Reading the SDGs: 10 Books Related to the Goals

On September 8th, the United Nations observes International Literacy Day, a day to highlight the improvements made in literacy, as well as reflect on existing challenges. In fact, Sustainable Development Goal 4, Quality Education, includes increasing literacy rates as one of its target action items.

Being able to read is an essential skill, and access to education and literacy is a fundamental human right. When you are reading something, you are gaining the knowledge that someone else has written down—this is known as explicit knowledge transfer, and it’s the easiest way for people to transfer information. What’s fascinating and effective is when an author uses fiction as their medium, morals or messages can be communicated using a storytelling format.

Fiction can be a great way to explore world issues and international development. Reading fiction offers people pathways to explore and understand different global realities. As well, according to Dr. Dennis Rodgers from Manchester University, fiction often does a better job communicating the complexity of the world’s problems, as compared to an academic essay. The use of points of view in novels, poetry and other literature can allow for readers to better relate to these issues.

My name is Emma Craig, and I worked for ACIC over the summer as their Communications Assistant. My background is in library science, English and history, and I strongly believe that books, and especially fiction, can be used to explore different viewpoints and concepts. ACIC has done a good deal of work around raising awareness of the SDGs to Atlantic Canadians. In honour of International Literacy Day, I have selected ten pieces of fiction that I feel encapsulate these goals. These selections show suffering through a sustainable development-related issue, communicate a message related to the Goals, and sometimes, demonstrate the consequences of not meeting them.


The Boat People by Sharon Bala

SDG 16

“Did she now know what it was like to have so little agency? To be faced with such cruel options it was as if there was no choice at all?” -Bala

The first book I selected [SK1] was one of the contenders for Canada Reads 2018. Sharon Bala’s book[SK2]  follows Sri Lankan refugees escaping civil war, only to be imprisoned for suspected terrorism once they arrive in Canada. The UNHCR stated in 2019 that there are 25.9 million refugees in the world. This is a global issue, [SK3] and through reading the story of Mahindan and the other Sri Lankans, readers can knowledge and empathy towards those facing this plight.

Goal 16 is focused on creating strong institutions built on the values of peace and justice, as well as raising awareness of the human rights accredited to individuals. This includes fighting corruption and prejudicial action within institutions (16.5). In The Boat People, the Sri Lankans are fleeing from war and violence, only to be subjected to imprisonment and labelled as terrorists, a result of unjust values and oppression within the Canadian carceral immigration system and stereotypes attached to refugees. However, we do see characters advocating for Mahindan and the other boat people, representing changes and action being taken to correct the actions taken by these institutions.

The Boat People’s connection to a real-world issue makes it an important read for those involved in sustainable development, as it increases awareness and empathy towards refugees and the challenges they face.


The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood


“Better never means better for everyone... It always means worse, for some.” -Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fiction novel is the first of the speculative fiction texts I have selected. The book centres on a world that, due to extreme religious values and infertility, has resulted in the forced sex enslavement of fertile women to the country’s leaders. In this novel, the reader sees all rights for women stripped as they are reduced to second-class citizens. Originally written in 1985 and now a Hulu TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale was written by Atwood as a critique of rising conservatism in the US, but remains an important and relevant feminist text.

Goal 5 is focused on securing gender equality, with a focus on women’s rights. Even though much work has been done, the UN reports that women continue to be underrepresented in politics and the workplace, as well as face barriers to proper healthcare and nutrition in some countries.  As well, in a statistic with parallels to the women of Gilead, only 52% of women in marriages/unions are able to make their own decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. The Handmaid’s Tale depicts women’s social and reproductive agency being taken away, showing a break-down of years of work to secure women’s rights. The female characters have memories of this former world, which makes the book so unsettling as it gives the fictional story a connection to the real world.  

Atwood’s novel represents a speculative and bleak future where years of working for gender equality have been dismantled.


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

SDG 10

“We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What's the point of having a voice if you're gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn't be?” -Thomas

The Hate U Give is the first young adult (YA) novel that I have selected. Angie Thomas’ novel follows the story of Starr, a black teenager who witnesses the killing of an unarmed friend by police. Like The Boat People, this book centres on an issue that has been a major point of discussion in the public consciousness. A new study has determined that black men in the United States are 2.5 times more likely to be shot by police than white people. This study comes after a wave of unarmed black men deaths over the 2010’s in the US, resulting in the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement.

While Goal 10 is mostly focused on reducing economic inequalities, its targets are also directed at empowering people of all race, ethnicity and origin (10.2). Within The Hate U Give, black people are disempowered by the use of racialized stereotypes, mainly in the labelling of the killed teen as a ‘thug’. In fact, the title of the novel is taken from Tupac Shakur’s anagram for THUG LIFE. Shakur’s lyrics and the story of The Hate U Give both speak about rising above the inequalities and prejudices that many people are born into. Starr becomes empowered by speaking out about the event, correcting the narrative surrounding the shooting and spurring her community into action.

Thomas’ YA novel discusses racial prejudice and police violence through the point of view of someone directly affected by it. Her story is also one of youth empowerment, as the protagonist rises above the stereotypes and prejudices assigned to her.


The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Kite Runner.jpg

SDGs 1 and 10

“There are a lot of children in Afghanistan, but little childhood.” -Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini’s premiere novel is an exploration of Afghanistan’s politics and history over a thirty-year period. The book centres on the friendship of two boys, Amir, a wealthy merchant’s son and the Hassan, his servant, and how they are separated by the social, ethnic, and political tensions prevalent in their country. When the novel was published in 2002, it brought attention to the realities that people in Afghanistan were living through. The Kite Runner provided Western readers with a look into the class, racial, and political issues that affected everyone in Afghanistan’s society, even children.

Goal 1 is focused on the elimination of global poverty, while Goal 10 is focused on reducing inequalities. The Kite Runner chooses to show poverty and inequalities in Afghanistan to the reader through the point of view of a child. According to the UN, one out of five children live in extreme poverty. While Amir grows up in a wealthy environment, we still see the effects of poverty on his community. This is more evident upon his return to Afghanistan as an adult, where he reflects retrospectively on the effects the political crisis in the country has caused. As well, the caste system in Afghanistan is an example of further inequalities based on class and ethnicity. These inequalities put a strain on Amir and Hassan’s relationship, which Amir recognizes later in life and much too late.

The story Hosseini tells is one of poverty and inequality, and how these affect the most vulnerable in society, such as children.



The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

SDGs 12 and 15

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.” -Seuss

The Lorax is among the children’s books that I have selected for this list. Books can be great way to introduce young children to world issues! Dr. Seuss’ classic story tells the story of the Once-ler and the Lorax, and the consequences of deforestation. Seuss was known for writing stories for children with morals related to different causes, which is why his messages have had such a big impact.

Goal 12 of the SDGs is focused on sustainable production and consumption of resources, while Goal 15 is focused on the protection of forests and biodiversity. The protection of life on land is perhaps the strongest theme in The Lorax. Deforestation in the book results in the total destruction of the forest’s ecosystem, as forests provide homes to all types of land plants and animals. As well, The Lorax demonstrates the risk of consuming resources too quickly, as the profitable city the Once-ler founds is negatively impacted once production stops. This aligns with facts about material footprints, and how countries’ needs for resources is outpacing their population and economic growth.

While Seuss’ children’s story is often remembered for its environmentalism themes, it is important to remember the themes surrounding sustainable production and resource consumption as well.


Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai

SDGs 4 and 5

"If I had a magic pencil, I would draw girls and boys together as equals.” -Yousafzai

This selection is a little different from the other books as it is based on a true story. Malala Yousafzai’s first book tells the story of her childhood in Pakistan, and a magic pencil that she would use to fix the world’s problems, focusing on access to education and gender equality. The magical element of this story is what made me choose it as a book for this list, as it frames the true story in a fantasy frame. This light children’s book teaches children about the importance of using their voices to stand up against inequalities and how they can make a change.

Goal 4 is focused on allowing access to quality education for all people, while Goal 5 is focused on gender equality. According to the UN, 50% of children that are not in school live in conflict-affected areas. This is connected to the story of the children’s book and Yousafzai’s real life. In 2008, the Swat Valley where she lived was taken over by the Taliban, where they imposed strict rules on women and girls, such as not allowing them to go to school. Not only were they barring education from the people they had taken over, but also imposed discriminatory rules based on gender. This is what sparked Yousafzai to become an activist in her own community, and now on a global scale, to speak about these issues affecting girls living in poverty and war zones.

Malala’s Magic Pencil’s use of autobiographical and fantasy elements makes it a useful text to teach children about some of the SDGs.


Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich

SDG 13

“He had no great advice to offer to his clients about this fact. He just wanted them to understand the likelihood that they would be incinerated shortly.” -Rich

Nathaniel Rich’s speculative fiction novel explores a near future where the world is overwhelmed by natural disasters. The novel focuses on Mitchell, a mathematician who works for a company that calculates the odds of bad events happening. The main threats that affect Manhattan involve tropical storms and flooding, and the book highlights how the company Mitchell works for profits from the fear they instill in clients. Odds Against Tomorrow exists within a movement of books known as “cli-fi”, fiction that focuses on climate change and its effect on civilization and the human experience.

Goal 13 is focused on strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change. While most of the facts and targets are focused on global warming, this goal also aims to make countries more resilient and adaptive at handling natural disasters (13.1). In Rich’s novel, we see the effects of natural disasters on a major city. An important part of the novel’s story is focused on the theme of what you do with the information you have. Mitchel can predict these disasters but is powerless to do anything, so he must live with the facts he knows. We also have had knowledge about climate change for many years, but Rich’s novel argues that it is not enough to just know and wait for it to happen.

Odds Against Tomorrow shows the effect of inaction to climate change issues, making an argument towards the targets of Goal 13.


The Plague by Albert Camus


“All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it's up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences.” -Camus

Albert Camus’ classic novel provides an on the ground view of a city ravaged by pestilence. The novel follows a French doctor, Dr. Rieux, as he works to treat people within the quarantined city of Oran. While it is believed by many that Camus’ novel is meant to be an allegory for German occupation of Paris during the Second World War, the author was also aware of great epidemics occurring in Algeria. The novel provides readers with a look at the reality of healthcare when a city is faced with crisis.

Goal 3 is focused on providing quality healthcare to all people, as well as promoting healthy living. In our time, HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria pose huge threats to those living in areas affected by it. According to the UN, 35.4 million people have died from AIDS-related diseases since the outbreaks. The Plague depicts the escalation of an epidemic, as early warning signs are ignored. One of the targets for Goal 3 is to strengthen the ability for countries to react to and manage health risks, as well as early warning monitoring (3.D). In Camus’ novel, there is a lack of preparation for dealing with the plague, resulting in the large death toll. In the novel, we see no other cities providing aid to the suffering Oran. This demonstrates the need for collaboration with dealing with global health risks, as we cannot face these issues alone.

The depiction of an epidemic in this novel illustrates the need for cooperation in achieving the goals, or else we are just as much contributing to the destruction.


Solar by Ian McEwan


SDGs 7 and 13

“The past had shown him many times that the future would be its own solution.” -McEwan

This book by Ian McEwan tackles the issues of clean energy and climate change using a more light-hearted tone. The novel follows scientist Michael Beard, who during a low point in his life is offered the chance to work on a solar energy project to battle climate change. Unlike Odds Against Tomorrow, this is a cli-fi novel where the protagonist is actively participating in fixing the issue. McEwan’s novel focuses on the human experience portrayed in a comedic light.

Goal 7 is focused on creating affordable and clean energy for everyone, and is intrinsically connected to Goal 13, which is focused on climate change. According to the UN, energy production is responsible for 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Because of this, green solutions for energy production is vital for the world to become more sustainable. McEwan, however, does not try to preach the need for action in his novel. The character of Beard is unsympathetic and focuses more on the science, which is part of the reason for his personal life failing. However, this scientific mindset provides the readers with the facts surrounding climate change and doesn’t try to win them over by catering to the emotional.

Ultimately, Solar’s use of humour and facts about solar energy and climate change is what makes it a good novel for exploring these issues.


The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Water Knife.jpg

SDGs 6

“Some people had to bleed so other people could drink.” - Bacigalupi

The final book I have selected depicts another bleak future where climate change has effected the way people live. This novel follows Angel, the muscle for a rich developer, in a future America where drought has made water hard to come by. Bacigalupi is not unfamiliar with the cli-fi genre, with his other books The Windup Girl and Shipbreaker also depicting futures where climate change has reshaped the way society is structured. In The Water Knife, we see the violence and privilege that can arise from a water crisis.

Goal 6 is focused on providing proper sanitation for drinking water, as well as improving access to it. Over 40% of the world’s population are affected by water scarcity. The Water Knife captures this water scarcity, but also the consequences of it. As a result of the drought, the American government of this novel is corrupted by corporate influence and militias arise to protect the little access there is to clean water. Bacigalupi depicts the power struggles and privileges that can arise when an important resource like water is threatened.

The Water Knife depicts an apocalyptic-type future, making the reader think about the privilege of being able to access water.


If you are looking for a new book to read and are interested in a getting a new viewpoint on world development issues, consider one of these ten books! It is a great way to reflect on issues related to the SDGs, as well as celebrate International Literacy Day!

Summer Student Reflections

This summer, ACIC was able to secure funding through Canada Summer Jobs to hire two interns. These students helped with various projects over the summer and have been a great help overall! With their terms here ending, here are their reflections on their time here, and what’s in store for the future.

Read more

Your Voice Matters series: Youth Engagement and the SDGs

*This blog post was developed based off the ACIC study, Your Voice Matters: Engaging Canadian Youth on the Sustainable Development Goals, as funded by the Government of Canada’s Sustainable Development Goals Program. The whole report can be found here.*


In the final part of our blog series, we would like to wrap up with what we discovered about engaging youth with Agenda 2030. As part of the roundtables and interviews, we asked youth and youth-serving professionals about what they felt would aid in getting youth engaged with the Goals.

The main suggestion we heard was that it’s most effective to engage youth through educational institutions, interacting with both educators and students. Ideally, SDG-related content could be incorporated into curricula in order to raise awareness and potential action among students. According to some participants connected to provincial education, teachers are already encouraged to structure their curricula to include emerging global issues.

Another suggestion that came up frequently was the importance of valuing youth. Self-worth and confidence are feelings that made youth care more about the SDGs and contributing to them. Some ways that organizations can contribute to youth confidence and participation are formal recognition of youth accomplishments (i.e. awards), avoiding assumptions about youth culture, and truly listening to what they have to say about relevant issues.

Instilling a community connection to youth engagement with the SDGs was also a strong suggestion. Having youth see their importance as active contributors to their communities helps them see their own role in participating in sustainable development. As well, providing guidance from supportive community leaders engages youth in actionable life experiences.

Another major suggestion was having a connection to culture and expression. Using artistic, creative outlets allows youth to deepen their understanding of the SDGs through creating links to what they care about.

From this study, we saw that youth were outspoken and wanted to participate in leadership roles. While youth-led groups are the ideal way to get youth engaged with the SDGs, youth leaders did voice the need for some guidance from professionals in their initiatives. Despite that, youth leadership is a great way for young people to have responsibility and agency in developing the SDGs.

Finally, having safer spaces was identified as another important element of engaging youth with the SDGs. We define safer spaces as those where participants can develop a sense of belonging, where youth feel like they can trust and be open with others within these spaces. This provides youth with inclusive spaces to explore the SDGs, and to voice their opinions on matters related to them.

This concludes our series on Your Voice Matters. For further information on the methodology and results of our study, please refer to the full version of the report.


Your Voice Matters Series: Barriers to Implementing the SDGs

*This blog post was developed based off the study ACIC study, Your Voice Matters: Engaging Canadian Youth on the Sustainable Development Goals, as funded by the Government of Canada’s Sustainable Development Goals Program. The whole report can be found here.*


In our study on how best to engage youth with the SDGs, it was important to also discuss barriers to their implementation. While 2030 appears to give us plenty of time to implement large-scale changes to our global society, there are challenges that can and will affect this progress. We asked the youth and youth-serving professionals of our study about what barriers they felt were in the way to reaching the Goals.

One of the main themes that came up during roundtable conversations was politics and leadership. Participants expressed concerns that current political leaders were not as highly invested in the SDGs as they should be. Youth who belonged to youth-led groups expressed issues with getting politicians to commit to work related to the SDGs as well. This poses as a barrier to achieving the SDGs, as political leaders and parties are the ones able to make the larger, policy-backed changes needed to implement some of the goals. Seeing a lack of interest or commitment from these parties can be discouraging for those people, especially youth, who are working on the SDGs.

Another major barrier for implementing the SDGs is resistance to change. Participants in the study recognized that working to implement the Goals would result in compromises and lifestyle changes that some Canadians would not be lightly willing to make.

This resistance is connected to another of the barriers: a sense of being overwhelmed. The problems of the world, the seriousness of the work required, and the element of the unknown connected to implementing the SDGs were cited by participants as being an overwhelming barrier to their implementation.

Many of the participants saw Canada’s potential for successful implementation of the SDGs as being inherently dependent upon healthy relationships and partnerships with Indigenous peoples and systems of governance, and the ability, as a country, to honour the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Participants in the roundtables expressed concern that Canada already has a responsibility to this work, and that our government cannot fully advocate for the Goals until there is true progress towards reconciliation and decolonization.

Participants also cited inequities as a major challenge for Canada’s work towards the SDGs. On a global scale, and despite its commitment to international assistance, Canada is still among the more developed countries that rely on labour and products produced in developing nations, which affects achievement of the SDGs in those countries. At home, and on an individual scale, some Canadians are unable to participate in work towards the Goals due to their financial circumstances, food security, or health situations.

Another big barrier to the implementation of the SDGs is the lack of awareness some people have. Some participants only learned about the goals through the study and felt that more could be done to increase broader public awareness.

Ultimately, the barriers participants gave voice to represent major challenges to implementing the SDGs in Canada. However, through continuing the discussion, we can raise awareness of these issues and work to reduce inequalities while increasing inclusivity, with the aim of leaving no one behind.

Your Voice Matters Series: Defining Sustainable Development and Relevant Goals

*This blog post was developed based off the ACIC study, Your Voice Matters: Engaging Canadian Youth on the Sustainable Development Goals, as funded by the Government of Canada’s Sustainable Development Goals Program. The whole report can be found here.*


From the roundtables and interviews we conducted in the Atlantic region, ACIC was able to get a better idea of how youth and those that work with youth understand sustainable development and the SDGs.

When asked about the definition of sustainable development, participants related it to long-term thinking. The Goals are meant to better the world for the generations to come, and the conditions for achieving them can and will change over time. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development should be considered a living document, where the conditions for success will change and evolve.

As well, participants suggested that sustainable development needed to be understood as value-based and inclusive. This is part of the global shift from a solely “bottom line” approach to development, where economic growth is the only measure of success. Rather, many of the participants suggested that morals, values and spirituality should be part of the foundation of sustainable development towards the Goals.

A lot of the discussions from this study focused on developing inclusivity and creating a sense of in-it-togetherness. Youth kept coming back to the importance of equity and shared responsibility when asked about achieving the Goals—in order for the SDGs to be realized, everyone needs to band together to take action. This includes, importantly, ensuring that there are spaces in participatory action for traditionally under-represented or marginalized voices.

An important part of the sessions was determining how individuals felt about the SDGs. Participants in the study thought that the use of colourful graphics helped to make the Goals clear and engaging. While many were uncertain about the goals being achieved by 2030, they appreciated the aspirational nature of the Agenda and what it represents. The phrasing of the goals, such as “No Poverty” and “No Hunger,” gives the Agenda an ambitiously high aim.

Participants also identified goals that they felt were important to their communities and to the wider country. For youth, Climate Action was the most relevant, followed by Gender Equality and Quality Education. Meanwhile, professionals rated Quality Education as the most relevant, with Gender Equality, Climate Action and Good Health and Wellbeing following. These disparities show a generational difference in the priorities youth and adults have when it comes to the Goals.

It’s also crucial to mention that Indigenous youth and professionals rated Life on Land very highly. Participants explained that this goal was most closely related to the preservation of Indigenous culture and its connection to the land. This demonstrates that differences in cultural upbringing and location can also affect which SDGs people prioritize. As well, it shows how the goals can be interpreted differently to reflect the results that different groups want to see in their own communities.

From our 1-on-1 interviews and roundtable discussions with youth and youth-serving professionals, we learned how the SDGs are viewed and understood by a few different age groups and demographics in the Atlantic provinces. For youth, sustainable development comes down to doing something for everyone’s common good, and doing so knowing that the benefits will outweigh the costs. Our work also provided us with valuable input into which SDGs are most relevant to Atlantic Canadian youth, which informs which goals we’ll use for public engagement geared towards young people.

Want to read more about insights into engaging Atlantic Canadian youth with the Sustainable Development Goals? Read the report here.

Your Voice Matters Series: A Focus on Youth and the SDGs

*This blog post was developed out of the ACIC report Your Voice Matters: Engaging Canadian Youth on the Sustainable Development Goals, as funded by the Government of Canada’s Sustainable Development Goals Unit. The whole report can be found here.*

Here at ACIC, we value the voices of youth, and we work directly with youth and youth-serving organizations in Atlantic Canada. When Canada signed onto the Agenda 2030, and in turn agreed to share responsibility for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we wondered how these goals could be used to engage youth with international development. Though the SDGs benefit everyone, youth will have both the most potential impact and receive the most benefit from the goals in the long term.

When it comes to engaging youth on the SDGs, the main themes we want to stress are global citizenship and participation. Previous research has shown that youth in Canada are actively participating in measures of citizenship in our country; they belong to advocacy or interest groups, and they volunteer their time. Youth have also been effective at holding government accountable for the SDGs since their implementation in 2015, and they know how to influence others to get engaged. This shows that they’re willing and ready to be global citizens and participate in sustainable development.

Several researchers in the last few years have investigated how best to engage youth audiences with international development. In a 2015 study by the Bond network, they highlighted the importance of social media engagement, as services like Instagram and Twitter are primary sources of information for youth on an everyday basis. As we all know, social media plays an important role in the lives of young people, allowing them to stay connected with their networks, and in a broader sense, with the world. Through maintaining both an active social presence and energized social media campaigns, organizations can do well by engaging youth through these platforms.

Just last year, a research team led by Evelina Baczewska noticed that youth involved in social change use online as well as ‘real world’ outreach to engage with their networks. This connects to the Bond report’s findings regarding social media, but also establishes that engagement with youth is just as important within the offline sphere. This is especially true when it comes to creating local networks in communities that provide youth with opportunities to participate in decision-making. When looked to for input, youth will become far more engaged at a local level.

And local engagement can lead to global thinking, especially in diverse spaces with people from all over the world. In a study of universities and colleges from 2015, a group discovered that post-secondary institutions are often the hotspots that house opportunities for youth to engage in sustainable development. The field of youth education is a special area of focus for sustainable development practitioners, as education can act as a “motor for change.” Educational institutions provide youth with the resources to learn about sustainable development, as well as the space to engage and connect with other like-minded youth who share their passions.

All three of these studies show that youth engagement is an important area of sustainable development, and that there are proven methods for success. They not only describe effective strategies, but also demonstrate the ways in which youth become involved. Whether through social media or real-world networks, the evidence is there: we and organizations like us can develop strategies to engage youth and encourage them to participate in global, sustainable change.

Our own, recent work is a testament to our commitment to youth involvement in sustainable development. Through the Spring of 2019, we held roundtable discussions and interviews with youth and youth-serving professionals across Atlantic Canada. These led to the publication of our report Your Voice Matters, which was created with the goal of recommending actionable answers to the question: how to best engage/interest youth in the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development?

Over a two-month period, we spoke with 70 youth and 43 youth-serving professionals. In this blog series, we‘ll share what we discovered from talking to youth, and the people who work with them, about being engaged—and engaging others—with ideas and action around sustainable development.

Works Cited:

Anand, C.K., Bisaillon, V., Webster, A., & Amor, B. (2015). Integration of sustainable development in higher education: A regional initiative in Quebec (Canada). Journal of Cleaner Production 108. 916-923.

Baczewska, E., Cachon, M.F., Daniel, Y., & Selimos, E.D. (2018). Mapping the terrain of strategic politics among social change-orientated youth. Journal of Youth Studies 21(3). 288-303.

Bond. (2015). Engaging generation z: Motivating youth people to engage positively with international development. Retrieved from

Sustainable Development Goals Unit. (2019). Discussion guide: Canada’s implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development: Working towards developing a national strategy. Retrieved from

United Nations. (2005). UN decade of education for sustainable development, 2005-2014: The DESD at a glance. Retrieved from

LGBTQ2S+ Voices in Sustainable Development

My name is Lindsay Vandewater and I work for Atlantic Council for International Cooperation (ACIC). I am a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community in Halifax and a passionate advocate for queer rights. I have a background working in social equity, and as someone constantly engaged with the issues faced by queer people, I have hosted a handful of Pride events in the past.

Prior to my time at ACIC, they conducted a great piece of research on youth and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), entitled Your Voice Matters. In this research, ACIC sought out youth and youth-serving organizations in Atlantic Canada in order to determine how best to engage Canadian youth on global, regional, and local sustainability. After reading the report, I asked the question I always tend to ask: "what about queer people?" I thought to myself that surely this research could be done with other demographics. I started researching what sustainable development means to LGBTQ2S+ communities, only to find many organizations discussing an exclusion-by-omittance aspect of sustainable development. It surprised me to see that there is very little explicit mention of LGBTQ2S+ people in the SDGs, seeing as the more socially oriented goals focus on gender equality and reducing inequalities.

What does sustainable development mean?

The United Nations Development Program describes human development as “expanding the richness of human life… It is an approach that is focused on creating fair opportunities and choices for all people." Based on human development, as well as building upon the previously established Millennium Development Goals, the UN created Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development with accompaniment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Agenda 2030 focuses on 17 universal aspirational goals, complete with target objectives, that are meant to be achieved in the 15 years between 2015-2030.

“There are 17 goals all based on a single, guiding principle: to leave no one behind. We will only realize this vision if we reach all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
— Ban Ki-Moon, Former UN Secretary General, 2015

"Leave no one behind" is the common thread that binds the 17 goals together as a collective plan for sustainable development. As a broad framework, the Agenda is meant to by adapted by individual countries to their own social, economic, and environmental needs. When Canada signed on to the Agenda in 2015, it made commitments to the SDGs while adapting each of the goals to benefit Canadians and supplement Canada's capacity to help with global change.

So, what does "leave no one behind" mean to communities who are not consulted or explicitly included in the Agenda? What does it mean to queer Canadians and those living in Canada when we see our country focusing more on the environmental aspects of Agenda 2030 than the societal aspects? How do we ensure that our voices are heard in the march towards achieving the 17 goals?

Global Identities of LGBTQ2S+ Communities

As one of the first countries to adopt same-sex marriage, Canada remains one of the leading countries in human rights for LGBTQ2S+ people. In 2017, Canada adopted protections for gender identity and expressions, adding to the already-established protections based on sexual orientation. That being said, queer people still have an uphill battle to reach equality. Canada holds steady on the archaic blood donation ban for gay men and limited ability for trans people to donate; gender expression is not legally protected in all provinces and territories; and conversion therapy is a political chip currently on the table in Canada. These are just some of the political issues LGBTQ2S+ communities face.

According to The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), there are 141 other countries that have at least some protections for LGBTQ2S+ people. In 2019, we have seen a considerable amount of headway made towards global gay rights, including votes to legalize same-sex marriage in Austria, Taiwan, Ecuador, and Northern Ireland.

Conversely, there are 125 countries worldwide that, as of July 2019, have no protections—or even criminalize—same-sex relationships, including 11 countries that may still enforce the death penalty (see ILGA map above). The range of experiences and protections differ from country to country, but it is clear that, in a global context, LGBTQ2S+ people face serious barriers to equality.

Of the 17 SDGs, several are directly related to queer communities globally, while many are more loosely tied to issues in queer communities. As we will see, regardless of whether the specific goals are directly related to queer people, all of the goals are inter-related. This means that if even just one goal is directly related to queer people, then as a collective the SDGs are significant to the community; if queer experiences can give insight on just one of the goals, then those experiences will be necessary to consider in all other goals. For example, poverty is a serious concern for people in LGBTQ2S+ communities, especially for young people. Later in this post I will explain how poverty is both created by, but also creates, a wide range of issues that are represented by many of the other SDGs.

Breaking down (some of) the goals

To understand the impact that queer communities could have on achieving the SDGs, and vice versa, it’s worth looking at the goals themselves. I have selected just a few of the goals to discuss. I won’t go too deep into discussing each of them, but will try to paint a picture of the significance that these goals have to LGBTQ2S+ identities.

Equality and Equity

Goal 5, Gender Equality, is one of the most relevant goals that could benefit from the input of LGBTQ2S+ people. Looking at this goal’s targets (see below), it’s clear that the UN has focused their definition for gender equality on the equality between men and women. However, our understanding of gender expression and gender identity is constantly evolving. Essential to fully understanding gender equality is understanding the concerns of people still on the fringes of equality, especially those who identify as trans or non-binary. What will gender equality between men and women mean to someone who is non-binary?

Women’s Rights

By not just excluding, but omitting queer people from the discussion, we are omitting generations of lesbian, bisexual, and trans women who have fought to establish not only queer rights, but also women's rights. Generations of queer women have ridden the waves of feminism, and their experiences should count for something. Intersectionality, or the concept that each layer of identity can potentially be affected by different forms of discrimination that intersect with one another, is a factor that needs to be included in any conversation about gender equality. Womanhood is intersectional, and to leave out any of the intersecting identities that women possess devalues the global struggle for gender equality.

To put it simply, inequality comes from imbalances in power and privilege. Above, I mention intersectionality, and how significant it is to understanding gender equality. But intersectionality is just as important in understanding any aspect of someone's identity and becomes increasingly important as we consider other identity factors like race, ethnicity, religion, sexual and gender orientation/expression, physical and mental ability, and social class.

Health and Well-being

Without a doubt, even in 2019, LGBTQ2S+ people across the world experience lower quality-of-life, even in countries like Canada that have progressive laws protecting queer people. Whether the issue be violence, discrimination, lack of proper or accessible health services, or even the systematic exclusion from quality education, decent work, or community engagement, queer people experience a pile of issues that degrade their health and everyday well-being.

Retrieved from:

Retrieved from:

Homelessness and Poverty

LGBTQ2S+ poverty is a multi-faceted concern. There are a wide range of issues that contribute to poverty, and homelessness can cause—and exacerbate—those very same issues. In Canada, it is estimated that around 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ2S+. Consider the amount of violence and discrimination any given person experiences when homeless. That issue becomes compounded when considering the hate crimes people experience just based on sexual or gender identities. Further, homelessness will drastically affect one's ability to secure decent work and obtain a quality education (two of the SDGs).

Violence directed at queer-identified people is a global problem, despite many countries legislating governmental protections (see ILGA image above). Statistics Canada reports that people identified as lesbian, gay, and bisexual are much more likely to experience violent discrimination than heterosexual-identified people. Further, it is almost impossible to read news coming out of the United States without hearing about the ousting of trans people and the unbelievable amount of trans women who are murdered in hate crimes. We saw the horrific examples of targeted violence towards gay and bisexual men in the Chechen gay purges. Violence perpetrated against LGBTQ2S+ people not only affects the physical and mental health of the person who was victimized, but also the health of the community itself, which links directly with SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities (more below).

Physical Health

Even apart from violence, many identities in the LGBTQ2S+ community require different levels of attention when the issue comes to physical health and medical attention. Intersex-identified people have long experienced tumultuous relationships with medical professionals. In fact, one of the most recognizable and tragic stories of mismanaged intersex healthcare comes out of Canada, with the case of David Reimer. Further, trans-identified people face barriers in accessing medical professionals who are properly suited to provide hormone treatment and/or perform gender reassignment surgery.

Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Queer Canadians are at much higher risk of experiencing depression, suicidality, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and substance abuse than their heterosexual counterparts. Compounding the issue is the lack of medical services that are both accessible and accommodating to queer people. In broad strokes, we can attribute mental health concerns to anyone who experiences discrimination, especially for LGBTQ2S+ people in countries where there are fewer protections than there are in Canada, where 38% of Indigenous youth who identified as LGBTQ2S+ were unable to access mental health services when they needed to, compared to 27% of Indigenous heterosexual cisgender youth.

Communities and Peace

Sustainable Development Goals 11 and 16 tie well together to highlight the importance of LGBTQ2S+ voices in sustainable development. You can read more about LGBTQ2S+ people and Goal 11 in an article by the advocacy group OutRight UN, which is one of the few resources that outlines clear actions items. In order to achieve peaceful and sustainable communities in any part of the world, we need to consider the barriers that produce inequalities for any given person (see SDG 11 targets in image to the left). With this in mind, the fact that countries have sparsely considered LGBTQ2S+ people in their targets for achieving sustainable development is that much more baffling. However, the justice systems and the development of strong, inclusive policies and procedures for institutions may help in leveling out the kind of imbalances caused by power and privilege.

I want to make clear is that I do not believe that queer rights should come before the rights of any other underrepresented community. I believe that achieving the SDGs in their full capacity will be an improvement for so many struggling communities around the world. We need to strive for equality together, regardless of the communities we belong to. In fact, our differing communities can even be beneficial to one another in our fight for equality. It is incredibly important to share our thoughts and experiences with others so we can inform each other on the struggles that our communities are experiencing.

That being said, I believe LGBTQ2S+ communities provide a fascinating example on how the SDGs can affect, but also be informed by, any given community. A necessary point to make in this post is that as the rights for gay and trans people develop and grow in North America, so do the experiences that LGBTQ2S+ communities face when dealing with the struggle for those rights.

These experiences create a potential space where LGBTQ2S+ communities in protected countries can not only share their voices to advocate for queer communities around the globe who are still deeply struggling, but they can also share the experiences of queer liberation to create platforms for those still fighting. By sharing our stories as a collective, we can spark change to help others reduce the inequalities they face.

As I have identified in this post, queer communities are heavily affected by the concerns that have influenced the creation of the SDGs. Even in Canada alone, LGBTQ2S+ people struggle with health and well-being, discrimination and hate crimes, and poverty, among other concerns. Yet minimal effort is made to include the voices of queer communities in Canada's achievement of the SDGs. So, how do we ensure that our voices are heard in sustainable development? How do we ensure that we are not, in fact, left behind? We need to talk about the issues we face. We need to use the platforms we are given to direct conversation to our exclusion and continue to fight for platforms so others can do the same.


Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you are interested in furthering our discussion on sustainable development, you can attend the Atlantic Council for International Cooperation’s event LGBTQ2S+ Voices in Sustainable Development at the Foggy Goggle on July 25th.

Intern in Kenya- a photo essay

Owen Gould from Waycobah, NS works on Preserving Traditional/Elders’ Knowledge, the Community Water Wells Project, and Wildlife Conservation with Run for Life and the Rift Valley Resource Centre.

See more about the International Internships for Indigenous Youth (IIIY) program HERE.

Click on the photo below to see his photo essay:

Interns (L to R) Cassidy McKellop, Maisyn Sock, Owen Gould, and Roman Levi with Park Ranger William.

Interns (L to R) Cassidy McKellop, Maisyn Sock, Owen Gould, and Roman Levi with Park Ranger William.

UNICEF Grant Enables NSGA to Lead Project

UNICEF Grant Enables NSGA to Lead Project for Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in the Gambia

The NSGA was founded in the mid-1980s by a group of Nova Scotians, and has a 33 year history of development work in The Gambia focusing on education, health, and community development. Since 1990, the NSGA has used its “signature” project (a unique, school and community-based peer health education program) in virtually every middle school, high school, and village in the country.

That program will now be tapped to try and help bring an end to the centuries-old and still-pervasive practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in The Gambia. The 2013 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) indicated that the prevalence of FGM/C among women aged 15-49 in the Gambia was at 75%.

The potential negative physical effects of FGM/C are severe. Early complications include urinary retention, infection, and bleeding, while late complications include long-term urinary issues, scarring, pain, fertility/sexuality difficulties, and infection. The psychological effects can be as debilitating as the physical complications, with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and somatization reported.

National Program Manager Abdou Kanteh with Halifax Mayor Mike Savage.

National Program Manager Abdou Kanteh with Halifax Mayor Mike Savage.

In December 2015, after years of advocacy against the practice, the Gambian Government amended legislation to finally prohibit it in the country. However the practice is both widespread and deeply ingrained in The Gambia and neighboring countries, and is expected to take years to eliminate entirely.

UNICEF has engaged the NSGA to actively tackle the issue by financing this new project. The NSGA-led pilot will last six months and then be assessed for effectiveness and potential expansion. The total grant is nearly 6.5 million Gambian Dalasi ($170,000 Canadian), and along with its direct role the NSGA will administer five other Gambian not-for-profit organizations.

NSGA’s special mandate will include using its professional drama troupes to perform educational plays in selected local villages and communities, followed-up by discussions in local languages; using the drama troupes to identify and train existing community groups in the rural areas to conduct their own dramatic performances and information sessions; leveraging the Peer Health Education strategy to educate students in 16 secondary schools across the country, who will in turn educate thousands of their fellow students.

Abdou and NSGA Peer Health Educators, teachers, and the school principal after a monitoring session .

Abdou and NSGA Peer Health Educators, teachers, and the school principal after a monitoring session.

For more information, please visit or contact National Program Manager Abdou Kanteh (, or the Board of Directors (1574 Argyle Street, Suite 17, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3J 2B3. Phone: (902) 423-1360. Fax: (902) 429-9004. Email:

CFI's award-winning documentary to air on National Geographic

(CFI screened the full length version at ACIC’s Symposium in 2017!)


Kokota: The Islet of Hope tells the story of one community’s journey to overcome climate change on their fragile island in the Zanzibar Archipelago, where we have been working since 2008. After 35 international film festivals and 7 awards, we are now set to broadcast the film publicly! 

Before the full film is released, we want to give you a chance to view it on our website first

We are launching our most ambitious holiday campaign ever to coincide with the National Geographic broadcast and to bring the same climate solutions featured in the film to two more small islands in need - Njoa and Kisiwa-Panza. But we need your help to make it happen!

We are asking our friends and supporters to help us kickstart the campaign now by donating and sharing this email with 3 people you think will believe in the work and would enjoy a sneak peek of the film.

After a decade of hard work, we know this is our big opportunity to raise the profile of our small but mighty organization and attract the global support that frontline communities in Zanzibar need now to overcome climate change.

Thank You!

Tuko pamoja – We are together