As we embark on this great collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind. Recognizing that the dignity of the human person is fundamental, we wish to see the Goals and targets met for all nations and peoples and for all segments of society. And we will endeavour to reach the furthest behind first. (2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, para 4)
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development affirms the commitment to “leave no one behind” when considering its implementation. This new concept is referred in several paragraphs (4 26, 48 and 72) and not only reflects the enormous ambition of the new framework but also demands concrete approaches from all sectors and actors to make it a reality. This concept is closely tied to the commitments towards universality, equality, dignity, justice and solidarity expressed in the 2030 Agenda. It also reaffirms and gives substance to the principles of universal application – that all goals should be met by all countries, “getting to zero” “and “achieving universal access”.
“Unpacking” the concept: What is “leaving no one behind”?
As implementation starts, it is important that Member States “unpack” the concept of “leaving no one behind” clarifying its meaning and translating it into action-oriented and human rights based policies and programmes at all levels.
“Leaving no one behind” demands that the implementation of the 2030 Agenda targets all peoples, without biases or any type of discrimination, going beyond “averages” and addressing inequalities of opportunities and outcome.
In terms of equality, “leaving no one behind” is inherently anti-discriminatory, in directing attention to the achievement of the goals for “all segments of society” demanding the goals to be reached for everyone regardless of gender, race, caste, ethnic group, class, religion, disability, age, geographical location, sexual orientation and identity, health or any other status. This (i) reflects and reinforces the ways that many goals and targets are framed as access for all, everywhere and (ii) is closely connected to the guiding idea of equal dignity and respect that underpins universal human rights.
“Leaving no one behind” can be translated into providing opportunity and access for everyone to participate in decision-making processes and in the conceptualization of policies and programmes that affect their lives. This demands a meaningful and inclusive engagement of all stakeholders and at all levels; based on an enabling environment and transparent and accessible communication and information channels that favors the inclusion of the most vulnerable and marginalized.
This concept comes hand-in-hand with the commitments towards inclusion and participation – also reflected at the 2030 Agenda: without meaningful participation and consultation, without establishing mechanisms to hear the diversity of voices, implementation will not address the root causes of inequalities and other development challenges and will not lead to sustainable development. A world where “no one is left behind” is one with formal systems for dialogue between governments and citizens and in which all rights are indivisible, protected, promoted and fulfilled.
Moving beyond consultation, this concept also implies galvanizing talents, capacities, ideas, creativity and contributions of all in the implementation of the SDGs. This means a new approach where those that are considered as vulnerable or marginalized could act as agents of change and not merely as beneficiaries of policies.
This concept might also be understood as an affirmation of equality for all in life chances and opportunities – meaning that if no one is left behind all enjoy the same level of opportunities and chances or, when referring to the SDGs, the goals will only be considered met if met equally for everyone, everywhere. Governments should avoid narrow interpretations of this concept that consider that “no one should be left with nothing at all” as this would not promote the inclusion and transformative potential of the new Agenda.
The focus on the “furthest behind first” demands a new approach, starting with the marginalized, the excluded, identifying who they are, the barriers of exclusion and the mechanisms of inclusion and setting up policies and programmes tailored for this new approach.
2. Implementing “no one left behind”
Leaving no one behind should be considered regarding some aspects: (A) the implementation of the Agenda; (B) Data and Measurement and (C) Monitoring and review
Moreover, only participatory approaches for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will generate the necessary ownership of the Agenda at all levels.
A. Implementation of the Agenda
Policy development: To leave no one behind, countries need to implement the SDGs by asking how to reach those hardest to reach, and adopting policies that are attentive to discrimination, marginalization, violence, vulnerability (including to climate change) and exclusion. This has implications for policy design – as something to be addressed in the ends and means of particular policies adopted and in screening for any unintended consequences of those policies.
The MDGs were framed in terms of, and measured by, a series of aggregated measures. By contrast, the principle of 'leaving no-one behind' can be viewed as a direct response to the resulting tendency for states to focus on "low hanging fruits" – that is, those most easily helped - while ignoring those hardest to reach. As a guide for policy, “Leave no-one behind” is a commitment to resist the quickest wins in an effort to reach everybody. This will demand tailored approaches as well as evaluating and updating policies continually to ensure that there are no backtracks. This is also a matter of the quality of coherence between the policies, meaning that if they leave some behind, then they should not truly count as being “coherent”.
Prioritizing the development of policies that target the most vulnerable and marginalized is critical for governments to uphold the commitment of “reaching the furthest behind first”. Mechanisms to identify what population groups are not being included in budgets, policies, services provisions and programs must be in place. It is also important to set up accessible spaces and structures that facilitates for the participation of those people and connect them with their governments. Regular consultations, direct, accessible and formal mechanisms for participation and inclusion, reaching out and feedback should be included in planning for the implementation of Agenda 2030.
Specific legislation should be developed and agreed to support turning global commitments into national laws and budgets, reaffirming principles (including “leaving no one behind”) and allocating financial resources for the national and sub-national implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The role of the Parliament is critical in this sense and civil society organisations should be consulted whenever those laws are being discussed and before their enactment.
Addressing interlinkages between the goals and not tackling the Goals in silos will also be key to ensuring that no one is left behind. Just one example is the link between water, sanitation and hygiene (Goal 6) and health (Goal 3): access to WASH services in health care facilities ensures quality and safe care and minimises the risk of infection for patients, caregivers, healthcare workers and surrounding communities. Another example is how access to social protection systems (Goals 1 and 10) and decent work (goal 8) by households in vulnerable situations has a direct impact in the education (goal 4), health (goal 3), nutrition (goal 2) and equal opportunities (goal 10) for their children.
Participatory implementation – One step to make the implementation of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development truly inclusive is establishing tools and mechanisms that promote awareness about the new Agenda – in different languages and accessible – to all.
The 2030 Agenda also calls for the participation of all stakeholders in its implementation, which means going beyond the actions led by governments alone. A sense of social cohesion and shared endeavor should be promoted and the SDGs are a useful tool in this regard.
First, participation of those furthest behind is necessary to designing and reviewing policies that truly leave no one behind. However, participation in decision-making or review is also an arena, in its own right, in which all people should be included. Without ways in which those “furthest behind” or most vulnerable or marginalized can bring attention to their experience, there is always the prospect of them being missed; and the lack of a voice and representation in relevant forums is one aspect of their vulnerability or marginalization, or one way in which they are already left behind.
Second, “Leave no one behind” is powerful and it can be best achieved focusing on the “furthest behind first”. Participation is key to succeed with the SDGs but cannot be considered a “magic solution”, especially when trying to reach the most excluded. Those are mostly “invisible”, sometimes does not even officially “exist” and even if identified usually "do not have time to do anything else other than trying to survive the day. They often may not have the resources and abilities to participate although they certainly have the potential of becoming agents of their own development. New approaches will be needed to allow for their meaningful participation and active engagement.
Finally, discrimination is also a major issue, within society, within communities, by service providers, within the government and even within families and this has to be addressed at all levels. “Reaching the furthest behind first” requires strong leadership, clear targets, mobilization and openness to finding new ways, and to adjust policies, service, regulations and standards to the reality of the excluded. Civil society organizations play a key role supporting their governments in translating this concept into a reality.
B. Data and Measurement
Measurement and disaggregation - The SDGs differ from the MDGs in that the focus moves from the averages to the hardest to reach and a simple percentage of achievement will not appropriately measure success.
Disaggregation of data will be vital to meeting the vision of 'no one left behind'. The establishment of a working group within the Inter-agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) to take forward discussions around data disaggregation is a good start but also means this area (and guidance for taking forward at national level) is a work in progress. Capacity needs to be built now and continuously improved and technical support increased at a national level to ensure data disaggregation is possible and measures the most vulnerable and marginalized groups.
Data disaggregation is crucial in making the differentiated progress of different groups within a larger population visible, so as "to ensure that no-one is left behind" (2030 Agenda, para 44). Agenda 2030 also adopts, as a guiding principle, the requirement that data must be "disaggregated by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability and geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts" (para 74). The need for timely and reliable disaggregated data across the full range of Together 2030 - From Ambition to Implementation: Ensuring that no one is left behind- April 2016 5
SDG indicators is an important aspect of the wider idea of a "data revolution for sustainable development". Without this data, it will be hard to see who has been left behind and in what respect.
Disaggregation will also be required beyond the core characteristics outlined in the 2030 Agenda and this should be part of an inclusive consultation on disaggregation at all levels. For example, it is recommended that data collected under indicators 6.1.1 and 6.2.1 should be disaggregated by service level so that it is possible to measure improvement in access to basic water and sanitation services, to respond to the target language of ‘equitable access’.
New and improved data collection systems must be designed and financed and existing data collection mechanisms must be rethought and improved to identify what has been left behind and why. For example, household surveys are the most common data collection systems for data on children and their living conditions, but this mechanism excludes all children not living in households (hundreds of children living in the streets, alternative care settings, etc.) and their realities are uncounted and thus, not addressed.
Sources of data and use of geospatial information management should be integrated into data-driven policies and mainstreamed into sustainable development planning. Participatory mapping should also be used as a tool that promotes transparency and addresses the root causes of development challenges.
C. Monitoring and review
“Leave no one behind” with respect to monitoring is not just a matter of data disaggregation. It is also a monitoring and accountability agenda: reviews of SDG implementation should "have a particular focus on the poorest, most vulnerable and those furthest behind" (para 74 e). Country reports and those of other actors should explicitly address this principle and highlight how the most furthest behind have been specifically addressed.
It is also key that clear multi-sectoral institutional arrangements for monitoring and review are established at the sub-national, national, regional and global levels with clear spaces and mechanisms for participation and contribution from civil society, networks and other stakeholders. A multi-sectoral approach will facilitate coalition and partnership building at the national level.
“Leave no one behind” should become a norm, a standard against which implementation is assessed. States should comply with this principle – in the policies they develop, and how those policies are evaluated (and say so in their national plans) – or else feel obligated to explain why they have not been able to. Where state policies, institutions, or simply aspects of progress achieved, appear to have left someone behind, there should be a clear expectation that other states highlight this at the global level (HLPF) in discussions of country reports
3) The Role of the HLPF in Ensuring that “no one will be left behind”
The HLPF has an important role in setting up transparent and inclusive monitoring and review tools for the global level that facilitates the incorporation of inputs from civil society, networks and other stakeholders and creates appropriate and accessible spaces to bring the voices and representation of the most vulnerable and marginalized. A workable and effective relationship between the HLPF and vulnerable and marginalized groups will ensure that the voices of these groups are mainstreamed at the global level and take active leadership roles in stakeholders participation.
The HLPF also plays a role in reinforcing global commitments and in presenting concrete recommendations for improved implementation at the national level. Linkages, best practices, and shared information need to be established between the HLPF, sub-national, national, sub-regional and regional levels to ensure that the most vulnerable and marginalized groups are fully included in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda at all levels.
The HLPF should exercise its coordination role and closely follow up on implementation at all levels and also promote and coordinate high-level initiatives emerging after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda. The HLPF should also monitor and review the work of the IAEG to ensure that the process related to the development of indicators respects the ambition of the Agenda and is linked to regional and national indicator development.
Mechanisms for civil society and stakeholder participation at the HLPF should be reinforced and Member States should demand reports on how the most vulnerable and marginalized are being included and are participating in the deliberations and coordination efforts. Direct efforts by Member States should be undertaken to make sure that those who are considered to be “left behind” have the opportunity to participate and contribute to the deliberations of the HLPF.
The HLPF is also a forum for sharing best practices and peer and mutual learning about how to design policies that “leave no one behind”. It can also ensure that “leaving no one behind” is a principle not just found within individual countries’ plans but in the “global partnership for sustainable development”. The HLPF should serve to promote the idea of “leave no one behind” as a transformative commitment, to give it substance, and to highlight what it should mean in practice.
"The next development agenda must ensure that in the future neither income nor gender, nor ethnicity, nor disability, nor geography, will determine whether people live or die, whether a mother can give birth safely, or whether her child has a fair chance in life. This is a major new commitment to everyone on the planet who feels marginalised or excluded, and to the neediest and most vulnerable people, to make sure their concerns are addressed and that they can enjoy their human rights”. (High Level Panel)