How inclusive voluntary national reviews can help us work towards the SDGs

Aissata Ndiaye, July 2021
A group of people with disabilities raise their hands.

Voluntary national reviews (VNRs) exist to look at how countries are making progress on meeting the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sightsavers has played an active role in working with partners in 17 countries to promote the participation of people with disabilities in national development planning processes.

At this week’s High-Level Political Forum, hosted by the United Nations in New York, I attended a virtual session looking at the voluntary national review process, and focusing on how making VNRs inclusive can drive progress towards achieving the SDGs.

The main point emphasised by several of the panel members was the critical importance of ensuring meaningful participation at local levels and encouraging ownership of the VNR processes. Without this participation and ownership, the SDG targets cannot be met. Here’s my round-up of key highlights from some of the session’s speakers.

Rosa Malango, UN director of regional commissions, New York Office
Rosa reiterated the importance of ensuring inclusive VNR processes in line with the SDGs, with their commitment to leave no one behind in our pursuit of a prosperous, inclusive and sustainable future. She stated that broad ownership of the SDGs and national development plans is key if we are to live up to Agenda 2030 and the UN Charter. She also shared information about COVID-19 policy briefs being launched for different regions, with their implementation being monitored through a stimulus tracker online.

Joy-Marie King, director of international trade at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Immigration, Antigua and Barbuda
Joy spoke about how Antigua and Barbuda ensured participatory VNR process through online consultations and questionnaires (sent electronically) with follow-up meetings being held by telephone.

Phurba Phuba, senior planning officer for the Gross National Happiness Commission in Bhutan
Phurba explained how Bhutan has taken a participatory approach, including parliament, political parties and civil society groups (including women and young people). This approach has seen greater progress than in the previous VNR. All stakeholders were invited to have input and share data, with workshops and meetings held when useful. The consultation process helped create greater awareness and ownership by the various stakeholders, and the result was a five-year plan for SDGs implementation in Bhutan.

Elias Aspudd, former youth officer at UN Association of Sweden and board member of Plan International, Sweden
Elias emphasised the importance of including young people in the VNR process. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs initiated a meeting in December with a survey and workshop. The most important issues raised and discussed included climate change, global health, gender equality, climate change, biodiversity and reducing inequality. Elias spoke about how youth consultation enriches and deepens understanding, and contributes to engagement and ownership within the younger group.

Lauraine Habib, senior policy analyst at the Sustainable Development Unit, Egypt
Lauraine shared key results from Egypt’s VNR participatory approach, including having a clear motto that the VNR is a country report, rather than a government report. She also spoke about the importance of promoting a sense of ownership for sustainable development, encouraging more organisations to participate and share their work.

The session really highlighted for me that meaningful participation provides the basis for further implementation and, ultimately, attainment of the SDGs. Ownership and partnerships are both essential. This will need continued input at local levels through voluntary local reviews (at council level), which Sightsavers is looking forward to supporting in its countries of intervention using our disability inclusive score card manual, learning document and brief.

Sightsavers has supported 25 VNR processes since 2016, working with partners to promote opportunities for the voice and participation of people with disabilities in national development planning processes. We are also supporting broader civil society forums, both new and existing, by setting up sub-groups within coalitions, as has been done in India, Senegal, Kenya and Uganda, or by building sector-specific coalitions supporting disability rights.

Leaving no one behind means starting with meaningful local participation while allowing space for ownership, and we plan to continue taking this approach as we support countries to conduct their voluntary national reviews in the years to come.

A young girl smiles as she stands in a classroom.

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Aissata Ndiaye.

Aissata Ndiaye is a global advocacy adviser at Sightsavers.


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