As we celebrate PwC becoming our 60th Partner, UKSSD Network Director, Emily Auckland, reflects on what we’ve achieved and what we need to do next.

A little under two years ago UKSSD barely existed, today we celebrate PwC signing up as our 60th partner organisation. Having reached this milestone, it feels appropriate to evaluate what we’ve learnt and celebrate our collective success.

The consensus is clear, people care about sustainable development in the UK and want the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to make a difference here.

Looking back at our early and sometimes awkward conference calls, we didn’t have a clear understanding of what our intention was and what we wanted UKSSD to achieve aside from wanting the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to resonate in the UK. From uncertain beginnings, we gained momentum when we launched the network at a conference in April 2016.

Given how new we were, it felt phenomenal to have 100 organisations attend on the day of the conference. In March 2017, we upped the ante when 300 organisations joined us to explore how the SDGs could transform the UK.

Every week we have 2-3 conversations with organisations who are enquiring about joining UKSSD. While 60 partners is a brilliant achievement, so is knowing that we have an extended network of 420+ friends, and approximately 40 of these organisations are currently talking to us about becoming a partner.

Most of our partner organisations want to have a role in achieving the SDGs. Others may not be enamoured with the Goals, but they are committed to sustainable development and they see the value in working with like-minded organisations through our network.

All the organisations involved in the network play a valuable role in helping us to exist. Our growing coalition is a signal that UKSSD is on the right track and that people care about sustainable development in the UK.

Our voices count for something, so don’t stop talking

While we might be frustrated with the lack of engagement from the Government on the SDGs it’s clear that we are still having an impact.

In January, we launched our Open Letter to the Prime Minister. Over 80 UK businesses called on Theresa May to work with them to deliver the SDGs. The PM took the time to respond to us and to reaffirm her commitment to delivering the SDGs in the UK. But what now?

The PM’s response was fantastic but we must keep asking for more to make sure the Government responds appropriately to the opportunity presented by the SDGs. We now need to ask how we keep our dialogue with the Government open, and pending the result of the election, we need to decide with our partners how we deliver our message.

Although engagement with the Government may be an uncertain area, local and regional engagement isn’t. We’re already seeing brilliant local responses to the SDGs, such as the newly formed Bristol SDGs Alliance. Likewise, we need to explore how cities and the new Mayors can give us an opportunity to support local action and how UKSSD can engage with this.

We’ve already started to show that there is power in the collective voice, especially when it can speak to a large and diverse audience. We need to keep that conversation going and help others to take part.

Less talk and more action

We find that organisations engaged with UKSSD are on a spectrum, from being new to the network and the SDGs, to those that are actively working in collaboration with others to make things happen. Whatever the sector, location or scope of the organisations we talk to, they’re all keen to act. 

This raises some important questions about our role – do we facilitate or activate?

At a basic level, UKSSD is supporting change by sharing and elevating knowledge and expertise from within the network.

We can help to stimulate new ideas and opportunities as we continue to deliver events and bring our network together. But these ideas won’t necessarily move forward without nudging and coordination from us. We’ll be exploring this with our partners at a strategy workshop next month. It’s important that they have the space to play a role that is meaningful for them as organisations so we want our future activities to ensure this happens.

Despite this, we can continue to communicate to a wide audience about delivering the SDGs in the UK and ask questions that stimulate action even if we ourselves aren’t responsible for driving it. 

Moving forwards, we need to be true to UKSSD

It’s hard not to get trapped in reflective mode when you reach a milestone. We need to celebrate all that we’ve achieved and learn from it, but we also need to remain mindful of the work we’ve got to do.

Our mission is ambitious: to inspire, influence and inform people, communities and organisations to transform the UK into a truly sustainable society. To achieve it, we need to recognise that at the very heart of what we do is creating the space to allow organisations to have a role to create decent work in a prosperous economy and a fair and just society – all within the Earth’s limits.

In the next year, we will continue to build consensus, use our collective voice and find a way to act.

To be part of that, join the network