By Adrienne Ahn
“We are going to need extraordinary and creative means of collaboration to mitigate this calamity.”
One year ago, these were the words of world-renowned economist Jeffrey D. Sachs during the Together l Ensemble 2020 Conference opening remarks. Over two days in May 2020, the Together l Ensemble National Conference virtually gathered more than 1500 people across industries to discuss progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and changing realities across Canada. Like many others in my field, I turned to engaging with individuals through conference sessions to discuss the increasing challenges the pandemic posed for Agenda 2030 for the SDGs. In retrospect, Dr. Sachs made a convincing case by emphasizing the need for unique ways of collaboration during this time of disarray.
We are still thinking about solutions for the ‘quintessential public good challenge’ that John McArthur described in the “Building Back Better in the United Nations Decade of Action’’ panel. Sector coordination, community cooperation, and collective collaboration remain a priority to not only handle the enduring health crisis, but also to drive efforts toward the 169 interconnected targets.
Together l Ensemble 2020 was, in many ways, an interdisciplinary amalgamation of sustainable development and cooperation-focused dialogues raised by those working in the public and private sector, academia, and civil society. This meant that sessions prompted critical discussions about the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on those with intersectional identities, women, Indigenous peoples, people of colour, and people with visible or invisible disabilities. As the conference dove into powerful talks about SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals) and contrasts between the domestic response and international response for societal regeneration, speakers highlighted Canadian innovations to improve the current realities surrounding issues such as data collection, climate action, education, and environmental racism.
A presentation led by Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada outlined one of the initiatives to address the SDGs called the Spirit Bear Plan. This plan thrives on the purpose of reconciliation and calls for ending public service inequalities that have historically been directed to First Nations children and families.
A Glimpse of Post-Pandemic Progress
While Together l Ensemble 2020 took place near the onset of the pandemic whirlwind, the conversations that happened back then are still — and arguably even more so — relevant today. What was expected to be a faster period of recovery turned out to be much more gradual across local communities, leaving a wave of opprobrium to linger in discussions surrounding SDG priorities.
Conversations highlighting progress on gender equality, reconciliation, improving community health targets, and the need for accountability measures in all dimensions of the SDGs are inevitable today. We are able to move beyond awareness and commit to reconfiguring systems that no longer serve transparent, accessible, and integral purposes by understanding Agenda 2030 as a blueprint to a better world. There are ways you can track the global progress on the SDGs by doing research, or by checking the global indicator framework and SDG tracker.
What will be important now is tracking the universal momentum towards concrete, actionable progress across the SDGs, across sectors, and between people. As we reimagine policies, solutions to address magnified global inequalities, and system efforts to stop COVID-19, the concluded Together l Ensemble Conference enables transcendent reflection on the missteps and steps that brought us here. Creating similar ways for communities to engage in these conversations through events and conferences is necessary for a transformational and inclusive recovery. I extend my gratitude to the Inter-Council Network for strengthening a pan-Canadian movement for sustainable development and inviting me to share my experience through this delegation.