Service Learning and The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

    Posted: March 28, 2017

    The Sustainable Development Goals, as outlined by the United Nations, call for the interconnection and integration of society, economy, and environment for the positive transformation of our world. This balance comes as a difficult task to accomplish, which is why the cooperation to achieve these goals at all levels of government and civil society will be the key factor in how well and how fast they are realized.

          Further Reading: Service Learning: A Microcosm of International Development (Part I)

    The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a glance

    The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets that were created to help achieve them demonstrate the scale and ambition of the UN’s agenda to build on the Millennium Development Goals. They are designed to stimulate action over the next 15 years in areas of critical importance for humanity, and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social, and environmental. The following 5 descriptions (as outlined by the UN) offer a broad scope of what these goals seek to achieve, in terms of people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership.

    1. People

    We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfill their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.

    2. Planet

    We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources, and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.

    3. Prosperity

    We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives, and that economic, social, and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.

    4. Peace

    We are determined to foster peaceful, just, and inclusive societies that are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace, and no peace without sustainable development.

    5. Partnership

    We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalized Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focused in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable, and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.

          Further Reading: Service Learning: A Microcosm of International Development (Part II)




    The SDGs call for a participatory and inclusive approach to implementation and monitoring, rather than only (or mostly) by funders or donor countries. As discussed in our previous blog series that explored the relation of service-learning and international development, participation is a key factor in community development, specifically active and informed participation focusing on all goals – social, environmental, and economic.

    A holistic human rights and empowerment approach is required, along with building capacities of civic engagement and empathy, to ultimately change the way cultures approach the growing tensions of our world. Working to achieve the SDGs will entail community development, alongside others, to recognize the power of diversity, and the responsibility we as global citizens have to tend our relations and nurture our planet.

          Further Reading: Community Building and Service Learning: 4 Key Questions to Consider

    Transformation, service-learning, and the SDGs

    SDGs are the new road map for governments and the international development community to engage and achieve benchmarks on development issues through 2030. The success of these programs inevitably rests on the ability for largescale social involvement. As the UN SDGs seek to transform our world through concrete goals and competent action, so too does service-learning seek to transform students with meaningful experiential education opportunities.

    Educators of service-learning wish to establish learning goals that pertain to service-learning much the same way as the UN has goals that pertain to global development. While global developmental issues are much larger and potentially more severe than topics of university or student development, there are underlying parallels that would allow for students in university to benefit from the curriculum integration of SGDs. For instance, consider gender equality, economic empowerment, equal opportunity, and authoritative leadership. Institutions of higher education could benefit from applying concepts of good governance, transparency, civic engagement, and human rights into their mission, among other areas. Especially given the current political (and social) climate in the US, using the power of higher education to serve as a beacon of how a civilized society ideally functions will be critical to combat present and future injustices.

    Perhaps one way of creating a clearer course for student learning objectives or learning outcomes would then be to acknowledge and identify some root issues with higher education institutions as a whole, which includes the state of education as it currently exists in America (e.g. student loans, the curriculum structure of four-year institutions, etc). Once those developmental challenges are identified, perhaps then we as a nation can move forward into ways of addressing them, through targeted, collective goals and more competent, innovative approaches.

        Further Reading: The Challenges of Capacity Building in Service Learning  



    The Implications of Expanding Student Leadership

    One implication of creating learning communities using international service-learning facilitation is the opportunity to learn valuable skills associated with leadership. Enhancing leadership competency in students within a structured learning environment will enable them to be more holistically empowered through the transfer of those qualities into new spaces. In essence, students have the opportunity to internalize valuable learned capacities to become more competent agents of change.

    Leadership and conflict management (or problem-solving) training is the next step in the evolution of better integrating students into community development associated with service-learning. In this way, practitioners would be educating not only a community of learners, but also a community of leaders, in tandem with community partners that also have a voice in addressing their needs/concerns related to service work. The more practitioners produce leadership capabilities in students, and incorporate capacity-building of global competencies into course design, the closer we as a society will come to achieving the SDGs by 2030.

        Further Reading: 4 Critical Components of Contemporary Education Abroad

    Think a service learning course might be a good fit for you? GVI is a multi-award winning International Service Learning organization. Find out more about our international programs and see how students from around the world are making a difference.