How Association Initiatives Can Help Advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

waterston_pittman_SDGs January 30, 2024 By: Lily Waterston and Rachel Pittman

In 2015, 193 Member States of the United Nations adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Meeting those goals will require Member States, as well as efforts from different groups including organizations. Here’s a look at how associations can impact SDGs by embracing partnerships and focusing on member value.

 On any day, one may turn on the news and feel a sense of hopelessness. Wars in the Middle East, Ukraine, and Sudan have led to catastrophic humanitarian crises. Girls and women are disproportionately impacted by violence, poverty, and conflict. Frequent extreme weather events have caused dangerous impacts on the environment and people around the world.

The impact from such crises demands a global response. In 2015, after the most comprehensive negotiations in United Nations history, 193 Member States adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

However, in July 2023, the UN released The Sustainable Development Goals: Special Report 2023, which found that 12 percent of the SDG targets are on track, while progress on 50 percent is weak and insufficient. This is due to several factors including impacts from the pandemic, the climate crisis, and wars in Ukraine and the Middle East. The report found that the number of people living in extreme poverty is higher than four years ago. Hunger increased back to 2005 levels, and gender equality is some 300 years away.

Achieving the SDGs will take not only the Member States, but also businesses, civil society, educational institutions, and individuals. Organizations can also impact these goals. Here’s a look at how the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s partnership with the Pan American Health Organization has contributes to the advancement of several SDGs.

ASHA and PAHO Collaboration

In 2013, the ASHA launched an ongoing collaboration with PAHO, the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization, the specialized health agency of the UN.

The objective is to strengthen knowledge and build capacity of professionals and organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean to address communication disorders in the areas of speech, language, swallowing, and hearing.

Though this partnership started before 2015, the collaboration contributes to the advancement of several SDGs. It enables ASHA volunteer members to work with high-level country authorities to provide technical assistance to communities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In Honduras, member volunteers contributed to the country’s first phonoaudiology program at the University of Honduras, launched in January 2017. Twenty-four students graduated in June 2023, and 47 students will graduate by 2025. In El Salvador, ASHA and PAHO created an educational resource package in Spanish to train services providers. In 2015, the association contributed to a new speech-language pathology and audiology program at the University of Guyana. Before this collaboration, there was one audiologist in the country and no speech-language pathologists. As of today, 16 students have graduated and 12 work at the Ministry of Health.

In Paraguay, Belize, and Ecuador, ASHA and PAHO conducted train-the-trainer workshops for service providers from governmental agencies, medical facilities, and university faculty. In Ecuador, these workshops have trained 25 percent of the country’s specialized workforce.

The ASHA-PAHO collaboration also provided new benefits to ASHA members. It’s helped educate communities about the audiology and speech-language pathology professions globally, enriching ASHA members’ research with data and articles from authors worldwide. Comparing service delivery models from different regions helps ASHA members improve treatments in multicultural and multilingual populations. Members can also participate in building capacity and sustainability in resource-limited countries.

The ASHA-PAHO collaboration is advancing several SDGs:

  • SDG #3: Good Health and Well-being: by enabling healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for people at all ages through speech-language and audiology services
  • SDG #4: Quality Education: by training professionals to assist in educating children with communication disorders
  • SDG #10: Reduced Inequalities: by increasing access to services for people with communication disorders
  • SDG #17: Partnership for the Goals: by developing partnerships that build the capacity of individuals and institutions to address communication disorders

Find Your Starting Point

If you’re interested in advancing SDGs, look through the goals that impact your industry, that your members care about, and that affect the communities you serve.

Since one of ASHA’s strategic objectives is to “Enhance International Engagement,” developing a strategic partnership with PAHO complimented both organizations’ missions. Bar associations may partner with law enforcement to combat human trafficking, or science associations may support initiatives that expand clean energy in developing countries. 

When advancing SDGs, consider your organization’s operations, programming, outreach, and partnerships decisions. Are the programs environmentally friendly? Do you have a diverse board, membership, and staff that’s inclusive and generates new ideas? Are you managing equitably when it comes to salaries, raises, promotions, and awarding external contracts?

Once you determine your focus areas, align them to the related SDGs and track your progress. The SDGs are backed by 169 targets, which are tracked by 232 unique indicators. These targets and indicators can help your organization understand its successes and failures in reaching these goals.

The ASHA-PAHO collaboration helps demonstrate how organizations and individuals execute seemingly small actions that can have big, collective results. The collaboration not only has a positive impact on the countries participating in the partnership but also gives ASHA members opportunities to gain international experience and use their knowledge to advance Sustainable Development Goals.

Lily Waterston

Lily Waterston, MA, is director, international programs, at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Rockville, Maryland.

Rachel Pittman

Rachel Pittman is executive director at the United Nations Association of the USA.