Date: 27 September 2022By

The SDGs: Where we are at and implications for WAITRO members

What WAITRO members need to know about the SDGs

The world has changed dramatically since, many light years ago, I started with development work and proposal writing. Then, many were convinced that the inclusion of the so-called “buzz words”, such as gender or SMEs, in a proposal would secure the necessary funding! Since then, we have had the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) era focused on developing countries; now we are midway through the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) era, which has universal i.e global application.

There is a risk that some in WAITRO member organizations will, on hearing the utterance “SDG” or “Rights-based Approach”, regard these as just the current “buzz words”. Fortunately, this is not the case. Since 2015, countries and blocks such as the EU have introduced policies aligned with the SDGs and 2030 Agenda. Moreover, coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic, whether deliberate or otherwise new policies have been introduced to reinforce the human rights dimension. This short briefing outlines these important elements of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which WAITRO members need to consider when designing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating projects and programs.



The SDGs Report 2022 provides evidence of the destructive impacts of the cascading and interlinked global crises and conflicts on achieving the SDGs. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out four years of progress in eliminating global poverty (SDG 1); The recently published UNDP’s  Human Development Report reveals for the first time a decline in the Human Development Index (HDI) for two successive years. The introduction to the SDG Report 2022 clearly states the risks.

“The aspirations set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are in jeopardy”.

The Sustainable Development Goals have been divided into the following five Ps:

  • People: SDG 1, SDG 2, SDG 3, SDG 4 and SDG 5
  • Planet: SDG 6, SDG 7, SDG 12, SDG 13, SDG 14 and SDG 15
  • Prosperity: SDG 8, SDG 9, SDG 10 and SDG 11
  • Peace: SDG 16
  • Partnership: SDG 17

Despite the “clusters”, the Sustainable Development Report 2018 emphasizes the importance of the interlinked nature of the SDGs. For example, UN-Water analyzed the interlinkages of water and sanitation across the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and showed that out of 169 SDG targets, 59 have synergies with the targets on the water under SDG6.

Human Rights

The 2030 Agenda is firmly grounded in human rights. Over 90 percent of the 169 SDGs targets are connected to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and international human rights and labor standards. These are universally applicable to all people in all countries, including both developed and developing countries. In many countries, these rights have been incorporated into national constitutions where they exist. Notably, the 2030 Agenda is to be implemented consistent with international law. For those involved in EU Horizon 2020 projects, knowing the latest EU policies concerning Human Rights and the SDGs is essential. They are also reaffirmed in The Global Approach to Research and Innovation Europe’s strategy for international cooperation in a changing world.

The EU should therefore continue to offer researchers and innovators a democratic, inclusive and supportive environment, devoid of political interference, defending academic freedom and the opportunity for curiosity-driven research, under the respect and protection of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The SDGs are the first attempt by the world community to focus on the quality of teaching and learning. In particular, the role of education in achieving a more human world. Chapter 6 of the Human Development Report 2021/2022 emphasizes policies that focus on the Three I’s: Investment, Insurance, and Innovation. This underpins the essential element of the SDGs: to empower citizens to actively participate and learn from the experience of others. The Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Local Government and Human Rights and the World Human Rights Cities Forum initiative further underscores the importance of empowering citizens.

In February 2022, The European Commission submitted a proposal to the Parliament that would help companies better manage sustainability-related matters in their operations and value chains regarding social and human rights, climate change, environment, etc. The EC Industry document Industry 5.0. Towards a sustainable, human-centric, and resilient European industry clearly affirms the European commitment to protecting human and fundamental rights as a priority.

What does it mean for WAITRO members?

WAITRO Collaboration


High-quality project proposals: proposals need to include measurable indicators. It will be insufficient to blandly cite an SDG, they will have to be SDG target(s) specific and also refer to specifically to the human rights being addressed. Resources to assist in this can be found at the UN SDG Academy, the UN Sustainable Solutions Network; for human rights at UN OHCHR Manual on Human Rights Monitoring. In addition, proposals seeking EU funding should demonstrate an understanding of the updated policies and priorities.

Strategic Foresight: Pro-Active in shaping partnerships for local implementation of SDGs: promote the work of the UN STI pilot in Ghana. A modest start can be made bringing such experiences into the process “The future is always a story –and there is always more than one story”. The Primer provides inspiration for developing local partnerships and engaging civil society.

A Communication Partnership: Devising mechanisms to promote the exchange of WAITRO members’ work on innovation for SDGs which goes beyond those projects/activities sponsored by WAITRO. This should include examples of where the private sector (especially SMEs) and civil society organizations have been involved.

Explore new ways of collaborating: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact accelerating the use of digital technologies on the way people will work in the future. Maybe, WAITRO members should be “thinking out of the box”, beyond Horizon 2020 types of funding, and explore ways of collaborating.

Education and Awareness: The Sustainable Development and Human Development Reports both highlight the education deficit and the impact this will have for the future of democracy – the so-called Democratic Dividend. An approach could be to develop “SDG and Innovation Champions” (something that will be described in detail at the WAITRO Summit) or drawing inspiration from The World’s Knowledge Network for the SDGs in particular in connection with engaging youth.

About the Author

Roger Short was the WAITRO Secretary-General from 1988-1991 when the Secretariat was based at the Jutland Institute of Technology. Since then he has been, among others, the Construction Industry Expert for the UN International Labour Office, a senior consultant for the European Commission for country and project programming and evaluations in the former Soviet Union, Caribbean and various African countries.

Roger Short

He was also Team Leader for the EU-US-Ukraine program to address the social impact of closing Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant under the auspices of the G7 Nuclear Safety Working Group, and Senior Advisor to the South African Department of Water and Sanitation related to implementing IWRM (the Water Act), particular community driven IWRM.