In a recent report on the state of the world’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the U.N. Secretary General did not mince his words: “An urgent rescue effort is needed…to get the SDGs back on track.” Three years into a global pandemic and related social and economic crises, a projected 75-95 million more people are living in extreme poverty, hundreds of millions of children have missed out on critical education, and global energy-related CO2 emissions are on the rise again in a world riddled by violent conflict and deepening geopolitical division.

The SDGs—which embody the world’s foremost economic, social, and environmental ambitions to be achieved by 2030—were no easy fix to begin with. Not because solutions and resources to achieve the SDGs do not exist, but because the SDGs are challenges that must be addressed together. Go-it-alone approaches will not cut it: Technical advances and financing required within each SDG must be coupled with policies and politics that manage tradeoffs across all the goals to ensure that no one is left behind. Getting the SDGs back on track will require nothing short of a global collective effort—by all and for all.

Yet, the world’s existing capacities to forge international cooperation, represent citizen interests, and spark new forms of collaboration and innovation for planetary sustainability and societal wellbeing are clearly not measuring up to the scale and urgency that a rescue effort for the SDGs demands.

A biologist or behavioral scientist might suggest that what’s needed to rescue the SDGs is collective intelligence. Collective intelligence refers to the ability of a system to perform at levels greater than the sum of its individual parts. Ants in a colony, neurons in a nervous system, or musicians in an ensemble produce impressive collective-level feats that no individual ant, neuron, or musician can achieve alone. Intelligent collectives, in turn, provide an environment in which individuals can survive and thrive.

Collective intelligence for the SDGs would require the global system—made up of traditional sovereign-based institutions of international cooperation as well as an increasingly diverse ecosystem of subnational, civil society, and private-sector actors—to perform at levels greater than the sum of its parts to drive progress within each 17 SDGs and across all goals at once.

Read the full article about collective impact and the SDGs by Jacob Taylor at Brookings.