From aspirations to action

Experimenting with innovative methods to advance the SDG agenda in North Macedonia

March 28, 2024


Every major societal project begins with an aspiration.

Aspirations frame our goals, motivate people and institutions to act, and help us construct societal agreements on complex issues. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the aspirations of our generation and provide an answer to the question ‘what kind of future do we all want?’. The SDGs are our blueprint for a better future and who wouldn’t rally behind a world as envisioned by the Goals, a world with no poverty, more resources for all, gender equality and more decent jobs for all, to name a few. 

The SDGs are drafted as aspirations, goals that we could achieve if we work together, in solidarity, committed and ready to invest and finance in development projects. The SDGs are a unique process of our times. They are the global development agenda for people, communities, organizations, and countries. They also present a powerful national agenda and allow policymakers to tailor their proposed policies to advance the agenda and mobilize public support around them.  The achievement of the Goals is conditioned upon our ability to build coalitions that will discuss, engage, and accelerate the agenda 2030 forward. In North Macedonia we also have the added benefit that the Agenda 2030 is complementary with the EU accession process, and that one goes hand in hand with the other. With advancing the SDGs we are making a clear dent in out EU journey as well. 

Many will point to the realities in the world today, and the current progress towards the SDGs as a refutation to some of our arguments above. But we do believe that setting aspirational goals inspires the creation of new ideas and ways of working/thinking to try and solve the challenges of today; it helps to mobilize action among people, communities, and institutions; and provides a normative/value consensus on what we need to focus our attention, financing, and interest. We also believe that the achievement of the SDGs as well as overcoming some of our societal polarization requires an added component of solidarity in development work

Inspiring new ideas to try and solve the challenges of today.

Driven by the notion that aspirations can provoke new ideas and ways of working among people, but also in an attempt to demystify the Goals, so that they are not perceived as some agenda ‘out there’ but rather as something that we encounter in all walks of life and can contribute to – we decided to crowdsource ideas from people on how we can better design policies and process that allow us to address the development challenges of today. We believe that by soliciting ideas from the public [particularly among communities that have vested interest in development policies: the media, civil society, academia, practitioners, youth] on how we can move the agenda 2030 forward, we can encourage the utilization of innovation, digitalization and new ways of thinking, financing, working to achieve the Goals. 

Through this process we learned that i) crowdsourcing ideas from the public on new and innovative ways to accelerate the SDGs is a promising experiment. Based on the interest of people to take part in the process, and the fact that we managed to select 14 new ideas (out of 60+ submissions) to be featured in the final publication we believe that the method generates interest among the expert public. ii) working in a co-creation process for developing knowledge products is proving to be useful, not just to gather new insights and knowledge but also to help UNDP  reach new and novel audiences. 


From how our cities can become more resilient, to finding new ways to incorporate climate change education in our public curriculum's, to climate resilient infrastructure and development financing – the publication brings development challenges and solutions closer to the public and provides new thinking and ways to act.  These topics are particularly important not just because they are a part of the Agenda 2030, but because they are essentials for everyday life, the development of people – communities and our societies. 

We also wanted to use this publication, and its launching event to promote a broader societal debate on the Goals, so for that reason we invited panelists that included members from the academia, civil society, journalists, private sector representatives and young people for a presentation of the articles in the publication, but also a broader debate on how we can accelerate the achievement towards the Goals. 

The public discussion, during the launching event for the publication, pinpointed areas where we can do better: from how to make data and information about the SDG more available to researchers and activists; to how we can embed and incorporate the Goals in the curricula of our higher education institutions; to partnering up with entities in the private sector that seem to have embedded sustainable development practices in their work; and finally to how to make an enabling environment for media houses and journalists to cover more stories related to the Goals. 


The work of UNDP in North Macedonia works on multiple fronts towards accelerating the achievement of the SDGs, and in this publication, we have taken the opportunity to highlight few of our interventions. 

‘One process where we lend our support, is creating the National Development Strategy, a strategic document that aims to chart the country’s development path for the next 20 years. This planning process is unique as its emphasis on citizens’ active involvement. We also believe it will give the country a holistic programmatic push towards accelerating the Agenda 2030 and the journey of the country towards the European Union. Our integrated and holistic approach to addressing gender equality, particularly in terms of strengthening the institutional capacities for fighting digital gender-based violence, as well as in fulfilling national and international commitments to prevent and fight gender-based violence. Notably, we played a crucial role in facilitating the establishment of counseling centers for victims of gender-based violence in three municipalities, that offer a comprehensive range of services encompassing prevention, counseling, and crisis or post-traumatic intervention. The success of these critical services is attributed to the effective collaboration fostered through inter-municipal cooperation and close partnerships between municipalities and the civic sector. Moreover, we have supported the mainstreaming of gender in multiple processes and projects that we work on, including in the Methodology on integrated local planning. 

Our office over the years has initiated activities that promote development-oriented policies that support decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and has helped business survive and retain workers. UNDP has supported over 22,000 people to escape from poverty by supporting their activation on the labor market while 6000 people have been given trainings in skills to improve their prospect for employment. 

Finally, we are contributing towards achieving higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading, and innovation, including through a focus on high value added and labor-intensive sectors: Assessment of several industries provides the needed know-how to bring the future skills needed, looking into potential of several industries for digital transformation. On air pollution, one of the great challenges the country is facing, UNDP has implemented a multi-pronged intervention to tackle the problem in the City of Skopje, focusing on the residential sector. Functional model for building low-emission districts was established, enabling 129 households to replace their old and inefficient heating devices, and to implement various energy efficiency measures.’

We would like to thank everyone involved in the process of developing this publication, particularly the Accelerator Lab team, the UNDP Communications and Gender teams as well as other teams within the organization that worked on this publication, the Institute for Human Rights, all the authors featured in the publication, and the panelists and audience that took part in this event.