Working toward SDGs, Egypt feels push and pull between government, civil society and private sector

In 2015, the UN had decided to extend and improve its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) into 17 more all-encompassing SDGs, also known as Global Goals. (Courtesy of UN SDG)

As Egypt works on localizing the United Nation’s (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it faces the challenge of coordinating efforts and promoting a collaboration between government, civil society and private sector.

“There is a real desire to work together…but there remains an understandable mutual distrust that we need to navigate,” Hazem Fahmy, country director of CARE Egypt, said at a recent discussion.

In mid-September, the American University in Cairo’s (AUC) John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy, Civic Engagement and Responsible Business, in partnership with Care Egypt International and United Nations Global Compact Egypt organized a discussion about the challenges and opportunities facing the localization of SDGs, bringing together government representatives with their counterparts from civil society and the private sector

“Our resources are very limited. We need more participation to chip away at the challenges that we’re facing,” said Nihal El Megharbel, first assistant to the Minister of Planning, Monitoring and Administrative Reform.

In 2015, the UN had decided to extend and improve its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) into 17 more all-encompassing SDGs, also known as Global Goals, which came into effect a year later.

There are so many facets that require more buy-in from the government. Civil society and the private sector are doing projects on their own. We need to join in together.

The SDGs tackle a wide range of topical issues, from poverty and gender equality to clean energy, economic growth, climate change and promoting peace. While UN member countries are committed to work on progressing and fulfilling the goals, their dedication is not legally binding.

To work toward the main pillars of the SDGs, Egypt came up with its own strategy, crafted by the Ministry of Planning. The Sustainable Development Strategy: Egypt Vision 2030 (SDS) responds to the SDGs and works on the localization of most of the goals.

Several SDGs had been integrated in the Egyptian plan according to the relevant stakeholders and government entities, leading to a strategy based on 10 main pillars. The pillars include energy, education and training, urban development, health, environment, economic development, social justice, culture, knowledge, innovation and scientific research, as well as transparency and efficiency of government institutions.

Pillars of the SDS are grouped according to their economic, social and environmental dimensions.

Although non-governmental organizations, the private sector and the government have a collective responsibility to ensure the fulfillment of the pillars of the SDS, an apparent lack of alignment stands in the way of realization. The question of which entity should regulate, monitor or execute the implementation of these goals creates a lack of clarity regarding the way forward.

“There are so many facets that require more buy-in from the government. Civil society and the private sector are doing projects on their own. We need to join in together,” El-Megharbel said.

There is also a lack of trust between different stakeholders — i.e. between civil society and the government.

“NGOs are very constrained by various governmental organizations inside the country. They need to be partners. Civil society needs to be better incorporated,” Essam El Adawy, assistant to the Minister of Solidarity, said.

Banks, for example, have been reluctant to adopt the SDS given their focus on profitability. CSR heads and communication representatives at different banks, such as the Arab African International Bank (AAIB), have had to go above and beyond to convince the boards of banks operating in Egypt to adopt sustainable strategies and work on the realization of either the SDGs or SDS.

Eman El Gamal, sustainability and communication manager at AAIB, said, “In the financial sector, we were raised on the principle of making profits. So we started an initiative called Mostadam, which promotes sustainable finance in Egypt.”

Mostadam is a platform founded in 2012 which aims at instilling the connection between economic, environmental, social and governance issues into the bank’s core business operations, policies and practices.

The first milestone of the SDS 2030 is to achieve 10 percent GDP growth by 2020, which is not feasible, according to experts, due to a need of more government buy-in and structured alignment between civil society, the private sector and the government.

The SDS has 250 key performance indicators focusing on the qualitative impact of the realization, rather than just the quantitative one. “We’re focusing on measuring the impact of things – as opposed to just measuring indicators – in our ministry’s 2030 goals,” El Megharbel explained.

The Ministry of Planning had initially started working on the SDS in 2011 with the aim of creating a long-term, tangible sustainable development vision. The SDS was announced a month before the launch and complete announcement of the SDGs; hence, there is a gap between the indicators of the SDS and SDGs. However, they are built on the same general scope.

Different entities have taken it upon themselves to work on a certain challenge. The Cairo office of the International Labor Organization (ILO), for example, has taken on responsibility of goal no. 8, namely the promotion of decent work and economic growth.

Salah Arafa, environmental expert and AUC professor, said, “Free and transparent communication between all stakeholders is imperative. Part of our problem is transfer of knowledge.”

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