Sustainable Development Goals, an opportunity for transnational solidarity

Civil society activists share their ideas and strategies on SDG implementation-the need to think without a box and talking eye to eye

A two day conference (6-7 November 2015) on SDGs and transnational activism in Berlin got together an exciting mix of open culture initiatives where activists and practitioners shared their approaches for ‘doing development differently’. Organized by Partnership with Africa Foundation, the focus was on SDGs and numerous participants highlighted the ambitious but challenging nature of the SDGs. Some were skeptics while others were hopeful. The goals are voluntary and many consider this a major flaw in fulfilling SDGs. However, the civil society is already making an effort to keep the momentum on SDGs.

Participants exchange ideas/© Lukas Goltermann
Participants exchange ideas/© Lukas Goltermann

One of the key difference with  the SDGs in comparison to the MDGs is that the SDGs apply equally to the global north as to the global south. Germany will have a new SDG implementation strategy and many organizations will play an important role in its implementation. One of them is Open Knowledge Foundation, which is developing a set of 70 indicators to collect and monitor data that will focus on tracking the implementation in Germany.

Giving the keynote speech, Veronica Tomei of German Council for Sustainable Development urged the participants to keep the pressure on fulfilling the SDGs.

Keep the pressure, confront the politicians who signed the SDGs and make sure they deliver on it.
Veronica Tomei of German Council for Sustainable Development

The conference was the conclusion of a week long fellowship programme Global Changemates, an initiative of the Partnership with Africa Foundation that focused on exploring and learning new approaches to social activism between participants from Germany and Kenya.

SixDegrees talked to some of the participants who shared inspiring ideas to ‘do development differently’.


Ruth Kimani works at Hivos in Kenya , an international organization that seeks to contribute to a free, fair and sustainable world. Hivos works through two main domains; the Open Society which works towards building open and democratic societies and a Green society that works towards a sustainable society.

My role is in programme development, geared towards women’s rights, sexual rights, and capacity development. I work in East Africa. A part of my work is to identify ideas and individuals who works and think outside the box, rather without the box. I am interested in the ‘Changemates programme’ because it provide an opportunity to develop context sensitive pro-active approaches, signalling promising trends and bringing players together to co-create solutions. For example, in East Africa, we have women’s participation, violence, employment for young people as major issues. For me it is important to see what others are doing in such movements moving away from the log-frame; look at ideas that can be tested and the results scaled up.

What are key concerns with the civil society movement in Kenya and East Africa?

The civil society movement in Kenya is growing strong particularly on playing the watchdog role. They continue to hold those in power accountable despite numerous challenges. Now the government is tabling the Public Benefits bill to stifle participation of civil society. However, several civil society organizations under the umbrella ‘CSO reference group’ have been spearheading a campaign to mobilize CSOs to participate in the development and implementation of a new legal, regulatory framework of CSOs to do public benefit work. Introducing  restrictive legislation is self-defeating for the government because if you look at the development work done in the country, approximately 97 % of the work is being undertaken by civil society organization. At the end you ask yourself, who needs whom. Another issue is the donors shifting goals, especially in times of elections or other emergencies. In Tanzania which had elections recently or in the upcoming elections in Uganda and Kenya, the development partners do not rake up the crucial issues, and the civil society has to work in tune with donor priorities. Do we stop what we are doing or focus on what our donor is trying to push for? This has also been a key concern and leads to confusion CSOs, where priority keeps shifting depending on context and politics.


First of all, I would like to say that many people do not know about the SDGs. Even when it was MDGs, we still had issues. What I will say is that the work that we do should be aligned to the SDGs. I am happy about the reporting mechanism put in place. Before it has always been the responsibility of development partners and the global institutions and the issues never trickled down to the national level and hopefully, now this mechanism will help in implementation.

IMG_9303Yvone Olnoch from Kenya is founder of SKIRTS (Socially Keen Individuals Redefining Tech Spaces), an initiative for giving young women voice on various issues in society. Yvone have studied IT, business management, taught in universities and also runs a consultancy firm providing technical support to companies.

We undertake training providing skills to young women on how to make their digital life secure. This is because some of the stories they share are very personal stories and can put their life in danger as they come out in the open to share their them.

What triggered the need to work with women, to empower them?

I always had a lot of things to share but was not comfortable sharing them openly in the public and was very scared of public opinion. I wanted to find a way-how I can openly talk about the challenges I face in my life as a women but in a way that it does not compromise my identity. I attended some workshops and through those trainings, I got some skills. I learnt how to work with anonymity and pseudo names and how you can maintain different identities online. When I pitched these ideas to other women, they were like this is awesome. Everyone was enthusiastic and wanted something like this, there was a demand for it and and so I decided to push it and SKIRTS was launched.

I work with mostly young women and students, numbering about thirty. Most of the stories are targeted on the social media space, especially Twitter, where we undertake social media campaigns. The intention is to create awareness on cyber bullying and job discrimination for women in 21st century.

What are the challenges that you have to deal with?

One of the challenges is that in the global south, most women are not in the online space. You realise this when the same people are always coming to events. The questions one asks is are you making any impact. Hence the need to organize offline meetings is also important. We go to the people, grassroots, build trust, record their stories and bring it to the online space.


SKIRTS intends to work specifically on Goal number 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), so that we can create awareness and provide women with information on the prospects of alternative employment opportunities. Our minds are not always able to think of fresh employment ideas. The internet gives an option to dive into a whole new space for different job options.

IMG_9305Anna Lafrentz from Germany works on a variety of fields but all focus on tackling social inequalities and injustices.

I do political education with teenagers and on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) issues. I generate donations for WASH with an NGO called Viva con Agua. We initiated a social art gallery in Hamburg and added ‘art’ to WASH which is Water Arts Sanitation Hygiene. Art in every kind is a good medium of communication at the eye to eye level. We think that art, music and sports are universal languages. This can build cooperation. I want to fight stereotypes but not by reproducing them.

What are the challenges that you have to deal with?

For centuries now, global north decides what happens in global south and we have deep imprints and socialised on this. Here in the global north, often I noticed that people only want to help and that it is good for humanity. But they don’t realize that this might not be a right way. There is a lot of complexity behind giving money-its an unequal relationship. On the other hand, in the global south you have to adapt, for example while travelling. I try to pretend there is no difference but it is hard. I think a good sense of humour works, having fun together, smiling, using universal languages help to overcome these issues but still a long way to go.

What is new to the development sector is that we implement activism. Now, local WASH projects are supported by local institutions and this is a change. A student from Uganda came to Viva con Agua in Hamburg, as an intern and after the internship was over, he went back and based on the new knowledge initiated Viva con Agua Uganda. They support local projects and raise money for them too. This is a change. And then in a few years, we can talk eye to eye.


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