Kawthar Zerouali, Regional Programme Manager

Esther Grossman, Research Assistant

representatives from different civil society organizations from the Arab region

CSOs from the Arab region reflect on critical role as agents of change & accountability for the SDGs


The promise of peace, prosperity and sustainability for all that is embodied in the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development cannot be achieved but through the collaborative engagement of all key social actors, benefit from each partner’s comparative advantage.

Commentators have highlighted that one of the failures of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was the exclusion of civil society from the planning and goal-setting processes of development strategies from the beginning.

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are critical agents of change and accountability in any country. Their engagement in development planning processes at national and local levels adds value. Meaningful participation of women’s organizations is particularly important, since gender equality cuts across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Across the Arab region many CSOs are playing increasingly vital roles in pursuit of the SDGs and overcoming obstacles to their implementation – leveraging technology, innovation and partnerships to support change in the region. There is scope for CSOs to contribute more significantly to the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development plans and programmes at national and local levels

As 2030 comes closer, it is time for civil society, the United Nations and governments to gain equal footing in achieving and fulfilling their commitments to the 2030 Agenda.

With only 12 years left to 2030 deadline, UNDP feels an urgency to work closely with CSOs across the Arab region, at national and regional levels, to foster their stronger involvement in realizing the SDGs. To explore and recommend future steps for such strengthened engagement, stimulate closer networking and exchange of experiences, UNDP convened 30 CSO partners that are concerned with the SDGs and advancing gender equality. Here are some of the participating CSOs and their views:


Asma Society for Development is a network of researchers and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that started in 2016, in Sudan. They believe that CSOs can significantly contribute to the 2030 Agenda through exercising a robust monitoring role. Asma’s major initiative, the Sudanese SDGs Platform, stems from this vision and gathers resources on the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs in Sudan. It also provides guidance on how CSOs can contribute to Sudan’s Voluntary National Report that is submitted to the UN High Level Political Forum – the agreed global monitoring mechanism.

People are at the heart of the SDGs, asserts El Showaya. All sectors of society should be involved in figuring out how to better implement the SDGs in Sudan – individuals, CSOs, students, researchers, academics, alongside the government. CSOs and the UN have an important leadership role to play in this.

“Only a collaborative partnership, including everyone would lead to success in achieving the 2030 Agenda– government, CSO and the private sector –all together towards a better future for our Sudan”


The Center for Arab Women Training and Research (CAWTAR), based in Tunisia, is a longtime partner of UNDP. It is present in all 22 Arab countries with 550 members. Gender equality and women’s empowerment is their key priority and they see in the SDGs an opportunity to advance this agenda.

CAWTAR conducts field research and analyses on different development topics aligned with the SDGs from a gender perspective. Studies and statistics produced by CAWTAR teams and partners are made available through an easily accessible online database. CAWTAR translates research into training tools for NGOS and governments to effectively incorporate gender as a cross cutting issue in dealing with all development challenges, explains Mejbri.

“We need to create and reinforce synergy between NGOS and UN Agencies, at local, national and regional levels. SDGs can be a catalyst to bring all the actors together and undertake collective efforts.”


 The Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) has been very active in the pursuit of the MDGs. In partnership with UNDP, the network played an active role in facilitating the engagement of CSOs from across the region in post-2015 regional consultations, which contributed to ultimately shaping the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

ANND continues to mainstream the SDGs throughout all its work and has, to this end, developed guidance manuals to facilitating action for implementing the 2030 Agenda, clarifies Bazzi. ANND also organizes an annual meeting for CSOs to formulate their views and have their independent voices to reach the UN High Level Political Forum.

“Inclusion of CSOs in the 2030 Agenda is imperative. ANND continues to engage with UN processes and mechanism to ensure CSO needs and recommendations are communicated and implemented.”


Transparency International (TI) works to ensure that SDG 16 for strong and accountable institutions is mainstreamed in all efforts geared towards SDGs achievement. The movement operates chapters in 7 Arab countries covering all 22 countries of the region.

TI encourages collaborative and participatory approaches to achieving the SDGs by bringing CSOs to the table where they can work best with governments and UN Agencies, explains Hattar. Achieving the SDGs requires strong and transparent institutions that are held to account by the people. Civil society has a critical role to play in that, but with its space of operation shrinking across the region, we have a big challenge to address.

“The setback in the space for civil society and media that we see today affects their ability to be the arm that that pushes for holding governments accountable. We must push for freedom and room for civil society to act.”


The Arab NGO Network for Environment and Development (RAED) is a regional network of 350 organizations operating in 17 Arab countries at national and regional levels. The work of RAED focuses on the SDGs related to environmental sustainability and climate change. All its members have adopted measures to implement projects, research and report on these SDGs in their respective contexts.

RAED has played important roles in the Arab region from the founding of the Millennium Development Goals to the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals. RAED continues to underscore the critical role of local communities in achieving the 2030 Agenda. People in small villages and hamlets are the main engine of change for a more environmentally sustainable Arab region that is capable of mitigating and adapting to climate change, explains El Sayed.

“CSOs cannot achieve anything concrete far from the local community. In climate change adaptation, local communities are the main actors that can tailor responses to the dangers and impacts of climate change.”

UNDP and will continue to partner with these leading CSOs and others that took part in this fruitful gathering. Their commitment to seeing the SDGs bear their fruits for the Arab region and their recommended actions to deepen collaborations among themselves and with other social stakeholder to strengthen SGs action, while ensuring gender equality is pioneering and inspiring.

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