Reduction of poverty, access to education, improved health care, the empowerment of women, and access to water, are just a few of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is working to address by 2030 in an integrated way. This was the central message of the first-ever virtual GraceKennedy Foundation (GKF) lecture, titled “Decade of Action Begins: The Sustainable Development Goals – Leaving No One Behind”, presented by Dr Margaret Jones Williams, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative for Suriname. The lecture, which was presented by GKF in partnership with the UNDP, was streamed live from Dr Jones Williams’ base in Paramaribo on September 30 and hosted over 350 online participants. 

In her presentation, Dr Jones Williams described COVID-19 as a development crisis of epic proportions but contended that the pandemic had not dimmed the determination to achieve the goals, and that many countries, including Jamaica, were pushing ahead on their SDG agendas. She explained that the SDGs were a universal call to action “to end poverty, ensure that people enjoy peace and prosperity and to protect the planet with a deadline to achieve set targets by 2030,” and that 2020 had been designated the start of the “Decade of Action”. Established in 2015, the SDGs are defined by an inclusivity agenda which gathered the perspective of over 1 million people around the world in establishing the 17 global targets for sustainable development.  

The 2020 GKF lecture by Dr Jones Williams, the 31st in the distinguished lecture series, also highlighted progress towards the SDGs, constraints which have hindered more rapid advancement of the targets and emphasized the journey towards the achievement of the goals. Dr Jones Williams also highlighted UNDP’s role in supporting governments across the globe in the implementation of Agenda 2030 and underscored the importance of cooperation and partnership in the achievement of the goals. She also asserted that each sector – private sector, government, academia, and civil society – has a role to play. She highlighted Jamaica’s Vision 2030 and programmes such as GKF’s Campus Connect food bank as excellent examples of how governments and businesses respectively could align themselves with the SDGs.  

Commenting on the success of the lecture, Executive Director of GKF, Caroline Mahfood explained,  “This year’s lecture topic was not only timely and relevant given the current crises the world faces with COVID-19 and rapidly accelerating climate change, the virtual format also allowed many people, who might have been unable to attend lectures in previous years due to location and space constraints, to join us remotely. This year we had lecture guests from 21 countries participating. We were pleased to have been able to reach such a wide online audience and will continue leveraging the opportunity presented by online forums to share messaging which aligns with our mandate which promotes healthy lifestyles, educational development, and the protection of the environment.”

Dr Jones Williams joins a renowned list of presenters in the GK Foundation Annual Lecture Series including Dr Maureen Samms-Vaughn, Professor Barry Chevannes, Dennis Morrison Q.C., Professor Elizabeth Thomas-Hope, and Professor Emerita Elsa Leo-Rhynie. 

In her closing remarks, Dr Jones Williams quoted the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, in urging everyone to get on board with the SDGs, “Join us. Step up. Seize the moment and let us work together to meet the goals, move our world forward and leave no one behind”.

A recording of the 2020 lecture can be found in its entirety on the GraceKennedy YouTube channel at the following link A booklet documenting the content of the lecture is scheduled to be made available online at on October 5, 2020. 


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