Sarah Cummings 

Knowledge for Development Partnership and Athena Institute, VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

From my perspective, the SDGs are fundamentally flawed because they are not based on local realities and local knowledge. Although they present the first universal development agenda and present a transformational vision, they cannot work if they do not harness the transformational role of knowledge. ‘Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development’ (UN, 2015), the final text of the SDGs ratified by the UN, considers that ‘The spread of information and communications technology and global interconnectedness has great potential to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divide and to develop knowledge societies…’ (UN, 2015: page 9). Despite this apparent recognition of the importance of knowledge societies, the current way knowledge is included in the SDGs places too much emphasis on Western approaches, concepts and researchers, and not enough on local knowledge and local realities. In the elaboration of Knowledge Development Goals (KDGs), a new pluralistic vision of knowledge and knowledge societies is needed, one which values local knowledge, cultural and linguistic diversity, and the importance of collective thinking to solve complex problems.

This vision has been championed by UNESCO in the past and I would invite UNESCO, together with like-minded stakeholders, to take up this challenge with the rest of the international community. Development needs to be based on self-determination of communities and societies, based on their own realities and own knowledge. Science and technologies can often help but they should not be the starting point as they currently are in the SDGs. At the level of Goals and Targets, KDGs can also redress the balance in favour of local knowledge and local realities with knowledge perspectives on each individual Goal. At the current time, local knowledge, as traditional knowledge, receives only one mention within the SDGs as part of ‘Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.’ These Goals and targets also need to recognise that knowledge is not only of economic value but that it also has enormous cultural, social and aesthetical value as, for example, literature and the arts. All stakeholders, including UNESCO, other international organisations and networks such as KM4Dev, with a perspective on the transformational role of knowledge for development should make their voices heard with different discourses, narratives and arguments, influencing the future development agenda and the way in which the SDGs are implemented. One such opportunity for advocacy is this international initiative of the Austrian Knowledge for Development Community which is working to conceive a set of KDGs for the year 2030.