Leave No One Behind: Accelerating Action for People Caught in Crisis


Up to four in five fragile and conflict-affected states are unable to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to a new report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and International Rescue Committee (IRC). David Miliband, President and CEO of the IRC, said that the SDG drive to end poverty is “off-track” because the solutions to tackle it have been designed for stable states, whereas these programs are not equally suited to fragile and conflict-affected states.

The organizations responsible for the report, together with British Filmmaker Richard Curtis, an SDG Advocate, co-sponsored a September 27th reception at IPI. The event brought together members of civil society, international government actors, and representatives of the the private sector for a screening of Mr. Curtis’ short film, created with the IRC to raise awareness for and promote action towards achievement of the SDGs.

In opening remarks, IPI President Terje Rød-Larsen said that no single actor alone can provide the necessary support to people in countries experiencing crises and highlighted the benefits of partnership that draws on the insight of multilateral actors, the capacity of national governments, along with the innovation of the private sector.

Mr. Miliband argued that it is possible to combine “serious issues and serious speakers” with “dynamism,” through platforms such as film. Over the next year, world leaders will gather to audit processes over SDGs, and he said, “We need to make sure they prioritize people in conflict situations,” and “make sure we drive the innovation to reach these people.”

One way forward, Edna Adan Ismail, former Foreign Minister of Somaliland, recommended, is through youth empowerment projects. “If children don’t have something to live for, if young people don’t have a means to develop their energies, ambitions, skills, and contribute to the development of a nation, we could also be facing problems,” she said. Citing Somaliland’s experience with its diaspora, she said, “Somaliland mastered the process of self-help in Africa.” Somaliland’s resilience, she suggested, could provide lessons for achieving the SDGs.

Mr. Curtis’ film, Our Future Under Fire, followed. The film, which he planned to show “wherever possible,” conveyed the message that the SDGs contain the answers to the “biggest crises we are dealing with,” he said.

The SDGs are also a “massive opportunity” for the private sector, said Rebecca Marmot, Global Vice President, Partnerships and Advocacy, at Unilever, next to take the stage. She argued that representation in media helps to make the goals relatable to “everyday problems” on the ground. We need to integrate these messages like we do consumer campaigns, she said, and to ask, “What kind of products and services do the private sector have that can help refugees?” One way, she said, is to “change the perception of refugees, try to provide them with opportunities, and try to give them free movement.”

Ed Skyler, Executive Vice President of Citigroup, said that Citi stands behind the SDGs as “worthy projects,” and that through his company’s business operations he strives to achieve gender equality, and to work on further ways that the private sector can help.

Elizabeth Stuart, Head of Growth, Poverty, and Inequality at ODI, elaborated on the findings of the joint ODI-IRC report. This, she said, would be the start of continuing partnership. But she made note of the fact that “at a time when largely things are getting better, things are getting much worse in fragile and conflict-affected states.” One striking example from the report was of a primary school in South Sudan, where 5,000 children were enrolled in a school with only 38 teachers, a 1:138 ratio. To address what needs to be done, she called for a high-level panel; flexible, long-term aid; and thorough understanding of and support to the SDGs.

Echoing the collective call to action, Sarah McGrath, Director of UN and International Financial Institutions in the Development Cooperation and Africa Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland, shared Ireland’s vision for the SDGs. In her country, she said, “commitment to leave no one behind must reach the furthest behind first.”

At a time when multilateralism has been called into question by authoritarian actors on the global stage, “we must not dismiss our belief in collective action,” she asserted. In the Irish mission, “hope underpinned our determination to change things for the better,” she said, and the SDGs are the “best way” to enact that hope and to “show that we can succeed.”