In many ways, this moment in human history is characterized by unprecedented progress: decreases in violence, declines in poverty rates, increases in education, and improvements in health. At the same time, we are facing many problems of great complexity, some of which have reached enormous gravity. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a public agenda represent a rather comprehensive collection of these challenges, ranging from extreme poverty and social inequality to climate change and food and water insecurity.

As recent reports have shown, the international community is far from achieving the SDGs by 2030, despite a considerable amount of activity being dedicated to them: if we progress at our current rate, it would take until 2094 to achieve these goals. The secretary-general of the United Nations has called for “a much deeper, faster, and more ambitious response” in the UN’s 2019 report on SDG achievement. Put simply, time is running out and there is urgent need for action. To provide just a few examples:

  • 736 million people still live in extreme poverty (on less than USD 1.90 per day) – 413 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Additionally, climate change will have severe consequences for the African continent, causing droughts and resource scarcity, which could result in social conflict.
  • Only 12 percent of the world’s plastic waste is currently being recycled. If plastic consumption continues on its current trajectory, the volume of global plastic waste will almost double from 260 million tons per year in 2016 to 460 million tons by 2030. If we don’t act now, there will be more plastic than fish (by weight) in the ocean by 2050.
  • Female representation in parliaments around the world is currently at roughly 25 percent. Women represent 39 percent of the overall workforce but only 27 percent of managerial positions. Achieving gender equality would not only be an achievement in and of itself, there is evidence that it would also more generally accelerate the attainment of the SDGs.

Unfortunately, humanity’s most pressing problems are extremely complex and deeply intertwined, complicating the task of addressing them. Indeed, the prevalence of and interdependencies between these problems indicate that these are systemic challenges. Thus, to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs, systemic approaches are needed.

Read the full article about systems change at Ashoka | McKinsey & Company | Catalyst 2030 | Co-Impact | Echoing Green | Schwab Foundation | Skoll Foundation | SYSTEMIQ.