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This article summarises Bridget Williams' keynote from the 2023 Step up to the World | Tū Māia ki te Ao forum.

On day 2 of the Step up to the World | Tū Māia ki te Ao forum on global citizenship education, Bridget Williams from Bead and Proceed presented her keynote address, with the aim of educating and inspiring action on the United Nations (UN) 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This article summarises her keynote.

Bridget Williams of Bead and Proceed

© Centres of Asia-Pacific Excellence

What are the SDGs?

The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. The 17 Goals are all interconnected, and in order to leave no one behind, it is important that we achieve them all by 2030.” 

The 17 SDGs are an urgent call for action at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by all United Nations Member States including New Zealand in 2015.

© United Nations

The history of the SDGs

Bridget outlined some of the historical events leading up to the SDGs. 

  • 1972: The UN Conference on the Human Environment was held. This was the first conference of its kind to recognise that the economy and the environment were on a collision course. 

  • 1992: The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted at the Rio Earth Summit.

  • 1997: The Kyoto Protocol was established.

  • 2015: The Paris Agreement was written. This and the Kyoto Protocol build on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. 

  • 2000: The Millennium Development Goals were established, a forerunner to the SDGs. These are generally acknowledged as one of the most successful anti -poverty movements in history.

  • 2015: Agenda 2030, “an action plan for people, planet and prosperity”, was developed and with it the SDGs. 

Agenda 2030

Behind the SDGs is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, also known as. Agenda 2030. The SDGs are the roadmap to help us get there. Bridget outlined three key elements related to Agenda 2030:

  1. The 5 Ps - people, planet, prosperity, partnerships and peace. Bridget felt these were a great place to start and challenged the audience on how they were working towards sustainability in these areas.

  2. SDG 1: No Poverty, is the first priority. Though the goals are all important and need to be actioned together, Agenda 2030 states, “eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development”.

  3. Leave no-one behind.

Blueprint for a sustainable world

Bridget noted that the SDGs are currently being referred to as the world's to-do list and that there's a real question mark around whether we are going to get there by the 2030 deadline. She shared some of the progress that has been made (see the Aotearoa New Zealand dashboard below). Bridget noted that in June 2023 we had an SDG review which was undertaken by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Aotearoa moved from #26 to #27 on the SDG global rank. We have six major challenges: Responsible Consumption, Climate Action, Life on Land, Life Below Water, Partnerships for the Goals and Zero Hunger.


Bridget highlighted  the importance of a goals-based framework explaining that goals bring people together on a collective mission - we can make the impossible possible. She reminded us of a quote by John F. Kennedy: 

By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we help all people to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly toward it”. Commencement address at American University, 10 June, 1963

Bridget presenting at the Step up to the World | Tū māia ki te Ao forum

(c) Centres of Asia Pacific excellence

Bridget talked about how she raises awareness of the SDGs through her workshops. She has workshopped with over 15,000 individuals and helped more than 50 businesses, organisations, and councils align to the relevant SDGs and targets. She leads a creative group activity where people come together to each paint a five beaded necklace or keyring that represents the 5 SDGs most important to them and that they want to work on. Bead kits are available on the Bead and Proceed website and for every kit purchased Bead and Proceed donate a kit to a low-decile school or deserving community organisation.

Bridget talking with participants at the creativity station during the forum

© Centres of Asia-Pacific Excellence

Participants at the Step up to the World | Tū Māia ki te Ao forum had the  same opportunity to select and paint a bead representing the SDG they felt was important to them. These beads were then woven together into a wall hanging representing these SDGs. Bridget made the point that this is visual data, a symbol of weaving together our collective actions to make change.

Bridget holding the completed korowai representing the forum participants' SDG "visual data"

© Centres of Asia-Pacific Excellence

The top goals from forum participants were:

  1. SDG 4: Quality Education

  2. SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being

  3. SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities

  4. SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

  5. SDG 1: No Poverty

Summary of Participant Feedback

After the conference Bridget shared how the creativity station was a place that unlocked conversation. Due to the distracting nature of painting and play, attendees found it easier to open up and share raw and honest stories about why they had selected their chosen SDGs. Here is Bridget’s summary of some of those conversations.

SDG 3: Health and Wellbeing

Many shared how COVID-19 reconnected them to health and talked about how whānau connection is central to their well-being and happiness. Through lockdowns people reconnected with their passions and hobbies and slowed down. Some attendees had continued these changes after lockdowns ended.

SDG 4: Quality Education

The themes that came up when discussing SDG 4 were ideas around how applied knowledge is power, opening opportunities for all, and being students of life all through life. Many shared the importance of growth, knowledge and learning and how naturally their mahi led them to this forum focused on global citizenship and education. Some participants indicated that they would like to be SDG educators or educate for sustainable learning. Some shared how they would be taking the framework back to their schools, universities and organisations to put language to the sustainable impact they want to make.

SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

The themes that came up for this goal were similar to SDG 4 but it was about the vocation of work and how we can harness our unique strengths and knowledge and forge our own empowering career paths. Some attendees shared how they were working with organisations to give students the skills needed to not only get them work ready but champion students to follow their passion and form work around this passion. Many who selected this goal loved the mahi they do day to day.

SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

When asking attendees why this goal was selected, many explained it was the connection to community and culture. One of the biggest criticisms of the SDGs is its very Westernised framework that lacks indigenous perspective and voice. SDG 11 is the only goal that specifically speaks to this under target 11.4, which highlights the need of“protection and safeguarding of natural and cultural heritage.” Therefore, it makes sense that SDG 11 was a high priority for attendees with the connection of honouring the principles of e Tiriti o Waitangi (this is also connected to SDG 17: Mahi Tahi - Partnerships for the Goals and weaving the Treaty through all SDGs).

SDG 12: Responsible Growth and Production

The themes that came up for SDG 12 were around tangible action. Many connected with this goal as it would come up regularly through the daily choices they make with purchasing products, food waste, supply chain and embedding tangible sustainable practices. Participants explained how this is a privilege goal - not everyone is in a position to make a more sustainable choice. A great example is the dilemma of the water bottle: plastic water bottles have negative impacts on our planet yet people need clean, fresh water to survive.

SDG Goal 17: Partnership for the Goals

SDG 17 was often chosen for two reasons: some attendees couldn’t decide what SDG was most important to them or they chose the goal recognising it will take authentic collaboration to achieve the SDGs.

There were some students and teachers who shared that choosing just one SDG was impossible due to how connected they all were and how the linear application of the SDGs do not serve the message of this interconnection. During this korero, the students expressed how the SDGs needed a netted, 3D format, and even a digital directory of what existing charities and organisations are working on certain goals.

Source: SDG Impact Report (2023) by Bead and Proceed Ltd.

SDG Provocations

  • What are you doing to work towards SDG 4: Quality Education, Target 4.7?  “By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development”

  • What is your school and/or community doing to work towards achieving the SDGs? What are some successes so far and what more could you do?

  • Think about ways you can support ākonga to develop an action plan (school, class, group or individual) for one of the sub goals of their chosen SDG and support them to implement this.

SDG Useful Links

Find out more about the SDGs in our GCED and the SDGs article.

See how the UN is framing the SDGs at the United Nations SDGs site

Visit Bridget’s Bead and Proceed website

A useful comparison of each country’s progress and trends on achieving  the SDGs can be found at the SDG progress dashboard by country site.

Aotearoa New Zealand has it’s own page at the SDG Indicators progress site.

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