Author Archives: Maria Violeta Bertolini

Words of the SDGs: Participation

With more than 2500 non-State actors registered, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are a crucial part of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF). They contribute ideas, reflections, experience, inspiration – and sometimes criticism – making HLPF into a varied and dynamic event.

Transparency, accountability, measurement, monitoring, reporting, implementation, involvement, engagement, contribution, responsibility, accessibility, ownership: just a few of the keywords that have characterised CSO participation so far in New York this year.

But it is the concept of ‘participation’ itself that will be the focus of this blog. Because the possibility for non-State actors to engage and make their voices heard is not a given.


The 2030 Agenda itself underlines the importance of participation, and across sessions and side events at HLPF 2018, this idea continues to be high on the agenda. Three perspectives in particular have been discussed in relation to civil society participation: the country level, the regional level, and the international level.

A reflexion on the participation of CSOs at each of these levels follows:

Participation at the Country Level

One big question is: To what extent CSOs are involved at a national level?

Have they been invited to participate in commissions or workshops to discuss monitoring or implementation? How has this participation been formalised? Have CSOs been invited to give input or review documents and provide comments? Were these comments incorporated or considered at all? How about marginalised or most vulnerable groups? Is there an outreach strategy or mechanism in place by the government?

In the first week of the HLPF, we’ve heard and seen it all. There are cases of countries involving stakeholders to reach a consensus from the word ‘go’. This is the ideal situation! In some countries governments have taken comments from CSOs, but only incorporated them partially into their planning and reporting. Nonetheless, this is also a good advance. However, in other cases CSOs really want to voice their concerns or ideas, but they find no proper mechanism to give feedback.

Awareness is a big issue. How can you participate if you don’t know what is going on? How aware are CSO stakeholders of the actions taken by government in relation to the SDGs? How aware is the government about their responsibilities to achieve the SDGs? More efforts are needed to raise awareness across the board.

One of the challenges faced by CSOs is the lack of information on who is really in charge of SDG planning and implementation. With fragmented governance of delivering the 2030 Agenda in many cases, it is very hard to find the right people, and this gets even harder when administrations change or after elections have taken place. Even official HLPF country pages are somewhat incomplete or outdated. This can mean a lot of time spent and lost opportunities for CSOs.

Considering the multiplicity of topics in the 2030 Agenda, having a national coordinating body, usually at the highest level in the government organisational structure, and assigning focal points from all ministries and specialised agencies to be part of a steering committee for planning and reporting is considered a good practice.

Multi-stakeholder commissions, across all areas and involving crosscutting issues, are definitely a good way forward. A space for dialogue between government, private sector, academia, and civil society is key, but this needs to have an impact on public policy to be truly worthwhile.

In some cases, CSOs have presented reports, sometimes called “shadow reports”. These reports can have several approaches: they can point out what is missing, they can use the same data and do another interpretation, or they can provide new evidence. But interrogations remain about these: How to ensure that CSOs are considered partners in monitoring progress? What should these reports look like? How and where should they be submitted for consideration?

Those countries that have placed the SDGs in the legal framework or have ensured that access to information laws that are enforced, have an advantage. But unfortunately, it’s not that common. Informal engagements are usually well received and there are relatively positive efforts to open processes. However, the lack of methodology or an established process makes it harder to become a reality.

Since CSO involvement is recommended but not mandatory for Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), the situation varies a lot from country to country. Some countries are really struggling to find the right process or methodology. In some cases, they have open mechanisms, with key stakeholders involved and included in validation stages. In others participation is ad hoc, and only small groups are consulted, often on an arbitrary basis.

Bringing less frequently heard voices to the mainstreaming process is key in the hopes of leaving no one behind. Still it is mostly well organised and well-funded NGOs that are the ones at the table. Even within CSOs some take the leadership and it is very hard for small ones or those outside of the mainstream to convey their messages.

CSOs coalitions are a possible solution to secure civil society participation. Since space for participation is shrinking in some countries, given the political climate, consensus and group representation through creating coalitions sounds like a good way to go.

Participation at the Regional Level

This year, preparatory meetings took place in 5 regions before the HLPF for: Europe (ECE), Arab countries (ESCWA), Asia-Pacific (ESCAP), Africa (ECA) and Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

These meetings have been a good opportunity for civil society to participate, get to know each other and foster collaboration in preparation for the HLPF, particularly through side events and the creation of Civil Society Declarations and, the much needed, CSO Participation Mechanisms.

Session: “Thematic review: Implementing the SDGs: lessons from the regions”

Session: “Thematic review: Implementing the SDGs: lessons from the regions”

As mentioned during the session “Thematic review: Implementing the SDGs: lessons from the regions” the regional and sub-regional levels are recognised as a good environment for discussion and peer-learning, with more space for dialogue than the international level. However, even though there is a mechanism for CSOs to engage at different moments during these fora, the inputs are usually missing in the Ministerial declarations.

As indicated by the NGO Major Group, the regional forums need to be a space to monitor progress, and there should be more space for thematic discussions in the regional level, since the HLPF has proven to be not enough.

Participation at the International Level

The High Level Political Forum (HLFP) is undoubtedly a unique event for countries to present on their progress to a global audience, to learn from other members states from all regions, as well as to interact with government, UN officials and civil society. However, there is a certain level of shared criticism about the level and modalities of participation across the board.

Particularly for CSOs, opportunities for participation on an equal basis with governments are still scarce. As a new development, some countries are bringing CSO representatives to present along with governments, at the VNRs, notably Switzerland and Latvia. However, time for presentations is very limited (1-2 minutes) and it is very hard to send the message of so many stakeholders across in such little time.

Even though CSO have limited opportunities to take the floor and formally interact with their countries during the HLPF, according to a survey prepared by the UN Foundation on the HLPF, some member states surprisingly perceive that CSO has too much space at these fora. This shows how important perceptions are, how these can affect reality.

In addition to this, there is the problem of capacity, funding and language barriers, that make participation at the international level a challenge for most CSOs. Mostly international NGOs are seen at these forums, instead of national or local organisations.

For this, it is very important that international CSOs engage with the local and national levels to bring in their perspectives (particularly in countries where the UN doesn’t have local offices), work with them and give them a voice. A positive added benefit of participating of the HLPF is that there are  many opportunities to meet national representatives. In some cases, meeting a representative at the HLPF helps in getting a better response back in the country too.

Side event: "An NGO Toolbox to Enhance Implementation of the 2030 Agenda: Towards Sustainable and Resilient Communities" (Photo of the NGO Major Group)

Side event: “An NGO Toolbox to Enhance Implementation of the 2030 Agenda: Towards Sustainable and Resilient Communities” (Photo of the NGO Major Group)

Conclusion and Next Steps

The good news is that there have been improvements, and the fact that there are complaints of the lack of space is a good signal that shows a great interest in the process, from all actors.

The reality is experience of enabling the participation of CSOs is still limited, and it is evident that governments, the UN and CSOs are learning as they go. It is good to know that 2019 will bring a formal opportunity to review the modalities and devise other methodologies.

Learning from the first 4 years of HLPF experience in order to find better ways towards SDG implementation is key. A more operational approach, a bigger space for sharing best practices and recommendations, and a stronger commitment and follow up are some of the improvements people are looking for in this next stage.

For CSOs, the most valuable change would be to foster better discussions and open dialogue with governments. The effective recognition of the multi-stakeholder principle at the country, regional, and international levels is imperative.

One thing is clear, the 2030 Agenda cannot be achieved without civil society. An open and inclusive approach is the only way to go.

IFLA at the Second meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development – Days 3, 4 and 5 (Advocacy at the Forum, Side event and Civil Society Declaration)

IFLA Delegation at the ForumAfter taking active part in two days of Civil Society meetings on 16-17 April at the Second meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development, IFLA’s delegation in Santiago, Chile, continued its advocacy efforts to get libraries and access to information into the Agenda.

18 April started bright and early, securing a seat in the Civil Society area to attend the official opening of the Forum by Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) (read the speech and watch the video).

During her welcome address, she stressed:

“It is essential that the civil society is actively involved in the processes that contribute to decision-making, planning and implementation of policies and programmes that promote sustainable development in its three dimensions and at all levels, and that appropriates it to ensure it permeates widely in all social sectors, and everywhere.

This is even more relevant in the current political context, and the changes in the governments that the region is going through. Civil society must be guarantor of continuity in the process of implementing the 2030 Agenda and that this roadmap is a substantial part of the development agendas of the new governments of the region.”

“Let’s continue creating together the conditions for civil society to continue articulating its modalities of participation, dialogue and collaboration with national and regional mechanisms such as the Forum for monitoring and progress review of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and that, in this way, we generate renewed and solid partnerships for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and their respective targets.”

She then continued by adding:

“Actually, the 2030 Agenda will only be achieved if all the actors are sitting around the table and that’s why we wanted the present Forum to have a multi-actor characteristic.”

The address was followed by a message pronounced by Norma Munguía, Director General for Global Affairs, on behalf of Ambassador Miguel Ruiz Cabañas, Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs of Mexico and Chair of the Forum (read the speech).

In her message, Norma Munguía stated:

We must encourage the use of technology and innovation in improving the living conditions of our societies, while facilitating access to information and promoting the mobilization of public and private resources.

Later, Alicia Bárcena gave an overview of the key points (download presentation) of the Second annual report on regional progress and challenges in relation to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean launched during the  Forum.

While part of IFLA delegation was still working on drafting the Civil Society Declaration, the rest of IFLA delegates attended the peer learning sessions in the afternoon. This helped to find the right moment to approach Alicia Bárcena to bring the message of libraries.

Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)Adriana Cybele Ferrari (FEBAB President, Brazil and IFLA IAP participant) approached ECLAC’s Executive Secretary and delivered a copy of the Development and Access to Information (DA2I) report, informing her that the library community is present at the Forum advocating for libraries and access to information. She also took the opportunity to mention the side event at the ECLAC Library on 19 April, and the launch of the “Santiago Declaration: Access to information to achieve sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean” during this event, which was enthusiastically encouraged by Mrs. Bárcena.

IFLA ECLAC Side Event19 April was an extremely successful day for our IFLA delegation, with two main highlights: the side event hosted by ECLAC’s Hernán Santa Cruz Library in partnership with IFLA: “The importance of access to information to achieve sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the reading of the Civil Society Declaration during the session “Dialogues on multi-stakeholder contributions to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, including access to information and culture. Learn more details of these two key milestones by reading our news piece and watching the recording of the side event.Reading of the Civil Society Declaration

At the end of this day, Jonathan Hernández Pérez (CNB President, Mexico and Associate of IFLA’s ILP) had the opportunity to meet Miguel Ruiz Cabañas, Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs of Mexico. Jonathan took this chance to introduce himself, IFLA and the CNB, present the work of libraries supporting development in Mexico, and offered the support of the library community for the preparations of Mexico’s next Voluntary National Review (VNR), providing clear examples of libraries’ contributions to development.

On 20 April, the last day of the Forum, IFLA delegates attended several sessions, including “Special statement on the importance of the regional dimension in the 2018 and 2019 meetings of the high-level political forum on sustainable development” and the side events: “Engaging scientists in the Latin American and Caribbean region to support the implementation of the SDGs” and “Recognizing the whole-of-society approach to the SDGs through integration of volunteerism data in VNRs”.

A quieter day at the Forum, allowed for pop-up advocacy action by both of our delegates Adriana Cybele Ferrari and Jonathan Hernández Pérez.

Jonathan approached Adolfo Ayuso-Audry, General Director of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Office of the President of Mexico, at the end of a side event to introduce the work of libraries in development, and ask for involvement in the Mexican VNR Commission. Minister Ayuso-Audry asked for his contact information and requested a brief to learn more about how libraries support the SDGs.

Adriana found her chance when she bumped into Enrique Villa da Costa Ferreira, National Secretary for Social Coordination of the Government Secretariat of the Office of the President of Brazil, and took the opportunity to introduce herself, present the work of libraries in Brazil, and ask to be included in the sectoral committees that work in the monitoring and implementation of the Agenda at the national level. Secretary Villa da Costa Ferreira provided guidance on how to get involved and Adriana promised to follow up.

Would you like to learn more about the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development – 2018?

Watch the recording of our side event with ECLAC’s Library in YouTube, find out more about IFLA’s work on libraries and development and the Development and Access to Information (DA2I) report.

*Photos by Sueli Mara Soares Pinto Ferreira, Lucia Abello and IFLA.

IFLA at the Second meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development – Days 1 and 2 (Civil Society Meetings)

Kicking-off a full week advocating for libraries and access to information at the Second meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development, IFLA’s delegation in Santiago, Chile, took active part of meetings organised by civil society at the Forum on 16-17 April.

On 17 April, local organisations representing civil society, Mesa de Articulación de Asociaciones Nacionales y Redes Regionales de ONG de América Latina y El Caribe and Asociación Chilena de Organismos No Gubernamentales (Acción Internacional), organised two side events about relevant issues related to Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) involvement in the UN 2030 Agenda and international cooperation, as well as the status of alternative reporting and their interactions with Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs).

South-south cooperation and the 2030 Agenda: challenges of civil society in LAC

Starting in the morning of 17 April, IFLA was present at the side event “South-south cooperation and the 2030 Agenda: challenges of civil society in LAC” where the situation of international cooperation in Chile and the role of CSOs in the 2030 Agenda implementation process and mechanisms was presented.  

In the afternoon, the “Training workshop on alternative reporting” was a perfect opportunity to present the Development and Access to Information (DA2I) report, a contribution from IFLA and TASCHA to the monitoring of the 2030 Agenda by measuring access to information and the libraries’ contribution to achieving sustainable development and the 17 SDGs. The event discussed shadow reporting, including an overview of challenges presented by SDG indicators, and reflections related to financing and CSOs involvement and support.Training workshop on alternative reporting

The programme of the Forum started officially on 17 April with the “Latin America and the Caribbean civil society consultation prior to the second meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development” (morning and afternoon programmes).

Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) opened with a speech addressing her views on the current status of the 2030 Agenda in the region, and she stated: “Governments have stopped talking about the 2030 Agenda (…) The 2030 Agenda is a priority, a necessity. It’s the only way to battle inequality.”

Opening by Alicia Bárcena

This event was an excellent opportunity for IFLA delegates present on the first days of the Forum: Adriana Cybele Ferrari (FEBAB President, Brazil) and Maria Violeta Bertolini (IFLA), with the support of Sueli Mara Soares Pinto Ferreira (IFLA Governing Board Member/FEBAB, Brazil) to connect with other civil society organisations and ensure the need for meaningful access to information is considered throughout the event as a key element for sustainable development.

IFLA delegation at the ForumAs a few highlights: as a result of networking with fellow Brazilian civil society members, Adriana was invited to be involved in the Comissão Nacional para os Objetivos de Desenvolvimento Sustentável (CNODS) of Brazil. Moreover, the IFLA the delegation had the opportunity to connect with Rosario Diaz Garavito, founder of The Millennials Movement and one of the UN NGO Major Group Operating Partners for Latin America as well as Co Focal Point on Humanitarian Affairs for the LATAM region. This was an opportunity to identify the common interests related to empowering youth, in our case through libraries, and to discuss potential room for collaboration at a regional level.IFLA with NGO Major Group LATAM

During the Civil Society consultation, the IFLA delegation took part in the discussions where key ideas to be included in the Civil Society Declaration were presented, to form a collective declaration that will be read at the Forum before the end of this week. In addition to submitting a key idea arguing for the need to recognise access to information as a human right, and the need for informed, empowered and committed citizens to have a participatory, inclusive and democratic agenda, IFLA volunteered to be part of the Civil Society team compiling all contributions and writing the final declaration.Civil Society Declaration

In the afternoon, the proposed mechanism/modality of civil society participation in the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development was reviewed, with very engaging discussions that will shape the future of Civil Society participation in LAC regional forums.

We look forward to continuing engaging with fellow Civil Society representatives after the official opening of the Forum that takes place today!

Civil Society Meetings

Find out more about IFLA’s work on libraries and development, the Development and Access to Information (DA2I) report, and follow us during the event on Twitter (@IFLA and @IFLA_Lib4Dev, and Facebook).

Use hashtags #ForoALC2030, #ForumLAC2030, #DA2I, and #Lib4Dev to stay tuned!

Everyone Can Develop, But Not Without Access to Information

Development and Access to InformationTen years ago, Oxfam launched a successful campaign based on the proverb: ‘Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime’.

The idea is an easy one to understand – sustainable solutions to people’s problems come not from handouts, but from teaching them how to become economically independent. And it is applicable everywhere, not just in developing countries.

For libraries, there is a third step. Give someone access to information, and they can build new skills, stronger communities and better lives. They can not only survive, but thrive. The Development and Access to Information (DA2I) report, to be launched at the High Level Political Forum, shows how.

Access is more than formal education

The world is changing for everyone. To adapt, we need to be able to take the right decisions, at all points in our life. Even in the most developed countries, the process of acquiring, processing and applying information cannot stop with the end of formal education. And elsewhere, many people have had only limited schooling, if any at all.

Access to information, from the results of cutting edge medical research to basic hygiene tips, from the latest crop prices to data about traffic congestion, is vital. And it needs to be delivered in a way that allows everyone to benefit – women and men, poor and rich, rural and urban.

Access is more than computers and cables

It is undeniable that the Internet has created unprecedented opportunities to discover, create and share information. Never have we been able to find so many facts and opinions so quickly, collaborate across borders so easily, or apply such powerful tools to make new discoveries.

Getting online requires networks and hardware, as well as low-cost or free options, such as public access points, for those who have limited resources. A mixture of investment, innovative tools and business models, and the right regulation will be essential.

Without relevant content in a language the user understands, and without the skills and attitudes necessary to feel confident, the Internet cannot realise its potential. At its best, the Internet should not only allow users to consume, but to produce the information that will help others in their communities learn and grow as well.

Not just access. Meaningful, inclusive access

As an essential ingredient of development, we need better to understand the degree to which people around the world have the possibility to access information. We need also to understand what it takes to make this access useful.

The Development and Access to Information (DA2I) Report, to be launched by IFLA and TASCHA on 17 July 2017, marks the starting point of a major new effort to achieve this. By setting out a set of baseline indicators, it underlines the challenges we face today, and provides a benchmark allowing readers to monitor progress in future.

Addressing four of the focus SDGs of this year’s HLPF, the DA2I report also illustrates how meaningful access to information delivers results in the fields of agriculture, health, gender equality and innovation.

Furthermore, it underlines the importance of forming partnerships between actors to deliver access to information – national and local governments, business, practitioners, researchers.

Libraries are central to such partnerships. They do not just offer access to information, but they make it meaningful and inclusive. From enabling international research collaborations, to delivering the skills, support and safe environment vulnerable groups at a local level need, libraries help citizens exercise their right to development and improve their lives.


Development and Access to Information (DA2I) is the first of a series of annual reports that will monitor the progress countries are making towards fulfilling their commitment to promote meaningful access to information as part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Produced by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), in partnership with the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington, it underlines the invaluable contribution that information access, particularly through libraries, makes to promoting more socially and economically inclusive societies. The report will be launched on 17 July, in the margins of the High Level Political Forum.


You can learn more about the DA2I report on the dedicated website (, as well as register to receive a notification when the report has been launched and it is ready for download!

Learn more about the work of IFLA in Libraries, Development and the United Nations 2030 Agenda:

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – How to Keep a Promise

By Stephen Wyber, Policy and Research Officer at IFLA (stephen.wyber[at]
For those of us who struggle with multi-tasking, having seventeen different goals at the same time seems like a lot. However, this is what all the UN’s membership committed to in December 2015.

The Sustainable Development Goals cover a broad range of issues. Basic nutrition, high technology, gender equality, stronger institutional partnerships, are just a few. The breadth of the goals serves as a reminder that everyone can and must contribute. Government, businesses and civil society, have a role to play in building a better world ensuring that no one is left behind.

IFLA has been quick to set out how libraries are already doing their part, all around the world.

Libraries can and should be at the heart of delivering development at the national level. They bring a distinctive understanding of their communities’ needs. They are unique as safe, neutral, public spaces, and are often vital in providing access to the internet. And most fundamentally, they are central to the provision of access to information and knowledge. This is not only a specific target under Goal 16, but also underpins much of the rest of Agenda 2030.

But for libraries to fulfil this role, they need the right laws. Without limitations on the monopoly powers offered by copyright, the only thing that would determine whether a person can access, borrow, quote from, translate, copy, or use a work in the classroom would be their purchasing power. And as very first of the Sustainable Development Goals reminds us, we are a long way from eradicating poverty.

Access the knowledge
Limitations and exceptions to copyright for libraries help overcome this, offering a legal path to access to knowledge that at the same time ensures that right holders too receive an income.

Here are just some examples of how:

  • When libraries can lend out the books they own, they support literacy and a love of reading. This supports Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
  • When libraries can make copies for their users, and share them with other libraries, including internationally, they promote innovation and international research networks. This supports Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
  • When libraries are empowered to make and share accessible format copies of books, they ensure that the fact of having a reading disability does not mean that you lose your access to knowledge. This supports Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries.
  • When libraries can let users undertake text and data mining on their materials, they open the door to new medical discoveries. This supports Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
  • When libraries can act to preserve books and other documents, they ensure that we will hand on a rich and diverse historical record to the next generations. This supports Goal 11.4: Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
  • When libraries can operate effectively, they act as community hubs, idea stories, that boost growth and equality. This supports Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

The WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights has the possibility to introduce the right laws for libraries around the world.

As underlined at a conference in the margins of the Organisation’s General Assembly last month, WIPO is part of the UN family and so committed to pursuing its objectives. All of the member states at the table have promised to meet these objectives. By promoting an effective set of limitations and exceptions to copyright for libraries, they have a great way of keeping this promise.