Trees in A Forest

How do national and international factors interact in empowering some states of the Global South to make more progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals than other states?

After completing our group project on Sri Lanka and participating in the Zoom meeting, I gained an interesting worldview in that progress on one SDG is often contingent on the progress made on another. For example, Sri Lanka suffers from an economic downturn caused by an over-reliance on the tourism industry. This lack of a diversified income base from major sectors of the economy (agriculture, industry, trade) has caused Sri Lanka to fall deeper and deeper into debt. While researching Sri Lanka, my group and I found that financial mismanagement and corruption significantly halted progress on sustainable development goals, because it created an income disparity and poor economic policies which in turn created a ripple effect that affects the entire country. In the Zoom meeting held last Tuesday, most groups were able to connect high corruption to poor SDG progress, such as in Bangladesh, which fails to meaningful reform government and is in much the same boat as Sri Lanka, debt ridden and weak economically. A notable exception to this time of downturn in Southeast Asia was Singapore, which surprised me. As someone who had infrequently looked into Singapore, I was surprised to learn from the group which covered it that the government offers programs that allow for transparency between the government and the governed. This is definitely due to successful actions taken along the guiding lines of SDG goal 16, which focuses on peace, justice and strong institutions. Because of this financial management, Singapore is able to continue in its efforts to aspire to the goals set by the UN.

Another key issue that impacts sustainable progress on the SDGs is trade regulation. There has always been a need for trade, whether for natural resources, humanitarian aid, munitions or any other purpose. This hunger to trade has been necessary to connect a domestic market to international buyers. Trade is key to growing a sustainable economy and having meaningful trade agreements with neighboring states opens the door for other lasting bonds to be formed. In the case of Sri Lanka, the fishing industry is a major sector of the economy yet these fishermen do not get to share in the fruits of their labor with what they do make often going to make sure their family can eat, their means of transport is fueled and their kids could possibly seek an education as inflation runs rampant with no end in sight, even considering the recent IMF bailout. Yet with a lack of strong institutions, natural resources cannot be used to the fullest potential. Goal 8, economic growth and decent work is often hinged on whether Goal 16 has succeeded as one cannot function without the other.

When I first started the project, I had originally thought of the SDGs as trees in a forest. They all share a collective mindset but other than that, they never intersect. At the conclusion of this project, that changed. What had once been a forest had been condensed into a single tree which each goal being a branch with leaves being the product of success.


3 responses to “Trees in A Forest”

  1. I like your metaphor. The SDGs certainly interact a great deal, just as national and international factors in each state’s ability to make progress. I guess the liberal concept of complex interdependence captures something of this process.

  2. That’s such a lovely way to look at the UN SDGs! From your analysis of Sri Lanka and Singapore, it is evident that for both countries national factors, such as financial management and corruption, play a significant role in sustainable development progress. Yet, we understand that regardless of the difficulties a country may be facing unique to their circumstances, most countries can connect by overcoming their struggles to achieve the UN SDGs. It’s a lot more interesting to see how progress on one SDG is contingent on progress made on another, and how most countries are connected when it comes to sustainable development progress. Your blog makes me wonder what other national and international factors can impact sustainable development progress, and how can countries in the Global South address these factors to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030?

  3. Great post, Mason! I loved the analogy you used as it showed a great level of thought and consideration. You mentioned specifically the interaction between SDG 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions) and SDG 8 (work and economic growth). I agree completely on the interrelationship between these two goals in particular and was reminded of how deeply the political and economic spheres are in dialogue with each other through my own group’s podcast on Algeria. We spoke, for example, of how Algeria’s military regime and low democratic accountability were mirrored in its economy where there was a similar accountability deficit; state-owned companies freely exploited the country’s oil resources without sharing those spoils with the rest of the population. I wonder if you think the relationship between SDG 8 and SDG 16 is consistent across all regime types or whether it may be even more true of nondemocratic regimes?

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