Roger-Mark De Souza is the director of population, environmental security, and resilience for the Wilson Center. Sono Aibe is Pathfinder International’s Senior Advisor for Strategic Initiatives.
– By recognising how closely connected the different aspects of sustainable development are, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) create an important opportunity – and challenge – for a more coordinated approach to implementing development policies.
The multi-faceted, interlinked nature of the 17 categories represented by the SDGs reflects our complicated world. We will need to work together to meet these goals while facing an increasingly complex set of challenges to human rights, equity, and security. The battle against terrorism and its horrors, for example, requires people working together across each and every one of the 17 categories.
However, traditional policy responses to these challenges have been divided into distinct policy sectors. If we are to achieve these goals, build peace, and increase world security, we must recognise that past efforts that were confined to individual sectors have failed. We must use new but proven tools that move the integrated SDG framework from concept to action. If the implementation phase of the SDGs defaults to the same old methods, the new goals will be meaningless.
One successful tool – what a World Bank expert called a “do-able miracle” in a speech at the Wilson Center — is the integrated Population, Health and Environment (PHE) approach, where many of the SDGs are addressed simultaneously in a coordinated, strategic manner.
PHE projects work concurrently to improve access to health services (especially family planning and reproductive health), protect and manage natural resources, generate income from alternative livelihoods, and provide women and men with the skills and tools to plan for a sustainable future. Key to its success is the strong buy-in from and engagement with local communities and their leaders, which is credited with its unusually rapid, widespread success in East Africa, Madagascar and the Philippines.
For example, Pathfinder International’s “HoPE-LVB” (Health of People and Environment in Lake Victoria Basin) project, based in Kenya and Uganda, is an integrated, community engagement initiative providing primary health care (including sexual and reproductive health, and maternal and child health services), along with the supply of clean water, training on sanitation and hygiene practices, natural resource management, and sustainable income generation opportunities.
Pathfinder and its partner organizations work to make the farms and fisheries that the communities depend on more sustainable, support environmentally friendly alternative livelihoods, and increase gender equality. Throughout the project, partners emphasize the inter-relatedness of people, their health, and their environment. The project is helping other organizations to replicate HoPE’s model and supporting local governments to plan integrated activities that meet the needs of their communities in a holistic way
The rapid acceptance of the PHE approach from concept to scalability in just five years has now created strong regional momentum for its expansion in East Africa. In fact, at a recent meeting, the Lake Victoria Basin Commission included a recommendation to its members to “mainstream PHE programming into national and institutional plans and set aside funds for PHE Integration and the implementation of the EAC PHE strategic plan.”
The results from these projects offer strong evidence that the PHE approach is working, growing, and primed for scale-up across other regions. PHE programs provide compelling, real-world, grounded evidence that UNGA policymakers would do well to consider as they seek to achieve the SDGs.
PHE can also be a powerful pathway to fight extremism and improve stability. By increasing communities’ resilience in a rapidly changing economic, environmental, and political landscape, integrated development can provide the foundation for increased security. For example, PHE programs focus on engaging youth in building their own sustainable futures, and thus building their resilience to recruitment by extremists. In this way PHE can also be considered a peacebuilding strategy in fragile and developing states. Research by Wilson Center experts has found that the PHE approach addresses challenges often missing from other resilience-building efforts, such as social dynamics, power structures, gender and reproductive health.
As world leaders meet to decide how to shift from goals to action, they should look at what is already working. PHE increases environmental sustainability, economic opportunity, reproductive health, women’s empowerment, climate resilience, and regional stability—at the same time, for less investment, and with more success. A proven tool for implementing this ambitious agenda, PHE is a win-win-win for the sustainable development team.