How can the 17th Sustainable Development Goal aid effective problem solving in international organizations?

By Sóley Aspelund

Recognizing the benefits of partnership is inherent in human nature. Moreover, forms of collaboration have been present in our surrounding societies since the inception of civilization. Consequently, international organizations need to recognize the benefits of participating in global partnerships to work productively to tackle global agendas. 

One of these global agendas is the United Nations (UN)Sustainable Development Agenda encompassing 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The agenda drives UN member states to a global partnership to act on tackling the global challenges of sustainable development. Each SDG focuses on a specific societal issue ranging from protecting the planet to eradicating poverty. However, what is unique about the Agenda for Sustainable Development is the UN’s recognition that the goals are interconnected. To simplify, an action toward one goal will affect another goal. However, it is not inherent whether the effect is positive or negative, and in some cases, a wicked problem can arise

 A wicked problem is a sustainability challenge where a solution to achieving a sustainable goal  can hinder the completion of another. Consequently, there is not one definite solution to this wicked problem, but strategies do exist to minimize the effect. Examining relevant examples of wicked problems can help decipher the definition. To illustrate, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is a UN agency that aims to provide women with sexual reproductive health and rights. The UNFPA additionally focuses on humanitarian response, as the organization offers displaced women and girls Dignity Kits to assist them in maintaining good hygiene. In the Dignity Kit, you can, among other things, find sanitary pads. However, the organization discovered that it was challenging for women living in crises to dispose them sustainably. The aforestated demonstrates how a solution to one challenge of sustainability and an act towards tackling the 5th SDG, focusing on gender equality, and the 3rd SDG on good health and well-being, can have a direct negative effect on the climate and consequently undermine the 13th SDG of climate action. 

Another example is the intellectual property rights of vaccines. Intellectual property rights have many positive effects. They encourage individuals to develop new vaccines with good funding, and when a vaccine is well-funded, the quality is accordingly good. These qualities directly support the 9th SDG, which focuses on industry, innovation, and infrastructure, and the 3rd SDG. On the other hand, the intellectual property makes it impossible for other individuals to take advantage of the development and produce the same material. Consequently, the prices of vaccines grow parallel to the increasing demand. As a result, they become less accessible to developing countries, undermining the 10th SDG, which focuses on reducing inequalities. 

Furthermore, the two aforestated examples illustrate the importance of the 17th SDG, which focuses on partnership for the goals. The goal has various targets that, amongst other things, explore the importance of maintaining effective partnerships and sharing knowledge on innovations. Usually, the discourses on implementing these targets and the SDGs explore how the member states work together. However, to tackle the SDGs productively, international organizations must recognize the importance of partnership. Accordingly, if institutions collaborated with other institutions, they could share specialized knowledge and benefit from it. The shared institutionalized knowledge has the potential to  ultimately avoid the creation of a wicked problem. For example, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the World Health Organization (WHO) have all effectively collaborated in trilateral cooperation. The cooperation design aims to improve policymakers’ evidence-based communication and assist them in addressing public health issues on trade and intellectual property. Thus, the WIPO, WTO, and WHO partnership can become a tool to work towards alternative solutions to the wicked problem of international property rights of vaccinations to minimize the negative effect.

How WTO, WIPO, and WHO have utilized SDG17 is an excellent example of how the goal can aid the creation of synergies. Synergy is the cumulative strength of a group working together, which is more significant than the total strength acquired by them working separately. The accumulative power demonstrates how working towards the 17th SDG can help coordinate effective solutions to the global challenges of sustainable development. However, the motive behind the 17th SDG can be independent of institutions focusing on the SDGs. Therefore, implementing partnerships to facilitate the creation of synergies can benefit all institutions and should be implemented in the standardized structure of all organizations. Whether it is the WHO working with state sectors to create vaccination campaigns to encourage young people to get vaccinated or organizations working together to avoid the creation of challenges that will affect one another. 

Overall, the 17th SDG can aid effective problem solving in international organizations. The goal can minimize the effect of wicked problems by creating synergies that can bind institutional powers to develop greater strength. The synergies of partnership can specifically tackle the global agenda of sustainable development but also be generalized to emphasize the importance of collaboration. 

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