The Sustainable Development Goals* (SDGs) are a new set of universal goals and targets adopted by 193 UN member states that outline a vision for the future for people and the planet. They replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which expired in 2015. The MDGs were launched in 2000 to make global progress on poverty, education, health, hunger and the environment.

The SDGs will be used to frame the UN member states’ agendas and policies over the next 15 years until 2030.

The SDGs have been put forward as a ‘transformative’ agenda that incorporates the needs and rights of all people and groups, including those who were left behind by the MDGs. The goals are also universal and will apply to all countries.

The SDGs are far broader in scope than the MDGs, and now include economic, environmental and social aspects of development.


The core challenges of quality healthcare, quality education and gender equality are tackled more robustly in the SDGs than in the MDGs. Other important issues are included, such as ending violence against children, ending gender-based violence; building peaceful, inclusive societies; decreasing inequality, and much more emphasis on environmental factors that affect global sustainability. Gender equality, and the importance of the empowerment and the human rights of girls and women, also play a key role in the goals.

The SDGs repeatedly state the importance of ‘leaving no one behind’. For Plan International, this is critical as we strive to reach the most excluded and marginalised girls, boys and young people.


Plan International’s work focused on ensuring that the SDGs truly represented and measured the lived realities of those on the margins. The 4 issues we lobbied for are:

  • the meaningful participation of young people in decision-making and accountability
  • adolescent girls’ needs and rights
  • the right to education
  • child protection

We also advocated for explicit recognition of the role girls, boys and young people must play in the SDGs, and we are calling for robust mechanisms to rigorously track implementation of the 17 SDGs if they are to transform the lives of millions of children as promised.

Among those left behind by the MDGs is the critical demographic of adolescent girls, whom we know from decades of research are important to any effort to achieve sustainable development. Recent studies have shown that the discrimination and marginalisation faced by many adolescent girls results from the intersecting identities they hold as young people, females, and a multitude of other variables including ethnicity, disability, location and orientation.

Group of young people having a discussion. Box says Plan International is calling for all girls and boys to have a voice and effectively participate in decisions affecting them

Plan International has worked closely with young people around the world to enable them to participate in these decisions that affect them, because we believe that their insights and innovation are critical to success as plans to implement and monitor the SDGs are developed. If girls, boys and young people are to inherit the benefits of the SDGs, they must be fully consulted and informed, as they are in the best position to comment on their everyday experiences and challenges, as well as the specific impact of laws and policies.

We encourage children, adolescents and youth to be leaders in their communities, contributing innovative ideas and an eagerness for delivering change that can transform lives for the better. Our global youth advocates from communities around the world have brought their ideas to the international stage, taking part in numerous international events and lobbying national and international governments to make the changes they want to the SDGs.


Plan International began work to influence the SDGs in 2011, continually meeting with UN member states and civil society coalitions to influence the framework, goals, targets, and indicators for the SDGs, including during the final, critical negotiation sessions in New York. We have held numerous meetings with governments in the countries where we work to ensure that the transformative potential of the SDGs is realised at national levels.

Plan International has also been working on measurement of the SDGs – to assess progress on reaching targets – through inputs into the creation of indicators in the areas of education, youth participation, adolescent girls and child protection, Plan International is working to ensure that “what is treasured is measured”; if indicators do not focus on the specific populations of concern, change will not be measured and resources may not flow to that group. We will continue to advocate for robust indicators in both the global and national indicators frameworks.

Plan International will now focus its work on influencing the implementation of the SDGs at the national level to ensure that commitments in the SDGs are translated into new, robust actions for children’s rights in all countries.

Boy in a classroom with an opened book. Box reads Plan International is calling for all children to complete 9 years of quality, free and safe education

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