By Lewis Ryder-Jones, Chair of SDG Network Scotland
Last time I checked, SDG Network Scotland had almost 700 members, 189 more than this time last year. This continued growth – at a time when the network has no direct funding nor defined staff to support it – is a testament to what the network has achieved to date, to the continued relevance of the SDGs and to its potential.
But let’s be clear, the network is in a transition period and there is much work to do. As recently nominated network steering group chair, I thought I’d share some reflections on what we’ve been doing and what’s coming next.
What’s been happening?
Over the past two years, the Network has enjoyed much needed in-kind support from the SCVO (and Paul Bradley as coordinator), following initial funding to form the network from the Big Lottery Fund in 2017. It has also successfully formed active working groups leading involvement on different issues, such as the supplementary Scottish VNR published last year.
Last year, however, the SCVO decided that the time was right to step back from this facilitatory role. This transition is still in process, and SCVO have made it clear they want to help the network find its feet elsewhere before stepping back completely. Sadly, this also means we do not have the same direct support from a network coordinator, but Paul continues to offer his time and support in his other capacity at the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development (FDSD).
With these changes in mind, last November network members voted in its first ever official steering group . With its own Terms of Reference, a diverse range of voices and renewed energy, the formation of our steering group is a big step forwards providing the network with the basis for a new independent governance structure.
Since then, the steering group has met three times, and has begun looking towards the future. We have met with Scottish Government officials focused on SDGs and engaged in some important planning as we start to set some short-term objectives for the next year or two to ensure the network is sustainable and can work towards its mission to make Scotland a more sustainable nation by facilitating collaborative action towards the SDGs.
Clearly, there are some major hurdles to get past – particularly when it comes to identifying funding to support network coordination. But even in this uncertain time, the network has continued to foster collaboration and build awareness. We even influenced two of the five main political party manifestos in the run up to the Scottish Election through our open letter on a wellbeing and sustainable development bill signed by over 70 organisations across Scottish civic life.
At our most recent steering group meeting, we agreed some priority areas to focus on. These include a major focus on network sustainability, building engagement with and between network members and crucially, how and who we engage with externally. You can view our evolving plan as a steering group here.
In the coming months, different members of our steering group will push forward on different areas. That said, we need input from the wider network too – everyone is invited to share ideas, get involved and shape the network’s future. The steering group remains completely transparent and committed to the values and behaviours developed in 2019 – our meeting papers can be found here.
We will also be moving to a new online forum to enhance our ability to facilitate online discussion between members in a way that is not so possible just now. While this is necessary for the transition, finding the right platform, albeit within the constraints we have, is vital if we are to collaborate more effectively as a network. We will share more on this shortly.
This past year or so has been tough in so many ways for all of us. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, rising global poverty, the climate crisis and the nature emergency all continue to demonstrate that there is much to do to achieve our shared global goals that the SDGs articulate so well.
I firmly believe that strong cross-sectoral civil society-led networks such as this one are going to be crucial if we are to have any hope of finding new and better ways to work together, hold governments account and build support for the vital system changes necessary to make our collective future sustainable.
The steering group has been busy behind the scenes to ensure we put SDG Network Scotland on a sustainable footing, so we can make great strides together in the coming years.