It is not possible to achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs) solely at the call of the governments or world leaders at the United Natios (UN), even with only national-level programmes. These multifaceted development goals have to be achieved by participation of local leadership and local people with the use of local resources. Transparent, effective and accountable institutions have to be established at all levels of the society, where the decision-making process will be participatory. If the 2030 global agenda is implemented at the local level on the basis of partnership with people of all segments of society, a massive socio-economic, environmental and ecological development will occur and the targets of SDGs will then be easily achieved. SDGs localisation plan would be a quick-yielding panacea to counteract the Covid-19 fallout both in the medium and long term.
It is important to note that since 2016, the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) has taken many important initiatives at the national level for successful implementation of the SDGs. In the meantime, a national work plan has been prepared by assigning the functions of the ministries and departments based on the targets and indicators of the SDGs. In order to achieve the SDG targets, data analysis has been done to identify the data gap and a report on the 'SDG Monitoring and Evaluation Framework' has been prepared for evaluation and monitoring of implementation progress, and accordingly the first evaluation report of the SDG has been published in 2018. The goals and targets of the SDGs are reflected in the Government's 'flagship development plan' i.e., in the seventh five-year plan (2016-2020).
An 'SDG Localisation Framework' has been formulated by the General Economics Division (GED) of the Bangladesh Planning Commission, through which a working plan was prepared for the localisation of the SDGs in all the upazilas of Bangladesh. There are several important steps in the SDG localisation framework developed by GED. It is clear from the SDG localisation framework that the first stage of localisation is to formulate an SDG-centric local annual and five-year plans, thereby determining the amount of money, human resources, infrastructure development that will be needed at the upazila and also at broad-spectrum district and divisional levels to achieve local targets in a coordinated manner. For this, it is necessary to first create an SDG plan to meet the targets under goals linking the indicators by the local authorities. The government is closely involved with the SDG localisation process. Hence, it is imperative to take initiatives for the localisation initiative from the upazila level. Later, these activities could be spread towards unions. It is necessary to start localisation work at the district and upazila levels using the existing administrative structure of the government. Therefore, it is necessary to have a manual or guideline for the formulation and implementation of SDG localisation plan at the upazila that is also consolidated at district level. Recently, a committee on the implementation and coordination of SDGs has been constituted at the upazila, district and divisional levels under the direction of the Cabinet Division. Its main responsibility is to adopt the action plan, implement, coordinate, and monitor the implementation of the SDGs, giving importance to the SDG priority list of Bangladesh fitting the upazila needs. Localisation of SDGs has already been undertaken in Natore at the district level with the help of the existing committee for SDG localisation, but no work plan at the upazila level has started elsewhere yet.
HUNGER PROJECT'S INITIATIVE: However, some NGOs (non-governmental organisations) have taken initiatives to localise SDGs at the union level. In view of this, several steps have been taken by the Hunger Project to achieve the SDGs and formulate local level planning in the Saharbati Union Parishad under Gangni upazila of Meherpur district which can be taken as a case also.
Institutional linkages are important to implementing the SDGs. The first thing that comes up is a difference in SDG implementation approach when reviewing the Meherpur NGO experience and the SDG localisation framework developed by GED. The SDG localisation structure is mainly upazila-centric; But the Hunger Project's SDG implementation of Saharbati Union in Gangni upazila of Meherpur is union-centric. In order to implement the SDGs at the union level, the Hunger Project signed an agreement with the Saharbati Union Parishad of Gangni in 2016 to build it as a model 'SDG union'. A community-led development approach is the core strategy of the Hunger Project for localising SDGs. The union council's involvement in the implementation of the SDGs has been ensured by creating them as 'Animators' through the Special Animators' training. The group of trained volunteers created by the Hunger Project include: (1) Animators, (2) Women Leaders, (3) Youth Leaders, (4) Community Facilitators, (5) Members of National Girl's Advocacy Forum, (6) Participatory Action Research by the ultra-poor (PAR) Facilitators, (7) Trained Women Nutrition facilitators, (8) Volunteer civil society leaders, and (9) a Concerned Citizen Committee. With the leadership of these volunteers, a total of nine village development teams have been formed in Saharbati Union and village based priority assessment and formulation plan has been done through a baseline study using social mapping, well-being ranking and problem ranking tools.
There are three main components of localising SDGs of the Hunger Project's strategy in the Saharbati Union Parishad: (a) planning, (b) finalising development priorities, and (c) implementation activities. The Union Council adopts the plan in five steps:
- Village-based needs assessment, prioritisation and planning;
- Organising Ward Shavas (Ward Assembly) and gathering information from standing committees' meetings and identification of priorities;
- Priorities and planning related data collection from government and non-government organisations working at the union level;
- Finalising union-based priorities and formulating annual and five-year plans in the light of prioritising SDG localisation with relevant stakeholders and reviewing by the Union Planning Committee; and
- Re-validating at Ward Shavas.
The second phase is the development vision for the union and the finalisation of priorities based on the participation of people of all levels of society. In the localisation of the SDGs, Saharabati Union's vision is to "create a prosperous union by ensuring modern and environment-friendly production, improved education and health, social justice and good governance, whereby every woman, man and child can develop their full potential." The priority areas of Saharbati Union include improvement of education, development of agriculture, livestock and fisheries, development of livelihoods, development of environment and plantation, resolving family disputes and preventing violence against women, communication and infrastructure development, safe water and sanitation, increased efficiency and good governance of the Union Parishad, prevention of drugs, terrorism, and militancy and promoting social harmony. It is important to note that the priority areas of the Saharbati Union are similar to the potential work areas identified under the framework proposed by the GED.
In the localisation of the SDGs, the Hunger Project basically works to mobilise and empower the people at Union level. Since 2016 in the Saharbati Union, the Hunger Project conducted 91 `Vision, Commitment and Action Workshops' with the community people, in which around 1,101 women and 837 men participated. Besides, seven workshops with youth, four PAR workshops, 12 RTI workshops and 120 Citizenship workshops have been organised, where 1,530 females and 948 males participated. In addition, 36 workshops on social harmony and 1,520 issue-based campaigns and court-yard meetings on 15 different issues have been arranged, in which 40,373 community people took part.
Required financial resources mobilisation to implement the SDG localisation programme are very important. Among the possible sources of funding identified in the implementation of the plan for localisation of the SDGs in the Saharbati Union Parishad are mainly the District, Upazila Project and LGSP (Local Governance Support Project); private sector/donors, Kabikha (Food for work), kabita (Taka for work), employment schemes, donation from local wealthy, volunteers based social capital, surplus of Union revenue budget, land transfer tax (1.0 per cent), and the programmes/resources of various departments/ projects allocated for the Union Parishad.
'SDG MODEL UNIONS': Future approaches or recommendations for strengthening SDG implementation at the local level:
From the field visit of SDG localisation, one can easily imagine that the Upazila Parishad is the first step towards SDG localisation. However, since the Upazila Parishad is made up of several unions, the union is the focal point of all connections. In this case, if the government takes the initiative to create 'SDG Model Unions', it will be helpful for the Upazila Parishad and other local government organisations to play an important role in implementing the SDG. For this purpose, in order to strengthen the SDG-related activities at the local level, according to the 'Local Government Act, 2009', all government offices and agencies under the Upazila Parishad need to be strengthened with transparency and made accountable for their activities. Upazila administration can be instructed to take integrated steps, the sooner the better.
Dr. Shamsul Alam is Member (Senior Secretary), General Economics Division (GED), Bangladesh Planning Commission. This write-up is an outcome of his recent visit with a team to Gangni upazila, Meherpur district, organised by the Hunger Project.