, build environmental and youth outreach projects, as well as giving training and hosting design challenges.

In this way, they are actively working towards several of the Sustainable Development Goals, including:

SDG 3, Good Health and Wellbeing; 4, Quality Education; 6, Clean Water and Sanitation; 7, Affordable and Clean Energy; 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; 10, Reduced Inequalities; 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities; and 13, Climate Action The SDGs Engineers without Borders is working towards (Click to expand this image of the SDGs)

Médecins Sans Frontières

Perhaps more well known is Médecins Sans Frontières, an international organisation founded in 1971 who work to provide medical aid wherever it’s needed. They are funded by charitable donations, but act as an independent, impartial organisation. They work as a network, helping people on a global scale in emergency situations, such as natural disasters, epidemics or conflict. This network stretches across 65 countries, with 30,000 people helping millions of patients every year. They also provide long-term care in countries which lack good healthcare, for example providing ambulances, medical clinics, and accident and emergency services, and helping patients manage chronic conditions.

  • Which of the Sustainable Development Goals do you think Médecins Sans Frontières are helping to achieve?

Twinning and Sister Cities

An example of an initiative which has sprung up in different parts of the world to foster global collaboration is that of Twinning or Sister Cities. As Mark explained earlier this week, the European Union has a system of twinning, where places in Europe are paired to share best practice, policy and expertise, particularly for countries wanting to join the EU. It aims to help develop long-term relationships between regions, which is also the aim of a similar organisation established in the USA, that of ‘Sister Cities’. Sister Cities was created in 1956 to champion peace through forming relationships. They work to help people from different cultures and communities understand each other better, by celebrating difference and building partnerships. Today, the main focus of Sister Cities is to enable cultural and educational exchanges and economic partnerships, and provide humanitarian assistance.

  • Which of the Sustainable Development Goals do you think initiatives like twinning or organisations like Sister Cities are helping to achieve?

What can you do to achieve the goals?

These are all examples of international organisations, working on a large scale. However, as the UN stress, the SDGs are also about individual people acting locally, and individually. Thinking about the SDGs, write a comment in the discussion below explaining what you feel you are already doing to promote, or achieve, one or more of these goals.

  • Are you part of an organisation?

  • Have you stood up for a cause you believe in?

  • Do you do anything every day, on a personal level, that you think works towards these aims? Remember that it doesn’t have to be a big thing to make a difference!

Take Action

When considering how you can get involved with the Sustainable Development Goals, an obvious place to start would be to try to get involved with the United Nations directly. For example, through the UN Volunteers website you can search and sign up for volunteering roles in specific countries, or online. They also explain how each of the roles link to the SDGs, so you can target a specific SDG with your volunteering.
There are also local ways to engage with the SDGs. For our local context, you could look into the Bristol Fairtrade Network, a group of local volunteers and businesses who support fair trade or the Bristol Volunteers for Development Abroad, a student lead charity and society at Bristol University that trains and sends small groups of volunteers each year to countries such as Nepal, Uganda and Malawi to take part in sustainable development projects. If you are a student at the University of Bristol, the University of Bristol Student Union can point you in the direction of lots of ways you can volunteer.
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