I’ve had the privilege of working in the international development space for over 20 years. I’ve been able to advance missions and causes that are meaningful to me, building purpose in my daily life. This fulfilled my need to contribute to something greater than myself. For me, careers, contribution, and building purpose are key ingredients for a meaningful professional experience.

In my career as a coach working primarily with development professionals, the first concerns or areas to emerge in a coaching conversation are not about purpose or contribution. In fact, ‘identifying or building one’s purpose’, ‘finding or creating meaningful work’, ‘wishing to contribute more’ – don’t often don’t come up as deficits needing improvement. It’s quite the opposite, but that is another post!

Working as a coach and a development practitioner with clients outside the development space, questions are largely around two key themes. Experienced professionals ask about finding/adding meaning and purpose, making a contribution and/or giving back. And for those just starting their career, the central question is often ‘what can I do to strike a balance between my career ambition and a socially responsible career?’ Although there are many ways to explore these themes, I would like to focus on the opportunities to achieve purpose, contribution, social responsibility, inclusion, and social justice through the Sustainability Development Goals…

What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

The SDGs follow and expand upon the millennium development goals (MDGs) agreed by governments in 2001, which expired in 2015.

In 2015, United Nation countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is a universal set of goals, targets and indicators that UN member states are expected to use to frame their agendas and political policies over the next 15 years. At its most basic, the Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity that aims to ‘leave no one behind’ by 2030 – by reaching those furthest behind first.

17 Goals to Transform Our World

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (taking note of agreements made by the UNFCCC forum)
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss
  16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development

How Can We Participate and Ensure that No One is Left Behind?

Governments, businesses and civil society, together with the United Nations, are mobilizing efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Agenda by 2030. The universal, inclusive and indivisible Agenda calls for action by all countries to improve the lives of people everywhere. That said, an agenda this ambitious requires the participation and efforts of everyone. So – what can you do to participate?

According to the Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World, there are simple, concrete, easy actions we can all do, to make a difference. These include things you can do without leaving the comfort of your couch – such as sharing social media pieces about women’s rights or climate change; household activities like letting your hair and clothes dry naturally instead of using power; donating items you don’t use; shopping local to support neighbourhood businesses and reduce transportation costs and shopping smart – planning meals and purchases, to reduce waste.

We can do many things in the workplace, such as

  • Be informed. Read:
  • Take a closer look at the status quo. Can you recycle at your workplace? Is your company sourcing from suppliers with harmful ecological or workplace practices?
  • Brainstorm with colleagues. What can you and your company do differently to operationalize the SDGs?
  • Know your rights at work. Understanding your entitlements gets you closer to achieving justice.
  • Speak up to signal injustice and/or provide support –
    • Pay inequality persists. Women still earn 10 to 30 per cent less than men for the same work.
    • 4 billion people still lack access to basic sanitation services
  • Report discrimination in your office. Everyone is equal, regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, social background and physical abilities
  • Ask your company and government to engage in initiatives that will not harm people or the planet. Voice your support for the Paris Agreement!
  • Mentor – and be mentored.
    • Nurture and mentor the next generation of socially responsible leaders by imparting skills and understanding for leading and maintaining a sustainable and just economy.
    • Older professionals may benefit from tech-savvy millennial colleagues.
  • Encourage your company to be a good corporate citizen – work with civil society groups and find ways to help local communities achieve the Goals.
  • Organize a No Impact Week at work. Learn to live more sustainably for at least a week.
  • Work green –
    • To what extent does your company invest in a clean and resilient infrastructure? It’s the only way to keep workers safe and protect the environment.
    • Does your company use energy efficient heating and cooling technology, and make appropriate adjustments by season (lower in winter, higher in summer)?
  • Bike, walk or take public transport to work. Carpooling/sharing is a great way to transport groups of people.

Just Do It

There are so many ways to build a sense of purpose and contribute, in our lives and careers. What we focus on is important in exploring and building purpose – it’s great to have a goal, vision or destination in mind, but that needs action to become a reality. The journey itself, the acts of doing, are all vital steps to reach your destination.

The Global Agenda and the 17 SDGs provide a rich opportunity to transform our world. With your to-do list for the people and the planet, anyone can contribute globally, nationally, or locally – from your couch, your home, or your organization.

Get involved.

If you would like to, please download my coaching programme brochure – Women’s Leadership Coaching – For Women in Development – specifically designed for women working in global development.

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Email me: palena@unabridgedleadership.com

Visit my website: www.unabridgedleadership.com 

LinkedIn: Palena Neale

Twitter: @PalenaNeale