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Convenors act as the connective tissue for SDG changemaking and localization efforts, helping to raise awareness about the SDGs, foster dialogue around issues and solutions, and create places and platforms for learning and connection.

With broad community connections and established partnerships, convenors can be effective in helping people find common ground and align efforts around SDG localization so that their impact can be amplified, and sustained.

Raising Awareness about the SDGs in Communities

To be a part of SDG localization, it is important for changemakers of all kinds to understand what the SDGs are and how they can be used in the context of their own work and communities. Raising awareness about the SDGs is often one of the early steps in the localization process and can inspire a sense of personal responsibility, as well as laying a foundation for collaborative work in the future. Convenors often speak the language of many sectors. This means that they are well positioned to help raise SDGs awareness, increasing community-level understanding and action planning. With increased awareness of the goals and values of the SDGs local people can develop a sense of ownership over the localization process and begin to develop solutions that work in their local contexts.

Making the Case for SDG Localization in Mid-Sized Cities

Mid-sized cities have been identified as places where innovative approaches to social and economic transformation are emerging. Across Canada these mid-sized cities – ranging in size from 50,000 and 500,0000 people – are incredibly diverse with adaptive qualities which offer opportunities to develop, test and co-create strategies for sustainable development.

Designed and delivered with this context in mind, SDG Cities demonstrated how the SDGs could be activated in mid-sized cities to make progress on SDG localization. Project collaborators, 10C Shared Space and the Pillar Nonprofit Network worked locally to increase understanding of the SDGs and their relevance to local communities. By sharing local stories of SDG action and integrating SDG language into their own program impact communications and storytelling, both 10C and Pillar demonstrated how the SDGs could truly be used as a “shared language”. By leveraging the strength of their existing networks and active involvement in the social innovation ecosystems, both locally and globally, 10C and Pillar supported SDG action within their communities and beyond.Supporting the cultivation of a common vision, they hosted community-wide conversations like provincial and municipal election town halls at 10C or Pillar’s #PolicyTalks series which engaged nonprofits in collective policy advocacy. Informed by the needs of local changemakers, they also developed knowledge hubs and learning opportunities, such as SDGs 101, and a series of SDG training sessions as part of the SDG Cities Academy. 

Creating a shared understanding of Human Rights and Leave No One Behind in Nogojiwanong | Peterborough

Raising awareness about the SDGs must extend beyond a growing familiarity with the 17 goals, to include the foundational principles and values that guide implementation of the goals, including human rights and Leave No One Behind (LNOB) (Mensah, 2022). Those left behind are often economically, socially, spatially, or politically excluded and not only left behind, but pushed back by policies and oppressive systems (United Nations, 2018). Actively working to leave no one behind means reaching those who are furthest behind first, and working to identify and dismantle the factors that are pushing people back. 

In Canada, Indigenous people and communities are those furthest and most often left behind. Moving forward on the SDGs and the foundational principle of Leave No One Behind,  means increasing awareness of the 17 SDGs and their relationship to other frameworks and action plans – such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). UNDRIP articulates the rights which “constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the Indigenous peoples of the world” (United Nations, 2007). As a global agreement, UNDRIP, like the SDGs, requires local awareness and action to ensure Indigenous self-determination and sovereignty can be realized. 

In their leadership of an SDG localization process in Nogojiwanong | Peterborough, the Kawartha World Issues Centre and Green UP worked to increase awareness of the SDGs by centering Indigenous experiences, knowledge and leadership from the very beginning. This focus on Indigenous leadership throughout the process of SDG localization emphasized the marginalized status of Indigenous communities nationally and locally, and helped the community come together to understand and take action on the principle of leave no one behind in a local context

Mensah, J., A. Mensah and A. Mensah. (2022). Understanding and Promoting the ‘Leaving No One Behind’ Ambition Regarding the Sustainable Development Agenda: A Review. Visegrad Journal on Bioeconomy and Sustainable Development. 11. 6-15.

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. (July 18 2018). SDGs: Leaving no one behind? Some are being pushed back.

United Nations (September 13 2007). United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Creating Spaces for SDG Learning and Dialogue

Convenors create space for SDG learning and conversations through a wide range of opportunities – both in-person and online. With virtual engagement there has been an emergence of digital spaces, however creating spaces where people can connect in person can have an extremely positive impact on SDG the success of SDG localization. Regardless of where learning and conversations are happening, convenors can work to empower local efforts and foster community involvement – and help SDG Changemakers find allies. In this way, they help to promote alignment between local changemakers and encourage cross-sector that can lead to new and innovative solutions. Efforts of convenors can help to ensure dynamic, inclusive, and effective engagement around the SDGs in local communities

Example: SDG Idea Factory, Downtown Kitchener

With the opening of the SDG Idea Factory, a physical space that fosters social innovation and the exchange, the City of Kitchener and the Waterloo Region Small Business Centre has demonstrated commitment to the SDGs and capacity to convene locally focused SDG work. Their SDGtalks event series, launched soon after the SDG Idea Factory was opened, helped to generate excitement about the new space and raise awareness about the SDGs in the community. With events focused on each of the 17 goals, they are highlighting the local people and organizations who are making contributions towards the goals everyday. The success of these events has been in supporting local conversations about the SDGs that are led by those in the community who are closest to the issues.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with Naudia Banton, Manager of the Waterloo Region Small Business Centre and the SDG Idea Factory at the SDG Idea Factory in February 2024. Also pictured Mayor of Kitchener Barry Vrbanovic and Bardish Chagger, MP for Waterloo

Help build a common vision for the SDGs Locally

Convenors play a crucial role in supporting the growth of collaborations and partnerships to advance the SDGs. Cultivating a common vision that is inspired by the SDGs – and grounded by local priorities can be a valuable way to build partnerships around common goals. Through fluency in the shared language of the SDGs, convenors can help to bring people together – both within and across sectors – finding new opportunities for collaboration and partnership driven by a shared, community focused vision for the SDGs.

Localizing SDG Indicators for London Ontario

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People sorting SDG squares.
Changemakers in London, Ontario supporting the development of localized indicators for the SDGs.

Voluntary Local Reviews as a Roadmap for Localization

Voluntary Local Reviews or VLRs offer communities around the world a framework for working together to localize and make progress on the SDGs. VLRs are locally focused processes that allow communities to “take stock” of their SDG progress identify priority areas and develop systems to track and report progress and the impact of local actions. In Canada, cities like Kelowna, Winnipeg and Thunder Bay, are demonstrating capacity for leadership and cross-sector convening, developing community-wide buy-in around the SDGs. Led by local governments, nonprofit organizations or multi-sector coalitions, the process of developing a VLR can provide different groups with a common purpose and a focused approach to SDG localization. With a collaboratively developed VLR, communities not only align their local priorities to the SDGs but can also begin to collectively identify opportunities for action that leverage strengths and resources available within the community. The concept of a Voluntary Regional Review (VRR) is emerging as a new approach to local progress tracking that leverages unique regional strengths and addresses shared issues. A regional lens could open up new opportunities for collaboration for mid-sized cities and small communities.

Resources for Convenors

Centre for Sustainable Development & The Rockefeller Foundation (2022). Rejuvenating the Sustainable Development Goals through shared action: 2022 Global Flagship Synthesis Report. https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Rejuvenating-the-Sustainable-Development-Goals-through-shared-action-17-Rooms-Report-Final.pdf

International Institute for Sustainable Development. (2022). Voluntary local reviews of progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: A handbook for Canadian communities. https://www.iisd.org/publications/guide/vlrhandbook-canada/   

Board of Innovation. (n.d.) SDG Explanatory Cards. https://info.boardofinnovation.com/hubfs/tools/NEW%20tools/SDG%20Explanatory%20cards.pdf

The Danish Institute of Human Rights. (n.d.) The Learning Hub. https://www.humanrights.dk/learning-hub 

The Danish Institute of Human Rights. (n.d.) Indigenous Navigator. https://tool.indigenousnavigator.org/ 

Raoul Wallenberg Institute. (2022) Localsing Human Rights in the Context of the SDGs: a Handbook for Cities. https://rwi.lu.se/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/620ed3001b5ad246260506.pdf 

Alliance 2030. https://alliance2030.ca/