Reflecting on the Year’s SDG Progress in Spain

+SocialGood Connector Alejandra Acosta is a social worker and entrepreneur who is dedicated to eradicating human trafficking in her home country of Spain. As part of our SDGs on the Ground series, she reflects on how the pandemic has impacted her gender equality work, and the state of SDG progress in her community.

Alejandra Acosta (top right), together with the King and Queen of Spain (middle), and social innovation experts in Spain.

Tell us about your current work driving momentum on the SDGs in your community. From an SDG perspective, what are the most immediate needs specific to your community?

At the moment, I work full-time raising awareness about SDG 5: gender equality, SDG 8: decent work and economic growth, SDG 16: peace, justice, and strong institution,. and the need to have a society free from slavery, forced labor, and human trafficking.

This work involves the collaboration of different stakeholders in order to design strategies against human trafficking that can be used by employees in civil society, the private sector, and public sector. We train them to identify human trafficking victims and help them receive access to justice and resources to leave exploitation.

From what I have seen in the last year, I believe that there are immediate needs — especially of the victims of human trafficking we work with — that are not being filled, including:

  1. Access to a minimum living wage for victims of exploitation, who could not work due to the pandemic. Because of their trafficking situations, many of them did not have any funds to support themselves.
  2. Specific, tailored resources they can access for help if they are sexually exploited on the internet (a type of exploitation that has increased dramatically during the pandemic).
  3. The need to deliver prevention materials to alert civil society on the risks they may face of being trafficked when they are in vulnerable situations.

Do you feel that your community/ region/ nation is invested in the SDGs, and do you believe they are making progress?

I feel that since 2018, Spain has made great efforts to advance and measure the SDGs at a local level. The difference can really be seen in the reports they presented between 2019 and 2021. These reports show improvements in aligning the work we do as a country with each sustainable development goal, as well as some initiatives promoted by the government to finance projects that are pursuing concrete indicators of one or several SDGs.

How has COVID-19 impacted SDG implementation in your community/ region/ nation? As some countries begin to focus on recovery from the pandemic, do you notice a greater emphasis on the SDGs or using the SDGs as a roadmap for recovery in your community, and if so, how?

COVID made it more difficult to stay on track with the work we were doing to implement the 2030 Agenda because it reshaped most of our priorities. We had to re-focus our attention on basic needs, which is something that was not a priority in Spain before COVID. However, in some ways, I also believe that the pandemic was really useful in reshaping our commitment to the agenda, and better aligningour priorities with the sustainable development goals. In Spain, the government has communicated with the public constantly through press meetings, campaigns, and facts about how it will incorporate the SDGs in the recovery plan, including taking care of our planet and our people, and leaving no one behind. For example, this is the first government in Spain that increased their funds for healthcare in the middle of a crisis..

Beyond COVID-19, what are the main challenges you’ve experienced in your work to advance the SDGs in your community/region/nation?

I think the main challenge I experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic was keeping people connected and working together to advance the SDGs during this hard situation. It was extremely difficult to keep my team and colleagues motivated because we had to adapt our initiatives — which were 80% in-person — to an online format. Even though everyone was involved in online activities, it was also extremely difficult to keep the communities we work with engaged because they suffered an overload of online information, and they did not want to be connected all the time. This is completely understandable, but makes collaboration and connection complicated.

Zoom meetings to raise awareness about human trafficking)

Can you point out some successes you’ve had in your work to advance the SDGs in your community/region/nation?

One of the greatest successes I have had in advancing the SDGs in my community was last year. Along with a group of social innovation experts,I was invited by the King and the Queen of Spain to the royal palace to advise them on how we could use the SDGs to advance the 2030 Agenda. It was a moment when I realized the impact my little actions were making in my community. The best part of this is that this relationship has not ended, and over the past year, we have been working to create a youth council that can advise the royal house on social issues.

Are there any specific sectors within your community that are making greater progress on the SDGs (e.g. Civil society, private sector, local municipalities, academic institutions, etc)? Any surprising examples?

I strongly believe that Spain is a country that is interested in advancing the 2030 Agenda — one proof of thisis that since January 2020,we have a ministry focused on social issues and the sustainable development goals.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Spain is experiencing one of its most difficult health, economic, and social crises in recent history. This situation is revealing the limits of our system. However, the government’s reaction to this crisis has been different than previous ones. It has worked with autonomous regional governments, civil society, and other economic and social actors to create a social shield.

Do you feel that there is still a gap in overall awareness of the SDGs and collaboration on tracking progress and implementation in your community? If so, how could these gaps be addressed?

On a global scale, I think that great efforts have been made to raise awareness about the SDGs. In Spain, however, I believe we still need to keep working on our awareness efforts, because apart from specific media campaigns and conferences, there are no intentions of introducing the Goals into our school curriculums. I think this is an important step to reach as many students as possible.

At the national level, the government has launched reports that measure our level of progress, but there are no systems or tools that allow organizations to feed in their work on the SDGs and add specific data. The data collection we have as a country does not measure the reality of the work we do on the SDGs and, in my opinion, that is a wasted opportunity to advance the agenda.

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