Five ways innovation can help us achieve the global goals

It's global goals week and the who's who of social, cultural, environmental, economic and political leaders have descended on the United Nations General Assembly to discuss and debate how to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It's easy to look at these gatherings, like the general assembly, and think that the people who attend them have all the power, money and authority and that us mere mortals who are not there, don’t.

However, as the world's most important “To Do” list, the Sustainable Development Goals give us a shared narrative, a shared agenda for change and a timeline - to achieve the goals by 2030. We all have a role to play.

Five ways innovation can help us achieve the global goals

All Governments and many businesses, philanthropies, local councils and authorities, NGOs, charities, schools, universities, groups and individuals have declared their commitment to achieving the goals, and all of us are needed to achieve them.

However, taking action has proven to be challenging. Here are our five practical suggestions for how you can use innovation to achieve the SDGs.

Form partnerships for the goals.

Goal number 17 is literally, partnership for the goals, it acknowledges that without cross sector partnership we are unlikely to achieve the goals because these big challenges require intelligence and resources from different kinds of people and organisations. Impact Partnerships are one way to bring different parties together to identify a goal to work on together and to track progress collectively. There are already some great partnerships supporting the SDGS with organisations across the globe forming partnerships to work towards their chosen goals, but we need to exponentially scale this activity to achieve the goals.

Be experimental, prototype and set challenges

We don't have all the answers as to how to achieve the goals. All will require systems approaches, changing legislation, as well as, changing behaviour and funding new kinds of organisations and projects.

Encouraging governments to innovate through using an anticipatory regulation approach to test and try new forms of regulation to support the goals is a great place to start. There are also some fantastic ways to experiment and prototype at a community level to generate collective responses to the SDGs. These can be small and incremental to start with and then scaled once proven to work. A proven way to drive new solutions to problems is to develop a challenge. The UN, charities and large philanthropies have been using challenges to try and encourage new ideas and innovations towards the SDGs, any organisation can run a challenge and we have developed a handy guide as to how to run your own.

Scale social innovations that work

So many great ideas and innovations exist within communities that need funding and support to scale. Getting these ideas and people, and matching them with the funds and support they need is tireless business , but without the ‘unusual suspects’ (people and organisations doing things differently from the status quo) we don't get progress. The proliferation of funds, accelerators and incubators for SDG solutions is promising but it's nowhere near the what is done to support non-SDG innovators - like developing a new app. Much more private and public funding is needed to scale these innovations and mainstream them.

Spend time developing the mindset for change

For innovation and change to work and be sustainable a change of mindset is required to be more open, experimental and collaborative. Public Innovators have been developing these mindsets for many years, however penetration of public problem solving isn't as strong as it could be across communities, local government and business. Learning and practising this new mindset required to achieve the SDGs takes investment. Any SDG programme requires an investment in mindset change, coupled with smart ways of achieving the goals.

Generate and sustain collective intelligence

Collective intelligence emerges from the collaboration and collective efforts to work together to develop solutions, and to share what works. It also harnesses the power of data and other machine-based insights to help make our decisions smarter. Without this learning, and sharing this learning, we may achieve some progress but it wont be national, or global. The UNDP have developed 60 Accelerator Labs across the globe to support countries to achieve the SDGs and include the generation and dissemination of collective intelligence. At Nesta we are testing and supporting collective intelligence and encourage all organisations taking action on the SDGs to generate these collective solutions to change.

How can you take action?

The first step is raising awareness. All this week (and into the future) we want to encourage you to share your commitment to the goals online and in real life.

The second step is to take action! These are some ideas for how people and organisations can practically work together to achieve the SDGs. Nesta has over 20 years experience developing these methods of change and would be delighted to support you to achieve the SDGs as much as we can. If you would like more information please email [email protected].


Kate Sutton

Kate Sutton

Kate Sutton

Head of Corporate Social Innovation

Kate was responsible for managing Nesta's Corporate Social Innovation and Inclusive Growth work

View profile