SDG Leadership Academy: Update

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The USC IIGH SDG Leadership Academy, launched last week in partnership with the Office of the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles, is providing an opportunity for our students to advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the City of Los Angeles.

Each project team has “clients” within the Mayor’s Office or City Departments, which allow them to work directly with staff members shaping the project plan and deliverables. The projects simultaneously ground specific SDG targets and indicators in the work already being implemented by local government partners, while the framework is used to identify and act on existing gaps in local policymaking. 

The SDGs are critical because they address a broad range of social, political, and economic obstacles to more equitable and sustainable development. According to Kush Shanker, a Keck School of Medicine student, the opportunity to be a part of this program is not only a learning experience but an inspiring and encouraging one. “As of today, no one country is on track in meeting the SDG goals by 2030. However, the dedication to work towards them as part of the SDG Leader Academy, here in Los Angeles, is such hopeful work.” He continued, “Our team for disaggregating LGBT+ data and queer inclusion is working hard to critically research model cities. We are working remotely, but we are working together.”

While formulated for national governments, sub-state and other local actors around the world are increasingly turning to the SDGs as an alternative to conventional economic development policies and Los Angeles stands at the forefront of this movement in its city-wide effort to align its plans and goals to SDG targets.

Students from USC are currently working alongside students from Occidental College, UCLA, Arizona State University, and Pomona College in groups of six to eight, collaboratively searching for solutions to more equitable and sustainable development.

Incredibly, 95 graduate and undergraduate students from schools across USC applied to be a part of this program. Ultimately less than 10 students were chosen to participate, representing  Keck School of Medicine, Price School of Public Policy, Marshall School of Business, the Spatial Sciences Institute and USC Dornsife School of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Annenberg School for Communications & Journalism, USC School of Cinematic Arts,  Rossier School of Education, Viterbi School of Engineering, USC School of Architecture, and USC School of Pharmacy. 

Abigail Martichenko, a student at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism,  highlighted how the program is an opportunity to individually play a helpful role and be part of charting a more inclusive course. “As an SDG Academy Leader, we’re able to weave our own talents and passions into a collaborative web of social change. Through ongoing discussion and research regarding vulnerable areas and populations within Los Angeles, we aim to gain a multi-dimensional understanding of the inequities present in the city.”

The program runs through the summer, with teams meeting virtually each day as they engage with their city client on a range of projects that span issues of poverty reduction, LGBTQIA+ equity, accessible housing and transportation, biodiversity and climate action, and issues of representation and addressing vulnerabilities more broadly.

As stated by Gaea Morales (IIGH SAC co-chair, USC PhD student, and LA SDG Summer 2020 Project Coordinator) “This project is a critical example of not only the potential of global frameworks to inform local policy-making, but also the importance and value of engaging youth perspectives and academic institutions in pursuit of more equitable and just outcomes in urban spaces. The SDG framework allows us to develop partnerships and recognize the ways in which local contexts can better respond to cross-cutting issues within the broader umbrella of sustainable development.”   

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