Sightsavers has kept the Sustainable Development Goals in mind when considering its activities and operations.
Sightsavers has been engaging with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since their inception. As a charitable organisation working to improve the lives of disabled people worldwide, it worked to ensure that disability was included on the agenda.
“We committed to SDGs right from the outset,” says Andrew Griffiths, Head of Advocacy at Sightsavers. “I chaired the global civil society campaign on the SDGs in 2015. We were quite engaged in that process.”
Satisfied with the inclusion and language within the goals, the leadership team turned to figuring out how to apply them. “We landed on three different ways to consider them,” Griffiths explains. “The first was operational: how does it affect how you work? For example, looking at the different pillars of sustainable development and how they interact with one another. The social development side of the SDGs is absolutely core to what we do. The environmental side hasn’t been a part of our main charitable objectives, but we’re starting to look into how our work relates to climate change. That has been very much a slow burn within the organisation, but something that we're increasingly recognising and doing.”
The second area is linking issues programmatically. This was an easier process; Sightsavers had a strategy process for its thematic programmes in place within two years of the launch of the SDGs.
“In health, we have a big focus on neglected tropical diseases, which disproportionately affect poor people and marginalised communities and groups,” says Griffiths. “There is a target around neglected tropical diseases, so clearly that activity furthers the SDGs. We also have a set of programmes on economic empowerment to people with disabilities. It was more about us building on what the SDGs say.”
Finally, the organisation engages with voluntary national and local reviews. “More broadly, we play a role in convening civil society to have lots of conversations around this.”
When it comes to monitoring progress against the SDGs, Sightsavers worked to map progress on its operations more directly to the SDGs. As part of its thematic strategies, it created an internal monitoring framework that followed organisational level indicators, rather than individual project lines.
“We can create more specific mapping,” says Nick Thorne, Sightsavers’ Global Advocacy Monitoring Advisor. “We've started doing that with the aim of then being able to produce a dashboard that will, over time, be able to show how Sightsavers is contributing towards the SDGs in each country where we have a presence. We are doing that by mapping our organisational indicators to the SDG targets. For example all of our eye health indicators feed into SDG 3.8, while our education indicators relate to SDG 4.5 and so on.”
Some SDGs are easier to map than others. For instance, Sightsavers provides investment in education systems to make sure that there is greater enrolment of children with disabilities. There is an SDG that covers the greater enrolment of children in schools, which fits neatly into Sightsavers’ remit.
Others require more thought, however. “An example for us is SDG 3.6, to reduce deaths from road traffic accidents,” Thorne explains. “We had a bit of a discussion around whether we can argue that Sightsavers contributed towards SDG 3.6 because we’re involved in improving eyesight and distributing glasses. Our consensus was no, we’re not going to make that argument, on the grounds that it is just too tenuous.”
The organisation is trying to identify the genuine linkages so that their statements on any work towards the SDGs are backed up by solid evidence. “We want to have some data to back it up and if we want to produce that data, we want it to be rigorous,” says Thorne. “We want to scrutinise it ourselves and we want to put it in the public domain. We want others to scrutinise it as well.”
Alongside this, the Sightsavers team wants to encourage others to go further with the SDGs. Griffiths is co-chair of the Bond SDG Group, which helps member organisations to make more effective contributions to the goals and engages with the UK government to help them implement them more effectively. The company also ran a recent campaign in which more than 48,000 people from 121 different countries signed a petition calling for disability rights to not be forgotten at the UN SDG Summit. This was handed directly to leaders from more than 20 countries across Africa, South Asia and Europe.
“Developing economies are just so much better at implementing the SDGs,” he says. “It really fills me with joy – there’s a real sense of ownership. The SDGs are a forum for much better stakeholder and multi-stakeholder engagement. It encourages civil society and government to sit down and talk constructively with one another.
“It really requires governments like ours in the UK to take this agenda more seriously and to let it drive what they’re doing better.”