Democratic Governance: Unlocking the Keys to the SDG Agenda

09.21.2016 | Srujana Penumetcha
From left to right: discussion moderator Andrew Wilson, and speakers Alicia Phillips Mandaville, Chris Maloney, and Beth Tritter
From Left: Discussion moderator Andrew Wilson, with speakers Alicia Phillips Mandaville, Chris Maloney, and Beth Tritter.

The International Day of Democracy was observed on September 15 with a theme of “Democracy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”  Created by the UN General Assembly in 2007, the Day of Democracy was intended to provide an opportunity to recognize the importance of democracy in upholding human rights, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and to review the state of democracy around the world.

From environmental degradation to food insecurity and energy shortages, today’s global development challenges are complex and multifaceted. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) lay out ambitious yet vital targets for addressing these challenges from ending all forms of poverty and tackling climate change, to improving living standards across the spectrum, and reducing inequalities. Of these goals, SDG 16, which focuses on governance, peace, justice and strong institutions holds a unique place among the rest.

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in his message celebrating the 2016 Day of Democracy, “Democratic principles run through the Agenda like a golden thread, from universal access to public goods, health care and education, as well as safe places to live and decent work opportunities for all. Goal 16 addresses democracy directly: it calls for inclusive societies and accountable institutions.”

The Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) together with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) held an event on September 15 to discuss how the SDGs related to democratic governance are crucial for achieving the 2030 sustainable development agenda. Speakers included Beth Tritter and Chris Maloney of MCC, Alicia Phillips Mandaville of InterAction, Andrew Wilson from CIPE, and Chairman of the CIPE Board of Directors, Greg Lebedev.

Beth Tritter highlighted how SDGs 1 – 15 can be thought of as the “what” while SDG 16 & 17 can be seen as the “how.” In many ways, stability, inclusive institutions, effective governance, and access to justice for all (SDG 16), as well as global partnerships (SDG 17) underpin the ability to achieve success in all the other SDGs. Indeed, without a robust rule of law and strong democratic institutions, improvements in other areas of human development will be difficult to realize and sustain.

Good governance, and effective and inclusive institutions that are accountable to citizens are key pillars of democracy. They are fundamental to ensuring that governments deliver on critical functions: providing public goods such as social services, security, justice, health and education; spurring broad-based, inclusive economic growth by creating a positive investment climate for the private sector to thrive; and lastly, being responsive to citizen needs and demands.

Transparent and open dialogue in which citizens and businesses have a voice and legitimate avenues to stay informed, coordinate collective action, and participate in decision-making at different levels of government are markers of democratic governance. They help ensure political, legal and economic inclusion, and enable citizens to hold their elected officials accountable.

In essence, countries that develop strong institutions, have fair and predictable legal systems, and strong participatory and inclusive democracy are better able to deliver on their promises, and ensure that economic growth and prosperity is shared broadly. SDG 16 and all that it entails is thus both an important goal and an essential means to achieving sustainable development for all.

Watch a video of  the CIPE and MCC event celebrating the International Day of Democracy.

Srujana Penumetcha is the Research Assistant for Knowledge Management at CIPE.