Community action is vital to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

By Casper Erichsen, David Ruiz Villafranca, Marielle Hart

David Ruiz Villafranca is the Senior Policy Adviser at Stop AIDS Alliance based in Geneva; Marielle Hart is the Lead Policy at Stop AIDS Alliance based in Washington DC; and Casper Erichsen is the Head of Influence at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will only be possible with adequate political and financial support to local communities. They deliver horizontal outcomes across the SDGs and provide comprehensive and people-centred services that bridge silos, reach the most vulnerable – including key populations – and contribute to the overall health and wellbeing of the individual.

HLPF 2017 community actionCommunity representatives from Botswana, Kenya, Sri Lanka and the IFRC with Luiz Loures: Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, Minister Lilianne Ploumen from the Netherlands, Minister Kristian Jensen from Denmark, and Minister Romain Schneider from Luxembourg at an event on Community Action during the HLPF in New York, July 2017. © International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Between 17–19 July, we participated in the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in New York to advocate for stronger political support for community action as a key element of achieving the SDGs.

Whether it is HIV, Ebola, yellow fever or assisting people in complex settings, local communities have integrated solutions to serve those left behind. For example, it is not possible to meet the needs of communities affected by HIV by providing HIV services alone. We also need to address structural, social and economic drivers of the epidemic, taking a holistic and integrated people-centred approach. This is crucial to achieve the SDGs.

Community action is not just a catalyst, but critical for achieving sustainable results

Despite all our efforts during the past months to influence the HLPF Ministerial Declaration – including a call to action, side events, and many engagements with stakeholders – it ended with one that did not give the level of attention we would have liked to see on the role of communities to achieve the SDGs.

Our take away from New York

Even so, we felt inspired by the great support from some member states to community action, that hopefully can be translated into policies soon. We hope our take away from New York, below, will help us to strengthen our future advocacy work in the context of the HLPF and the SDGs.

Community action is a global value

Community action happens all over the world and shows critical results across the SDGs. The few events organised on community action were an excellent opportunity to hear from ministers and communities about the broad spectrum of community work, its impacts and different modalities of partnerships. As an example, we heard Minister Lilianne Ploumen (Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands) saying “in the Netherlands, government and civil society have a tradition of working together. Local communities have been the key change agents and our partners. Without them the Dutch government would have been never as effective at the national, and international level”. Community representatives from all regions highlighted in New York the centrality of community in making progress in the SDGs and the need to globally broaden the space for local communities.

Community action was recognised as key to achieve the SDGs

For example, there are important debates taking place around the future directions of national health systems and health financing in the context of Universal Health Coverage (UHC). It was very refreshing to hear Minister Romain Schneider (Minister for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Action of Luxembourg) reflecting how crucial community action is in achieving UHC. It was the first time for us to hear a government specifically stressing the role of community action in this context. It was also very inspiring to hear Minister Kristian Jensen (Minister for Finance of Denmark) stressing that “efficient implementation of SDGs requires adequate investments for community actions, both by international donors and governments”. There are strong political leaders championing the role of community action to achieve the SDGs and we need to seize that.

The real change will come from the community

It is essential to strengthen in-country capacity and engagement of country partners in influencing the SDG agenda. To have bigger impact and advocate effectively for stronger support for and investment in local community action as part of the SDG agenda, there is a need to increase awareness and literacy around the SDGs. Any further action at New York level needs to build on this.

From recognition to political commitment

The ministerial declaration of the HLPF is a broad general document that mainly reiterates what has already been agreed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is always difficult to introduce new language into a declaration; so we need to be very strategic and focused and build on existing political commitments for community action. For example, the 2016 AIDS Political Declaration and the World Humanitarian Summit among others set specific targets for funding for community action.

Next year’s HLPF is about transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies and in 2019 the HLPF will be about empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality. These spaces will be crucial for our work on community action for key populations, human rights and HIV.