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Don’t Just Educate: Pushing the Envelope with SDG Advocacy

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

Eliana Fleifel, Global Schools Advocate, Canada

For six months, I was on a mission to integrate the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs or Agenda 2030) into the K-12 system in Waterloo Region. I was so excited to share this world changing agenda with our future leaders, and to my delight, my audience always shared the same excitement. In all the schools I presented at, students and their educators expressed so much interest in the breadth and promise of these 17 goals. But, if awareness and inspiration was all I sparked, I wouldn’t have done the job I set out to do. I dedicated an enormous portion of my presentation prep thinking of ways I could empower my audience to be actors for the SDGs, rather than passive recipients. I asked myself, how could I prove that a 9th grader could advance these goals as much as a policy maker? Could I show the ripple effects that their individual actions would have on multiple SDGs? Could I challenge my audience to act on what they learned when I am gone? These questions led to the creation of a learning activity that was successfully implemented in my term as an advocate. The three aspects of the activity were: Ideate, Map, and Challenge.

Ideate- once the SDG framework was introduced to the class, I asked students to suggest one action they could take in their personal lives, at school, or in their volunteer work that would advance any of the SDGs. Each answer was written on a sticky note and then handed to the student that contributed the answer. Students were then asked to match their suggestion to an SDG by pinning their sticky note to one of the 17 SDGs projected against the white board. For example, a suggestion to recycle might be pinned on SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production). The goal of ideating was to encourage students to brainstorm and share ideas for sustainable action and then see the direct impact of that action on the achievement or advancement of an SDG.

Map- In the mapping part of the activity, students were asked to draw two arrows that showed direct (and/or) indirect links between their suggestion and two other SDGs. For example, the student with the suggestion to recycle (under SDG 12) could draw an arrow to SDG 15 (life on land) and SDG 14 (life below water). Along the arrow they drew, they were also asked to write a few words explaining the link. For example, the arrow that linked recycling to SDG 15 could read: “increased recycling reduces deforestation and biodiversity loss that result from the need for landfills”. Mapping allows students to critically think about the ways sustainability issues are interconnected, and how their solution/action can have ripple, holistic effects on other issues.

Challenge- After having a short class reflection on the outcomes of the ideation and mapping exercise, students were handed a sticky note from the whiteboard at random as they made their way out of the classroom. This random sticky note was not returned to students as a suggestion for action, but rather as a challenge to take action. This part of the activity always left students feeling nervous and anxious about the challenge they’ll end up with. However, those very reactions told me that they really understood the weight and impact of the action they were about to hold in their hand and how honoring it would carve their mark in a global pursuit to progress sustainability. The challenge component of this activity was so successful that one student once approached me with the dream to major in international development after she moves on from K-12 education. If there is one thing I truly hope advocates in this program and others do moving forward is empower and encourage action as much as they educate and inspire. Don’t just leave your audience with a basic knowledge of the SDGs, leave them with a conviction that they can do something about them.


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