Later this week, member states of the United Nations will formally adopt the sustainable development goals (SDGs), aiming to comprehensively address gaps in our collective development. Building on the success of millennium development goals (MDGs), which have demonstrated major progress in health and human development, this next phase will create an opportunity for all people, regardless of gender, race or nationality, to make the world a better place.
Despite my excitement about both the opportunity and the promise, I remain deeply concerned about the lack of engagement of one core group of people, who remain our best hope for the future: our students. Majority of the students in my classroom, and many others who I have met in countries from Asia to Africa, have absolutely no clue about what SDGs are and what they mean for all of us.
The fact that students do not know anything about SDGs is deeply troubling. Whether we blame this lack of awareness on local crises occupying the minds of our students, or the declining role of the UN in discussions on campus, the lack of engagement of the students remains a major problem that needs to be addressed to give us the best chance of success.
There are several reasons for students to be aware of SDGs and for us to create opportunities for them to be more involved in successful implementation of these ambitious targets.
First, it is about investment in our future. Students who are in their formative years right now, will be in an important decision making positions in various academic and professional spheres in their respective countries in the next 15 years. Early awareness and engagement will make them more capable of taking steps in successful implementation of the targets.
Second, students today are far more aware of the global problems than their parents or grand parents. By engaging these socially conscious, data-driven and connected students we will create a global platform for debate, discussion and action that is driven by core values of humanity. Student engagement will also increase global collaboration, break down North-South divide, bring down barriers of racism and xenophobia and create new opportunities for human development, innovation and transfer of skills.
Third, in an increasingly globalized world, student awareness of SDGs will contextualize their curriculum and connect the theoretical with the practical. Students will get to appreciate the global grand challenges and develop an appreciation for how their knowledge and skills can make a difference in the lives of all people.
Fourth, bringing SDGs to campus will bring much needed intellectual diversity to the development sector. The development sector historically has not benefitted from students in engineering, science and technology. This is, in part, due to lack of awareness among technology-oriented students about the development sector and the need for problem solving and quantitative skills in these sectors.
Similarly, for a variety of reasons, the development sector also has not recruited heavily from the science and technology disciplines. Our current global challenges are inherently multi-faceted and require understanding, planning and strategy that requires a diverse team of motivated individuals.
Fifth, campuses are the best laboratories to test great ideas. By using campus as platforms for debates, analysis and technological development, we will streamline ideas that have the best chance of success and identify risks that can derail progress.
Finally, success in SDGs rests on an innovative mindset and the ability to adapt to local challenge and evolving ground realities. While the goals are clear, the path to those goals will invariably vary in each country. To maximize our chances of success, we need to capitalize on the passion and energy of the most innovative group of people amongst us: our students.
SDGs are about a sustainable and inclusive future. It is critical that we include those in this process who will shape and live this future.