SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development: 'Leave No One' Behind National Dialogues

SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development: 'Leave No One' Behind National Dialogues


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Problems and Purpose

After the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an opportunity has been presented for the collaboration and consolidation of efforts towards the agenda’s implementation. The SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development is a participatory platform for civil society organizations (CSOs) and government ministries/county governments within Kenya to strategically align, organize and participate in critical conversations regarding the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


Since its independence from British colonial rule in 1963, Kenya has pursued development strategies that have focused largely on eradicating hunger, illiteracy and diseases, all of which have been major ongoing issues for the country. However by the year 2000, 37 years after independence, Kenya’s GDP growth rate was only between 0 to 0.2%, and about 60% of Kenyans were still living below the poverty line. The main challenges in meeting sustainable development have been outlined by the Kenyan government as an inadequacy of resources for financing development-related activities, food and fuel crises, and unfavourable international trade practices that continue to reverse the nation’s economic gains.

In September 2015, the United Nations (UN) made a bold move towards the global objective of sustainable development with their release of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The SDGs call for full and effective participation of all member states of the UN, which includes the sovereign state of Kenya. Adopted during the 70th UN General Assembly, the SDGs are comprised of seventeen goals, each with a specific set of respective targets and indicators, addressing cross cutting sectors that strive for the realization of sustainable development worldwide. The goals encompass the overarching urgency for economic prosperity, social welfare, political development and environmental sustainability, particularly within countries of the Global South. The SDGs provide a framework for development actors to collaboratively advance various issues such as environmental sustainability, clean energy, education, food security, global health, poverty eradication, peaceful and inclusive societies, advance gender equality, and address inequalities within and between countries. With its broad design, the SDGs are meant to be highly inclusive in order to ensure that ‘no one is left behind’ and that all development actors are collectively engaged during implementation. National governments and other stakeholders, including civil society, the private sector and UN Agencies, are gearing towards implementation with the explicit need to develop mechanisms for cultivating political will, tracking indicators’ progress, collecting and analyzing data, strengthening national accountability structures and mobilizing financial resources.

Established in 2015, the SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development is currently comprised of thirty committee member organizations, each with a unique area of specialization in regard to the SDGs. With their partnerships, the Forum strives to provide technical support to respective government department and development partners, such as FEMNET, the World Wildlife Fund and CIVICUS, which are key to the implementation of the SDGs. The Forum believes that it is critical to partner with CSOs and other stakeholders. This is because effective partnerships are critical for success due to the fact that fragmented governance and financing create high transaction costs, hindering effective harmonization at the national level. Therefore, integration can optimize the efficient use of the country’s resources and reduce duplication and wastage. Overall, the forum and its dialogues work to establish basic structures and to produce technical resources to guide engagement with the government and to initiate the conversation required to ensure that all development actors in Kenya are on board and engaged with a harmonized implementation strategy for the SDGs. 

Originating Entities and Funding

The Forum resulted from a process by which Kenyan CSOs came together in 2015 following the release of the SDGs in order to contribute to discussions that reviewed and pushed for the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In terms of creating ownership of the SDGs in Kenya, the Forum has positioned itself to coordinate CSOs’ engagement with the government, working closely with the SDGs coordination unit at the Ministry of Devolution and Planning. This has however not in any way precluded other CSOs from directly engaging with the government on SDG-specific thematic issues. The Forum, with the priority of formally engaging national and county governments in Kenya’s domestication of the SDGs, remains open to a broad-based participatory and inclusive membership. This has been done by creating opportunities for the government to directly engage CSOs and other stakeholders in the progress being made surrounding national implementation of the SDGs, such as the development of Kenya’s Road Map. 

Participant Selection

CSOs that are partnered with the SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development, such as Caritas Kenya, the Local Development Research Institute (LDRI), and the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), worked closely with target communities across the country to mobilize the most vulnerable members by means of referrals and word-of-mouth. The collaboration also ensured that the meeting environment was accessible and conducive for open and interactive participation to those groups of people who have been ‘left behind’ in the development agenda. These groups include women facing gender discrimination, especially uneducated women, people living under extreme poverty who are misused for political gain, people living with disabilities, especially young children, widows who have been abandoned and often denied property rights, and the elderly, especially those who have the burden of taking care of orphans. In addition to these groups, others include people living with HIV & AIDS, street families who have been neglected without access to basic needs, orphans who have been mistreated and denied basic needs, illiterate people disregarded in citizen participation, pastoralists, neglected and often seen as menaces, people living in marginalised areas who lack access to basic amenities, youth whose unemployment often results in desperation, children, and stateless refugees with no identification documents and therefore no official set of rights.

The SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development serves to provide an avenue for advocacy with the Kenyan national government by mobilizing fellow civil society to support a common position during strategic advocacy moments. Keen to galvanize support from civil society and serve as a link between non-state actors and the government, the SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development has stayed true to the slogan ‘leave no one behind’, as it has opened its doors to virtually all those who are interested in joining simply by registering on their website. The specific mobilization process for the ‘Leave No One Behind’ National Dialogues were built around a series of meetings held in five counties, namely Kakamega, Machakos, Meru, Kajiado and Nakuru. 

Methods and Tools Used

The democratic innovation, particularly within citizen participation, that is embodied in SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development’s framework is the concept of ‘national dialogue’. According to the United States Institute of Peace, national dialogue is an increasingly popular tool for conflict resolution and political transformation that can be used to broaden debates regarding a country’s trajectory beyond the usual elite decision makers. National dialogues offer the potential for meaningful conversation about the underlying drivers of conflict and ways to holistically address the relative issues. While national dialogues can follow multiple models, dependent on context, they will in general have a higher likelihood of success, as demonstrated by the SDGs Kenya Forum, if they incorporate the following principles: inclusion, transparency and public participation, a far-reaching agenda, a credible convener, appropriate and clear rules of procedure, and an implementation plan. National dialogues have become an increasingly popular tool for conflict resolution and political transformation, with cases of implementation occurring namely in Kenya, Tunisia, Senegal and Yemen (Stigant 2015). Although national dialogue has proven to be successful in a diverse group of countries and circumstances, there must remain a critical lens on this phenomenon, as there lays a risk in the possibility for national dialogues to be deliberately misused by leaders seeking to further consolidate their grip on power. 

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

With the goal to draw a wide range of participants, mainly ordinary citizens, into the conversation on the SDGs, and subsequently to interest them in the implementation of the SDGs, the principle of the ‘Leave No One Behind’ National Dialogues offer the hope of a future where people live together in harmony on a safe and sustainable planet. The series of dialogues are envisaged as a call to action, focusing primarily on the national roadmap as an entry point in developing credible mechanisms that would serve to formulate a system of indicators in order to track the progress, implementation, financing and monitoring of the SDGs in Kenya. Through the dialogues, the participants commonly agree that it is important for the SDGs to be domesticated, both nationally and locally, so as to ensure that equal opportunity is given to everyone to offer their insights, priorities and suggestions on how they can participate in decision-making and implementation of the SDGs. In addition, inclusivity is highlighted as a major factor in the dialogues, insomuch as a crucial component of the implementation of the SDGs is the collective input of women, youth, disabled peoples, children and community volunteers. 

The national dialogues, ‘Leave No One Behind’, which occur periodically in different counties across Kenya, are driven by the need to have a coordinated and structured approach for civil society and citizens to engage the government and other development actors towards the implementation of the SDGs. As outlined in the 2010 Kenyan Constitution, it is important to align national policies with global and regional commitments, as international experience shows that decentralization improves accountability and citizen participation while also inspiring good governance by strengthening the capacity of citizen and CSOs through social accountability mechanisms.

The Forum organizes a series of meetings and online consultations among its members, which work in clusters according to the mandate of their organisations. The members prepare joint goal-specific reports depending on how their work aligns with the respective goals under review. Through these reports the Forum develops a strategic plan to allow for its members to carry out the collective vision for sustainable development in Kenya.

In 2016 the Forum carried out ‘Leave No One Behind’ dialogues in 5 counties with the purpose of raising awareness and collating local views on key priorities for the SDGs. These dialogues sought to empower participants and encourage them to take more proactive and central roles in ensuring the implementation of the SDGs.

            The most recent national dialogue took place on May 9th, 2017, at Ufungamano House in Nairobi, Kenya. The Forum brought together representatives from the SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development, the Kenyan government, various media outlets, the United Nations Development Program, other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and grassroots leaders from eleven Kenyan counties to discuss the status of the SDGs in the country. 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

The ‘Leave No One Behind’ National Dialogues have engendered tremendous success throughout Kenya in its efforts to generate discussion on the topic of the SDGs. In particular, the counties of Nairobi, Kajiado, Nakuru, Meru, Tharaka-Nithi, Isiolo and Samburu have developed their own action plans for SDGs implementation in order to bring about desired changes in their livelihoods. The work plans included action by participants, local governments and development partners, such as pushing for alignment of County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs) with the SDGs. A CIDP provides counties with an overall framework for development by coordinating the work of all levels of the government in a coherent plan that strives to improve the quality of life for all citizens (The Council of Governors). The ‘Leave No One Behind’ National Dialogues have also resulted in the formation of SDGs County Forums, which bring together community representatives, county governments, the private sector and the media in a comprehensive conversation about SDGs implementation plans. Furthermore, the ‘Leave No One Behind’ National Dialogues have helped foster collaboration between CSOs and the Kenyan national and county governments, allowing for open negotiations and cooperation in deciding on potential strategies that may be conducive and critical for the implementation of the SDGs (UNDP 2016).

Having held a successful national forum with all major stakeholders in attendance, it was deduced by the SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development that Kenya has indeed made major strides towards the attainment of the SDGs. However, the participants of the dialogue collectively decided that the Sustainable Development Goals could only be fully achieved in Kenya if the elected strategy is implemented in a bottom-up manner that facilitates a people-centered and people-owned process.

            Contrary to its success, the ‘Leave No One Behind’ National Dialogues have also been faced with some challenges, including the limitation of resources among CSOs, thus hindering their abilities to intervene continuously at a local level. In addition, the national and county governments have demonstrated only partial understanding and commitment of their role to facilitate implementation of the SDGs (Voluntary National Review (VNR) of Progress on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Kenya). Thus, in order for the intervention to be completely inclusive in nature it would require an adequate amount of time to facilitate effective planning and mobilization for desired outcomes. 

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The case of the SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development and its ‘Leave No One Behind’ National Dialogues speak vastly to critical debates on citizen participation in development through both its methodology and its outcomes. The dialogues provide Kenyan citizens with a highly inclusive platform for open, interactive participation and accessibility to the marginalized groups of people who have been left behind in the development agenda. In its efforts, the ‘Leave No One Behind’ National Dialogues have firmly supported theories on citizen participation, which suggest that citizen participation can indeed generate constructive social, political, and economic outcomes within the realm of development (Report on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ‘Leave No One Behind’ National Dialogue). With a great deal of followers, acquired through word-of-mouth or social media outlets, and through partnerships with the government and CSOs, the SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development and the ‘Leave No One Behind’ National Dialogues leads to greater empowered citizen participation. In this sense, each of the stakeholders are further obliged to do their part in implementing the SDGs, as they have a larger number of citizens to whom they must answer.

Although the concept of national dialogue, as implemented by the SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development, has indeed demonstrated a high degree of effectiveness through its positive outcomes, citizen engagement in decision making processes is still somewhat lacking in terms of significant political achievements. In the case of Kenya, county local government initiatives require a sufficiently large amount of support in terms of evidence-based decision-making and intervention processes that give priority to marginalized groups. In order for the SDGs to be achieved on both a national and global scale, regional and national processes must continuously engage with local communities, so as to ensure citizen participation and collective efforts towards the realization of the 2030 Agenda.

            Perhaps the SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development could explore the possibility of additional partnerships to expand and upscale the ‘Leave No One Behind’ Dialogues in the remaining 42 Kenyan counties, which would further adhere to the principle of leave no one behind. The SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development has successfully identified the need for interventions targeting national and county governments, as well as the media, and must therefore seek to further prioritize, consolidate and take action on citizen voices. A useful tactic in this case would be the garnering of international attention, so as to ensure the Kenyan government keeps its promises with the implication that failing to do so would attract unwanted negative attention on the global scale.

In partnership with SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development, many CSOs in Kenya are demonstrating how the organization’s structure and methodology can be used as a model for other countries, with clear context-specific operational principles that foster national implementation of the SDGs. Furthermore, the efforts of the SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development provide a platform for civil society to intensify efforts and to strengthen other ongoing initiatives and development frameworks implemented by the Kenyan government, such as the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), of which Kenya is listed as an active partner. 

Secondary Sources

Dalitz, Anne. "Kenya's Civil Society Treads the Sustainable Development Pathway." SDGfunders: SDG Philanthropy Platform. Foundation Center, 21 Mar. 2016. Web.

"Launch of the SDGs Kenya Forum." FEMNET: The African Women's Community and Development Network. FEMNET, 03 Mar. 2016. Web.

"Leave No One Behind: Kenya Government Gives Road Map to Implementation of SDGs." UNDP in Kenya. United Nations Development Programme, 14 Sept. 2016. Web.

"National County Dialogue on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)." AACC-CETA. All African Conference Of Churches. All Africa Conference of Churches, 2016. Web.

"Navigating Data Roadmap Processes in Kenya and Tanzania." DataShift. N.p., 19 Apr. 2017. Web.

Stigant, Susan, and Elizabeth Murray. "National Dialogues: A Tool for Conflict Transformation?" United States Institute of Peace. The United States Institute of Peace, 23 Oct. 2015. Web.

External Links

SDGs Kenya Forum for Sustainable Development:

Report on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ‘Leave No One Behind’ National Dialogue:

Voluntary National Review (VNR) of Progress on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Kenya:

Sustainable Development in Kenya - Stocktaking in the run up to Rio+20:

The Council of Governors:



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