On the 25th September 2015 leaders from around the world came together to finalise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a comprehensive set of aims which will drive the international development agenda over the next 15 years.

The addition of the word sustainable is key; the Millennium Development Goals were widely criticised for their top down approach and failure to adapt to national and local needs. The diversity of goals and targets among the SDGs provides communities with the perfect opportunity to progress in areas that are important to them, and that’s where social innovation comes in.

Social innovation has been variously described as “a novel solution to a social problem” that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than current solutions, including an emphasis that the value created accrues primarily to society rather than to “private individuals” and as those innovations which “are both good for society and enhance society’s capacity to act”.

However most definitions agree that social innovation that puts the beneficiaries at the heart of the solution, and that is what gives it the potential to be so sustainable. This community engagement approach is extremely powerful, after all it is much simpler to identify the needs of a group when you are a part of that group.

Examples of such projects abound, from a focus on how communities in Ethiopia can act on their priorities using existing resources to the allocation of healthcare funding in Southamptonand redevelopment of historic buildings in Scotland. Expanding these approaches to prioritise areas that communities care about is central to the success of the SDGs and current developments in technology are arguably putting us in the strongest position in history to do so.

Technological innovations and the rapid expansion of mobile technology worldwide mean the world is more connected than it has ever been. Mass real time feedback on programs from their beneficiaries would have been nothing more than a pipedream 10 years ago but is increasingly possible. Harnessing these developments to empower communities can ensure progress on the sustainable development goals is truly sustainable.

The role of Social Innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

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