Co-Creating equitable and sustainable futures together to address the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

blogDecember 14, 2023

As we approach the end of another year in our journey towards addressing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it is important that we highlight opportunities to leverage the convening role and capacity of post-secondary institutions to advance the SDGs. The 2023 SDG Summit took place on 18-19 September in New York and served to reignite a sense of hope, optimism, and enthusiasm for the 2030 Agenda. While there is hope, there is still much to accomplish as a collective to address the SDGs using an integrated approach that faces the complexities inherent at the nexus of their intersections.

The SDGs were ratified by 193 member countries in 2015 to provide a global framework for action for people planet and prosperity, peace, and partnership. While the SDGs are relevant to all countries, many people are still being left behind, even in high-income countries. A shared agenda is critical now more than ever. While we are at the halfway mark of the 2030 deadline, the SDGs still hold promise, they call for real-world and contextually sensitive evidence to respond to and solve implementation problems facing policymakers, practitioners, communities, and other social actors. Despite this bold agenda, universities were not sufficiently engaged or at crucial policy tables.

Our SDGs@UofT initiative is a strategic response to this gap.  The SDGs is part of the Institutes for Resilient and Inclusive Societies and Ecosystems (iRISE), a Tri-Campus initiative, with a home base at the University of Toronto Scarborough. The SDGs@UofT initiative aims to position U of T as leaders in convergence research that empowers positive actions on the SDGs and informs future global goals for an equitable and sustainable future. The SDGs@UofT is bolstered by the fact that universities can play a role in influencing policy and generating innovative solutions that address the SDGs. The U of T is a recognized leader in sustainability and sees an opportunity to leverage the strong commitment of faculty, students, and staff to not only address the goals but also define the post 2030 Agenda by embracing epistemological and methodological diversity in research that remove siloes and encourage the decolonization of research through knowledge co-production and participation among the diverse communities.

To facilitate this, we recently launched a Scholars Academy that will be a think tank to bring together leading researchers by mobilizing them in open dialogue to advance knowledge, encourage integrated transdisciplinary understandings and address issues that are critical to sustainable development. Co-production is a hallmark of this initiative. Co-production takes on different forms and has different names including community academic partnership; community-based participatory research; co-creation, co-design; and integrated knowledge translation to name but a few.  Regardless, what binds them together is intentional knowledge sharing (and I would add power sharing) between academic and other public, private, or civil society actors all seeking to understand and solve complex societal problems that no one sector, discipline or actor can do alone. The SDGs present such a formidable set of challenges.

During the development of the SDGs@UofT initiative we consulted faculty, students, and staff across all three campuses. We repeatedly heard that we need to create organizational structures to help break down disciplinary silos within the academy to facilitate the generation of transdisciplinary and transformative knowledge that is co-produced with actors outside the academy – those who hold diverse knowledges and ways of knowing. We need to ultimately use this knowledge to make changes in policy and other systems. We need paradigm shifting ideas that are co-produced and implemented by collaborative constellations of actors to address thorny societal problems.

Our initiative’s thematic areas will provide an opportunity to further address the inter-dependencies of the SDGs, to tackle measurement challenges related to assessing SDG progress; and catalyze co-created research that will inform the design of sustainable and equitable transition pathways for cities, that tackles the climate crisis and moves the needle beyond performative global announcements, and systematically address inequities for groups made structurally vulnerable. The year 2024 represents renewal, and a chance to move the needle forward in advancing our vision of being transformative. We will engage in transdisciplinary research that is co-produced and has a dual purpose of empowering positive actions on the current SDGs while shaping the direction of the future goals.

About the author

Professor Erica Di Ruggiero, Ph.D., Research Director, SDGs@UofT

Dr. Erica Di Ruggiero is an Associate Professor of Global Health, Division of Social and Behavioural Health Sciences & Institute of Health Policy Management and Evaluation, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto. She is also the Director of the Centre for Global Health and the Collaborative Specialization in Global Health, and co-director of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Health Promotion. Her program of research examines how evidence affects global policy agendas related to employment, other determinants of health equity in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals. She also studies population health interventions, using novel conceptual and methodological tools to conduct international comparative policy research on global social and health inequities. Prior to joining the DLSPH, she was the inaugural Deputy Scientific Director with the CIHR-Institute of Population and Public Health. She holds a PhD in public health sciences from University of Toronto.

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