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How to Get Beyond the Doom and Gloom: Align OGP with the Sustainable Development Goals

Para salir del pesimismo, alinear a OGP con los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible

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Sarah Mendelson |

Notwithstanding the airiness of a late spring day in Ontario after a long winter or the charm of the Rideau Canal, the OGP Summit in 2019 was bound to be gloomier than previous ones I’d attended. I was at the launch in New York in fall 2011, when it felt as if a global, organic anti-corruption movement was picking up so much steam that it had helped bring down dictators and gave once-in-a-life-time hope to youth across the Middle East. In London in 2013, it still felt as if technology was playing a largely positive role in advancing governance. At USAID, where I was lead on democracy, human rights, and governance, we were launching all sorts of initiatives to harness tech for good, including “Making All Voices Count,” a Grand Challenge for Development that we hoped would enable those in government to listen and respond to the elevated voices of citizens using affordable technologies.  

In 2015, I came to Mexico City as part (again) of the US delegation just days after being confirmed by the Senate as Ambassador to the UN’s Economic and Social Council. The demands of the new job dominated my thinking; I don’t remember much except surprising my boss in the swimming pool early one morning and being inspired at a reception by the passionate Ukrainian delegation and their commitment to ending corruption in their country, still drawing energy from the Euromaidan.


Rakesh Rajani at the OGP Global Summit in Canada.

The gloom that hangs over so much these days was to me perhaps best and unintentionally personified by Rakesh Rajani. In 2013, he had memorably shared the stage with President Kwikete. By now, Tanzania has left OGP, and Rakesh in Ottawa was asking hard questions about whether OGP was delivering for citizens. The closing civic space epidemic  has made OGP more indispensable but also has put burdens on the entire enterprise. I remember raising this issue at an OGP meeting in 2012 to be met with largely blank stares. Now, closing space, the rise of authoritarians, threats to freedom of the press are all topics of discussion at any OGP gathering.

The one bit of good news I see in 2019 is the power of aligning OGP with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially around the 16+ agenda—creating peaceful, just, and inclusive societies. It was on that topic that I chaired a panel of distinguished speakers from government, international organizations, and civil society journeying from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the United States, and Europe. The conversation suggested that the SDGs and OGP seem to be experiencing benefits from localization, making these agendas real for people.

Session on SDGs at #OGPCanada moderated by Ambassador Sarah Mendelson.

The SDGs can benefit OGP and vice versa. For example, harness the access to justice metrics in the SDGs and pull forward transitional justice mechanisms tomake the OGP agenda relevant for societies emerging from conflict. Increase demand for uncovering beneficial ownership as an effective pushback to those advancing closed societies and corruption, agendas favored by the Putins and the El Sisis of the world. Step up our ambitions around reducing all forms of violence and reducing inequality.

As a voluntary independent platform, OGP can help increase public awareness of the SDGs.  OGP can help nudge greater collaboration (including from donors) around the 16+ agenda, as is occurring with other SDG clusters, such as those around climate. Collectively, by 2030, OGP can help grow a new generation of human rights activists using data to demand transparency and accountability and demonstrating an SDG effect in governance. Nothing gloomy about that!    

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