Simple and effective: a method to mobilize parliament for the SDGs

By: Gerjan Agterhof, Building Change

They are always busy, have their own hobbyhorses, claim they find things ‘very important’, will take topics ‘into consideration’ and are craving for more visibility in the media. But they are also the ones who have legislative powers, hold governments accountable and are our elected representatives. Yes, I am talking about members of parliament. It might not always be easy, but we need to collaborate with them to make sustainable development a reality and reach the SDGs

in 2030. So how do we get them engaged with the Agenda 2030? That is a question relevant in many countries, and also in our country: the Netherlands. We are Building Change, a Dutch civil society initiative, striving for a coherent and robust implementation of Agenda 2030 in the Netherlands, both in domestic and foreign policies.

Flexibility out of necessity

After the adoption of Agenda 2030 by the UN Member States, Dutch government analyzed where change is needed to reach the SDGs and developed a so-called plan of action which was not very concrete. The Government submitted a Voluntary National Review in 2017 and celebrated bottom-up initiatives from civil society, businesses et cetera. Good initiatives, but not the change we were hoping for. Not the change needed to fight climate change, strive for gender equality and eradicate poverty. So we needed to adapt our advocacy strategies. We decided to engage parliamentarians to motivate government to take more action on sustainable development.

The approach we chose was as simple as effective. We launched the campaign ‘Adopt an SDG’. We approached many Dutch MPs with a simple question: ‘Do you want to adopt an SDG?’ What does SDG adoption mean? We explained to MPs that in their daily work as politicians they should take the adopted SDG into account, communicate about their SDG and refer to it in debates with Ministers and colleagues. Since they could choose their favorite SDG, it was quite natural that they would choose the SDG which fits best

with their pre-existing political priorities.

An unexpected success

MoP from The Netherlands adopting SDGsThe success of our campaign came as a surprise. Currently 26 Dutch MPs out of 150 have adopted one or two SDGs. That is over one-sixth of Dutch parliament! These MPs are from 8 different political parties, both coalition and opposition. They are active in over 10 standing parliamentary committees. So over time SDGs started popping up everywhere. A Dutch MP who adopted SDG 14, takes every opportunity to fight for sustainable management of our precious North Sea. Another MP who adopted SDG 5 is constantly communicating about her SDG, also on social media using #SDG5. Two MPs (from different parties) who did not cooperate before but both adopted SDG 6 tabled a motion together to increase Dutch effort on water and sanitation-projects in developing countries. We have many more examples of positive outcomes. Awareness about and engagement with the SDGs in Dutch parliament has increased tremendously because of this campaign. Every now and then we see the Dutch government responding to calls from Parliament and taking actions towards a sustainable future, for instance in the field of climate action or gender equality.

How do we do this?

We communicate frequently about the actions of MPs through our Twitter-account, thereby giving them the visibility they like. We also try to motivate and influence them through targeted messages on social media, advocacy letters and special events where they can share their accomplishments. Together with 39 other CSOs we share knowledge with MPs about ‘their’ SDGs, to give them the arguments to fight for sustainable development.

This campaign takes up quite some time, to monitor MPs, to keep CSOs committed and active, to organize events and have lobby meetings with MPs. And we cannot claim that all 26 ‘adopting parents’ are as active as we would like them to be. But this campaign has proven to be effective and we believe this approach is easily applicable in other countries as well. We have received some enthusiastic responses from CSO platforms in other countries, who might copy our approach to their national context. Even at the local level the ‘Adopt an SDG’ formula has been discovered, e.g. in the Dutch municipality of Utrecht where city council members adopted SDGs.

If you are enthusiastic about ‘Adopt an SDG’, why not consider the options to set up a similar campaign in your country? Our campaign contributes to parliamentary engagement with the SDGs and we are more than happy to share more information about how to implement this. Feel free to reach out to us and read more here.


Foto Gerjan Agterhof


The author is a member of the Building Change-team. He has been active in the field of policy coherence and Sustainable Development Goals since 2015. He works as political advisor for the Dutch NGO Woord en Daad.

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