If Sustainable Development Goals were a person or a figure, how would they look?
Would SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) — for example, be a haggard, mournful figure, or would she be chubby and burly?
Would SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) be a deplorable person, exhausted from all sorts of wastefulness and addiction, and would Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure — SDG 9 — be a geeky, bespectacled boy?
Feisty bottle-smashing man
The answer, by the way, at least according to the SDG Action Superheroes created by the Alliance for Science, is a bright-yellowed man with Superman-like hair and an equally bright conical hat, a feisty bottle-smashing man in a green field standing on a pile of all sorts of things- electronic and all, and a hot strapping zillennial in a beanie and mini skirt, respectively.
These 18 Action Superheroes, each representing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (18 because SDG 17, for Partnership for the Goals, are two figures high-fiving each other to show you know, cooperation) are a concept created and developed by the Alliance for Science as part of its efforts to boost awareness around SDGs.
“A picture tells a thousand words. People pick up more from our visuals than we think,” says Dr Sheila Ochugboju, the Alliance for Science Executive Director.
“The idea was to try and make the Climate Action Zone lively by injecting something interesting, especially for young people.”
The inspiration for the Action Superheroes, she says, came from a conversation she had with an AfS graphic designer.
“I had a theory of change based on Stockholm Resilience that a healthy planet builds a healthy society. So how could we make it our own? He (the graphic designer) created a world where he embedded the theory in iconography.
At the base of the biosphere are four SDGs and hence our four characters- Life on Land, Life Below Water, Climate Action, and Clean Water and Sanitation. Above them are No Poverty, Partnerships, Affordable and Clean Energy, and then at the top, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.”
Before they settled on the characterization of Sustainable Development Goals, there had been other equally exciting ideas: The superheroes in a race, overwhelmed by different obstacles and falling back or dropping out of the race at various points with their unimpressed coach, urging them to speed up.
The intended message was acceleration.
“The idea was to try and make the Climate Action Zone lively by injecting something interesting, especially for young people. So, I thought, let’s bring our SDGs to life,” she says.
The initial icons were all round and chubby before they underwent a remarkable transformation into impressive, energetic, inspiring superhero figures.
The Climate Action Zone (CAZ) is an Alliance for Science side event to the Africa Climate Summit, which is being hosted in Nairobi, Kenya, from September 4 to 6, 2023.
The CAZ will be at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Upper Hill, Nairobi, from September 3 to 6, 2023.
The initial icons were all round and chubby (noticeably, Zero Hunger looked uncomfortably healthy, but maybe that’s the point?) before they underwent a remarkable transformation into the impressive, energetic, inspiring superhero figures they eventually became.
“If we can’t live on earth because of climate change, then we’re not going to school, and certainly, there is no gender equality because we’re just trying to live. It becomes just survival.”
“While all SDGs are interconnected, I feel there are levels. Not all of them are as important as each other. If we don’t have a healthy planet, that is the SDGs on the base of the biosphere; then the rest become pointless,” Dr Ochugboju says.
“For instance, if we can’t live on earth because of climate change, then we’re not going to school, and certainly, there is no gender equality because we’re just trying to live. It becomes just survival.”
Her rationale is to put more resources into stabilizing our biosphere, and this partly gave birth to the idea of the Climate Action Zone, which is intended to be a convergence of all the Climate Action Actors in the region.
We are finding our solutions
“I have attended COPs for a while, and I have found some of them underwhelming. The question then becomes, who suffers from this delayed implementation?
“It’s us, especially the Global South. So, how do we make these bodies move beyond talk? With this Climate Action Zone, we are taking charge of our narratives and finding solutions.
“We are developing a space where we claim the action narrative. And anybody interested in talking about and taking action should come to our space.”
And so, the idea of the Climate Action Zone was born to serve as a support function and to complement rather than compete with the other Climate Change spaces, such as the Africa Climate Summit, which will coincide with the conference, because, as Dr Ochugboju explains, it takes more than one person to achieve these goals.
Action Superheroes are not just trinkets. There are long-term plans to engage them past the Climate Action Zone event.
“We cannot afford to fight; we are all one planet. There’s a need to bring everybody on board because there’s a danger of those who care being overwhelmed and those who don’t care slowing down action,” she says.
Not just trinkets
The Action Superheroes will be displayed at the Climate Action Zone to help keep our minds on the prize: science for humanity. To create a buzz, to generate energy around these SDGs, and to help everyone understand them from their point of view.
However, these Action Superheroes are not just trinkets. There are long-term plans to engage them past the Climate Action Zone event.
“They can help facilitate all conversations in the future. We want to animate them and use them to tell our stories. If Zero Hunger was a superhero with a mission to achieve zero hunger, what would the challenges be for that person, say in Asia or the UK?” Dr Ochugboju poses.
“That hero can help us have empathy for the urban poor person in the streets in New York who can’t afford meals and equally for those in an underdeveloped country somewhere, dying from malnutrition caused by famine. In this case, the hero will help us unify against the common enemy — hunger.”
Alliance for Science and other agencies invest in education and create awareness and enthusiasm around the different SDGs.
Dr Ochugboju says that the global goal of adaptation should be an SDG by its merit because the fact that different SDGs have different financing mechanisms has affected the speed at which individual goals are achievable.
Creating awareness and enthusiasm
However, one problem that cuts across other than misinformation is the reluctance of those in the know. This is why the Alliance for Science and other agencies also invest in education and create awareness and enthusiasm around the different SDGs.
“The only way to do this is to encourage people to own these SDGs as if they were their ideas. Otherwise, we will continue facing these challenges we are facing in implementation. As Dale Carnegie famously said, “A man convinced against his will is of the opinion still.”
Okay, but getting back to the elephant in the room (pardon the pun) in terms of achievement, if these action heroes were to be in a race, who do you think would be the last one in the race?
“Zero hunger,” says Dr Ochugboju.
‘Certainly not the strapping number 9,’ I want to say.
Or perhaps it is that feisty, raging figure of a bottle smasher because, have you ever tried beating an addiction?
Well, we wait to find out, first, from the Climate Action Zone and later when we get to 2030, the year in which the Sustainable Development Goals are meant to have been fully achieved.
Gloriah Amondi is a Kenya-based multilingual human rights lawyer, Mandarin teacher, and writer contributing to The Nation’s weekend editions. Her works have been published in journals such as Kalahari Review, Ibua Literary Journal, Lolwe Literary Magazine, and Dooney’s Café.