How Does Pluralism Advance the Sustainable Development Agenda?

Pluralism is core to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals

Pluralism is in the DNA of the United Nations…Pluralism is the only way, I believe, that we can leave no one behind and effectively address the global challenges we face and further peace and prosperity for everyone.

Amina J. Mohammed
2019 Annual Pluralism Lecture, Lisbon, Portugal

At the root of many of the global challenges outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are issues related to diversity – particularly, inequality and exclusion. Ethno-cultural, religious, indigenous or gender-based differences intensify this exclusion.

Societies are more peaceful and prosperous when they are inclusive, yet building inclusive societies requires leadership, a commitment to eliminating barriers to inclusion and efforts to reduce inequalities.

Building inclusive societies requires institutional responses and behavioural changes that ensure that every person is recognized and feels they belong.

In June 2019, Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations delivered the 2019 Annual Pluralism Lecture, How Does Pluralism Advance the Sustainable Development Agenda? Ms. Mohammed articulated the pressing need for pluralism for achieving the SDGs and highlighted the dangers posed by growing inequalities.

According to Ms. Mohammed, both action and investment are needed if nations are to meet their development targets: “Let’s be frank: inequality is growing both within and between countries. Youth unemployment is at alarming levels, and intolerance, extremism, nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise.”

Even as some progress is being made in tackling poverty and improving maternal health, growing inequalities are rolling back gains in other areas, and in the worst cases, fueling conflict and forced migration.

    Her remarks were a call to action, encouraging key actors to take hold of new actions, or ‘radical shifts’, to achieve the SDGs. The three shifts she referenced are:

    • A shift in mindsets away from accumulation by a few and exclusion of the many, to a paradigm based in interdependence with each other and with our environment
    • A shift in policy solutions that are based on mutual gains rather than zero-sum thinking
    • A shift from a definition of security based on an ever-increasing stock of weapons and stronger borders, to one that is based on resilient societies and mutual respect for each other and particularly our planet

    The Centre’s research on education, governance, justice and human rights, peacebuilding and conflict prevention, and measuring inclusion advances Agenda 2030 by supporting partners including policymakers and practitioners, the private sector, civil society and community leaders to “leave no one behind”.


    Education is critical to advancing pluralism and to achieving sustainable human development. Exclusion and inequality in access to education can limit opportunities in political and economic spheres, and social mobility. Ensuring equitable access to quality education (SDG 4) can help achieve long-term transformative results in behaviour and attitudes needed to advance and sustain pluralism and build inclusive societies. The Centre is developing an educational framework to foster the skills, attitudes, knowledge and values that will enable learners to contribute to secure, peaceful and prosperous communities where diversity is viewed as a source of strength and innovation.

    To help achieve the targets for SDG 4, the Global Centre for Pluralism’s forthcoming programming aims to:

    • Equip teachers with the knowledge, skills and confidence to address issues related to diversity in the classroom.
    • Build the capacity of youth to engage effectively, respectfully and productively with differences, on and offline.
    • Empower education leaders to develop strategies to strengthen inclusion in schools.

      Governance, Justice and Human Rights

      Without justice for all people, the world will not be able to end poverty, reduce inequality, reach those who are furthest behind, or create conditions for shared sustainable prosperity, peace and inclusion. The Centre believes that the rights of every person regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or indigeneity merit the full protection of the law. Unfortunately, the Justice for All report estimates that approximately 235 million people live in extreme conditions of injustice including slavery, statelessness and high levels of physical insecurity.

      To highlight the global justice gap and discuss the realities and implications for Agenda 2030, the Centre partnered with the Task Force on Justice, and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) for the Canadian launch of the report Justice for All.

      The panel emphasized that a people-centred approach is crucial to narrowing the justice gap. Advancing inclusion and access to justice cannot be left to the government alone. In order to address high levels of injustice, particularly among vulnerable groups, their voices must be heard and their participation actively sought.

        Peacebuilding and Conflict Prevention

        Efforts to strengthen inclusion and reduce group-based inequalities are key to promoting peace and averting conflict. Conflict destabilizes and polarizes societies, undermines the integrity and efficacy of institutions, reverses development progress, and destroys the lives and livelihoods of those caught in the middle.

        The Centre recognizes the importance of identifying and mitigating sources of conflict for societies to achieve Agenda 2030. To support national and international actors focused on preventing conflict and promoting peacebuilding, the Centre partnered with the IDRC to host the Canadian and Kenyan launches of the joint UN/World Bank report Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict.  In Kenya, the Centre convened a series of events with experts to discuss the findings of the report and offer a Kenyan perspective on the challenges and successes of development, inclusion and conflict prevention.

        The Centre is also supporting the work of Alice Wairimu Nderitu, a Kenyan peacemaker, conflict mediator and gender equality advocate, and winner of the 2017 Global Pluralism Award. Alice helped negotiate peace between ethnic groups following the 2007-08 Kenyan election violence and led efforts to ensure peaceful processes during the 2010 constitutional referendum and 2013 elections.  Read more about Alice’s approach to pluralism here.

          Measuring Inclusion

          Lack of access to accurate, timely and disaggregated data is impeding efforts to measure, and therefore address, exclusion and inequality.

          The SDG Summit (September 24-25, 2019) is an opportunity for Heads of Government from all 193 who have signed on to Agenda 2030 to follow up and comprehensively review the progress on the 17 Goals. It has been five years since the Goals were introduced. In that time, governments have started implementing policies and developing strategies for achieving the goals, but the lack of available data on many indicators makes tracking progress a serious challenge.

          In response to the data challenge, the Centre is developing a Global Pluralism Index, a holistic tool to measure the state of inclusion, exclusion and inequalities in diverse societies around the world. Currently in its pilot stage, the Index will make an important contribution to Agenda 2030 through data and analysis about where in society inequalities and exclusion are taking place, who is being left behind and how, and highlight the pathways towards greater inclusion.