Three years ago, New York made headlines when it became one of the first cities in the world to formally report on its local progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to the United Nations by submitting a Voluntary Local Review (VLR). The SDGs are a natural language for the city, which is home to diverse communities — including the world’s largest diplomatic corps — and which launched its own sustainable development plan, “OneNYC 2050,” focused on growth, equity, sustainability, and resiliency, several months before the SDGs were adopted in 2015. New York City helped to adapt the national tools for reporting SDG progress for cities and states and spurred an international movement, with more than 20 cities across over 15 countries signing a VLR declaration in 2019 to report on their own progress.

The VLR declaration was born within the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs, which cultivates channels of collaboration and connection between New Yorkers and their international peers. The office also administers the NYC Junior Ambassadors program, helping seventh graders learn more about the UN, the SDGs, and how their communities’ local challenges connect to the world. Through its Global Vision|Urban Action initiative, the office uses the SDGs to share its innovative sustainability work and exchange best practices with other cities and countries.

The importance of achieving the SDGs grew even clearer for New York City when it became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. in March 2020. The haunting images of empty streets, supply shortages, and makeshift morgues in one of the world’s liveliest cities were just one part of the story. As in so many other places around the world, what New York’s pandemic experience illustrated in stark terms was that despite some progress, there are still alarming levels of inequality and disparities. At the same time, it reinforced the importance of local leadership as city governments are deeply connected to their communities’ needs and are usually the first responders to crises.

As NYC works to recover from the pandemic, it is taking these lessons to heart and placing the SDG ideals of equity and justice at the center of its approach.

Driving these efforts is a dynamic team of women in the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs. From advocating for girls’ and women’s rights to supporting underserved communities, they have arrived to their roles from diverse experiences where they have internalized the SDGs as an obvious blueprint toward a better future.

Get to know three of these women here, and learn more about why the SDGs matter to them.

Read the full article about the importance of SDG achievement by Sarah Aloui at United Nations Foundation.