Panelists at Women and the SDGs: Partner Perspectives

Women and the SDGs: Partner Perspectives

Time and Place

Wilson Center Auditorium

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Event Details

This event was broadcast by C-SPAN. View the complete recording here.


On August 9, 2016, the Women in Public Service Project co-sponsored the event “Women and the SDGs” with the Wilson Center’s Global Sustainability & Resilience Program and Plan International USA. Roger-Mark de Souza, Director of the Global Sustainability & Resilience Program served as a panelist and offered opening remarks for the event.  Tony Pipa, Chief Strategy Officer of the Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning with USAID, Natalie Co, Senior Manager of Accenture Development Partnerships, and Xolile Manyoni, Co-founder of Sinamandla, South Africa and Plan Global Women in Management participant comprised the remainder of the panel. Ann Hudock, Senior V.P. for International Programs of Plan International USA moderated the event.

Roger-Mark de Souza opened the event by welcoming panelists and attendees to the Wilson Center, and provided an overview of the Women in Public Service Project’s goal of empowering the next generation of women leaders.  Along with discussing the Global Sustainability and Resilience Program, de Souza emphasized the legacy of the Wilson Center, and its recent recognition by the University of Pennsylvania’s Global Think Tank Survey committee as the “#1 think tank globally for trans-disciplinary research.” Ann Hudock echoed this sentiment in highlighting the broad range of perspectives offered by the panelists, which she posited as the key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “There is no one organization that has the answer, and there certainly isn’t one approach.” Hudock then introduced the work of Plan International USA, a child’s rights organization. “We know that to advance the rights of children, we have to first and foremost advance the rights of women.” Therefore, the organization seeks to create opportunities for women, which has been proven to create economic development and social progress in communities where women are empowered as well as “create models for young girls and shape their beliefs of what the world can be.”

Hudock opened the panel discussion by asking the panelists to think back to the Millennium Development Goals and what we learned from them. She asked de Souza “What are the lessons learned in regard to engaging women in achieving the MDGs?” To this, de Souza remarked on the process in which the MDGs themselves were developed. He emphasized the international community’s recognition of a need to obtain the necessary “input, data, analysis, and research that was reflective of women’s priorities.” Expanding on a point made by de Souza regarding the need for increased female representation in government and public service, Hudock pointed to the development of post-conflict Rwanda and Sierra Leone as exemplars of this concept. In response to the same question, Xolile Manyoni said that in contrast to the SDGs, actors lacked the intentional effort to work towards to the MDGs. She highlighted the importance and potential impact of engaging community members in working towards the SDGs.

Building off the idea of engaging community members, Hudock expanded the question of lessons learned from the MDGs to specifically inquiring about the role of partnerships in achieving its intended goals. “The MDGs fell short for the reasons outlined prior…but also for a failure in the language not resonating as much as it could’ve with businesses,” says Natalie Co. She identified that the SDGs do a better job in engaging and leveraging the resources of the private sector. Tony Pipa added that the integrative nature of the SDGs does not limit female empowerment to goal 5, but rather plays to the important linkages of development. “As an example, we know that girl’s attendance in formal schooling translates to lower rates of HIV/AIDS.” He posited that the SDGs are not only more extensive than the MDGs, but also more ambitious, and will require a societal effort to change to achieve them as a result. As a follow up, Hudock asked Pipa how USAID is engaging women in their pursuit of the SDGs. Pipa pointed to the explicit attempts at capacity-building at the local level the agency has employed to target women and girls.

Drawing in Accenture’s recent report on the role of the private sector in achieving the SDGs, Hudock commented that “sustainable development and business value are not mutually exclusive.” Co explained that the report advises ways businesses can “future-proof” their companies by driving financial inclusion and offering services and products that create opportunities to empower women.

Hudock then posed the question on how policy makers can effectively engage the experiences of the most marginalized women. Manyoni discussed the need for a space where dialogue can take place and emphasized the role of the nonprofit sector in serving as a bridge between these two bodies. In order to achieve this, governments must be willing to involve the role of traditional leadership and collaborate with the civil society. Hudock subsequently asked de Souza how organizations can create “brave spaces” to increase collaboration and communication across sectors. De Souza stressed the importance of integrated systems and cross-sector partnerships in creating sustainable impact in communities. He spoke of the successes of existing, decentralized political systems in creating opportunities for women to scale up their leadership potential and serve as role models.

During the Q&A session, audience members asked questions regarding how the SDGs can be realized through the avenues and concerns at the local, national, and international levels. Pipa pointed out that “because the SDGs are meant to be universally applied, we have a platform to break down between the developed and developing world.” Manyoni called for NGO leaders to own their spaces and create platforms from the grassroots level. When asked about how NGO leaders can obtain access to networks, Co acknowledged the capacity constraints all actors face at times and advised community leaders to make targeted pursuits for resources. Manyoni encouraged NGO leaders to bring women together and pool resources to address the pressing concerns in the community. Pipa pointed to the power of data in leveraging the needs at each level. He called for the continued partnerships to obtain gender sensitive data.

Overall, the event highlighted the need for women to be empowered at the local level in making the SDG’s more than a goal, but a reality, and the ways in which partnerships with the private and public sectors can expand that engagement.

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