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Connecting to Impact: The Sustainable Development Goal Policy Initiative

August 2020

Gordon McCordYou don’t need to be an expert to see that communities around the world are encountering significant threats to the environment, civic stability and health. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, headlines emerged daily about dubious choices by leaders in our government and others, with no sense of how they will come together to tackle our most entrenched problems.

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) established 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted by all 193 UN member countries to provide an actionable definition for the shared principle of “leave no one behind.”

“The SDGs in every country of the world – with the exception of the United States – are the dominant framework for how we think about the challenges of the 21st century. If you’re communicating to donors abroad, to the international system, the World Bank or UNICEF, you need to communicate in terms of the SDGs,” said Gordon McCord, professor and founder of the Sustainable Development Goals Policy Initiative (SDGPI) at GPS.

Through McCord, SDGPI is connected to the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), founded by the UN following its establishment of the SDGs. SDSN USA is the domestic chapter of the global network, led by a small coordinating committee of faculty from UC San Diego (McCord), Yale University and Columbia University.

Earlier this year, McCord sought to parlay his involvement in SDSN into a campus effort, organizing projects connected to the 17 SDGs into a dynamic website. After presenting the concept to CGT leadership, the center provided seed funding for the project, which enabled McCord to hire Joseph Bettles, a GPS Master of Public Policy class of 2021 candidate, to conceptualize the website and implement its construction.

Bettles shares what this experience has meant in the context of his GPS studies. “It was one of those really lucky coincidences where all the skills I’ve learned up to now, and my interest, everything aligned with this position. I have a theater background, and came to GPS worrying that this put me behind, that I’d need to catch up in some of the other areas more traditionally involved in policy studies,” said Bettles. “But the big requirement for this position was for someone creative, which definitely describes me. It’s shown me how I can take creative skills or experiences I’ve had and use them to further the policy agenda for a more sustainable future.”

The SDGPI website serves as a tool for understanding and exploring work related to each goal, with connections mapped dynamically and adjusted as projects evolve. Navigating by goal aligns much better with the objectives of users as they search, whether those users are prospective students, grantmakers, policymakers or collaborating faculty from peer institutions around the world.

Through SDGPI, UC San Diego projects are connected to universities around the country and world that are also using the 17 SDGs to orient the impact of their research and service. Projects can respond to and iterate from each other, reducing duplicate efforts and raising the foundation of shared knowledge on topics as crucial as biodiversity loss, healthcare and hunger.

Locally, SDGPI stands to benefit San Diego through a proposed project to collaborate with municipal and county governments on relaying best practices and insights about sustainable development goals from cities all over, from Los Angeles and Honolulu to Helsinki. Through GPS, SDGPI has the opportunity to make the global truly local, an effort that meets the aspirations and strong potential of our internationally facing, dynamic community.

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