Marikit Soliman, winner of “Achieving the SDGs in the extractive industry” competition, was sponsored to attend the 5th Annual International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD) at Columbia University in New York, September 2017. She shares her learnings from the conference.
Having the opportunity to attend the International Conference on Sustainable Development was incredible. At the beginning I was not clear on the purpose of such a huge conference. What really comes out of it? But as I listened and reflected on the ideas and experiences shared, I realized this is the venue to exchange what is being done in different parts of the world. This is where practitioners learn from each other, in an effort to converge initiatives with similar goals.
Sustainability Beyond Aid
The key note speaker on the first day of the conference was President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana. He talked about Ghana’s success in implementing programs contributing to the SDGs. What struck me the most was his vision for his country to have sustainability beyond aid. I see that there are two ways to achieve this, one is development organizations to being independent of donors and grants.
I really like the idea of self-sustaining organizations through for profit means that address social needs. I believe this is the way development projects should evolve.
When grants and donations are given, there can be undue influence by donors on decision making. If organizations are able to sustain themselves, then they would be able to make decisions independently.
The second way is economic independence of countries beyond aid. This is what the President of Ghana spoke of. He envisions Ghana as a country less dependent on aid through increased industrialisation. I think this is what most developing countries aspire to. This is what it really means to achieve sustainability, organizations and countries being independent, by having their operational resources that yield meaningful socio-economic changes.
Capitalism for the Common Good
In the conference, concepts such as Capitalism for the Common Good were discussed. Alexander De Croo, Minister for Development Cooperation in Belgium, discussed their work with World Bank to develop financing schemes for the SDGs. Their efforts focus on social responsible investing and packaging an SDG bond for investors. He mentioned that more products such as these should be available to the market to give options for private investors to profit while targeting sustainability goals.
On the second day of the conference, I participated in talks on Indigenous People and the SDGs. I learned hybrid concepts of mixing traditional and mainstream economic theories. This is a perfect example of market based approaches to development that consider important traditional and cultural practices.
It is worth bearing in mind that when working with Indigenous groups, development may not necessarily mean continuous growth in income. Traditional economic principles employ taking only what you need, not want you want. Overwhelming financial capital does not necessarily always equate to better lives for Indigenous People. There needs to be proper management of financial capital to invest in community needs and wellbeing.
Leadership, Mentorship, and Networking
It was exciting to hear the speakers highlighting the need for leaders to mentor other people so that the change is effective. As a development worker, I am in constant search for people who can mentor me, who can give constructive criticism and teach me to be better.
In one of the side events of the conference, in a meeting on Extractive Industries and the SDGs, I presented a proposal on an Indigenous budgeting tool for Indigenous Communities receiving royalty. It was such an honour to be with people working on making the EI more sustainable. The exchanges of ideas between colleagues gave different perspectives. Adopting to changes through learning and being open to different ideas is crucial if you want to find effective solutions to problems. Having the opportunity to attend the International Conference on Sustainable Development was incredible because I was challenged to think of things previously unimagined, and think of ways to operationalise them.