In September 2015, Canada and 192 other countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a global framework that is described as a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet.”
In the first episode of Healthy Cities in the SDG Era, Dr. Erica Di Ruggiero will speak to two experts who are working towards achieving these goals about what the SDGs are, why they matter to Canada, and how work at the University of Toronto is helping to achieve them.
Margaret Biggs is Matthews Fellow in Global Public Policy at Queen’s University, Chairperson of the Board of Governors for the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), and Vice Chair of the Canadian Partnership on Women’s and Children’s Health (CanWaCH). Ms. Biggs previously served as President of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and was responsible for overseeing Canada’s international development and humanitarian assistance efforts worldwide, including Canada’s G8 Muskoka Initiative on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. She is an active contributor on issues related to Canada and global sustainable development. In 2018 she co-authored “A Canadian North Star: Crafting an advanced economy approach to the Sustainable Development Goals” at the Brookings Institution. Ms. Biggs is Board Chair of World University Services Canada and member of the Advisory Council for FinDevCanada.
Dr. Joseph Wong is the Vice-President, International for the University of Toronto. He is the Ralph and Roz Halbert Professor of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, and a Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He formerly held the Canada Research Chair in health, development and democracy for two terms. His research focuses on poverty and innovation, and he has an extensive background of working with the World Bank and the United Nations, and has advised governments around the world on matters of public policy.
CREDITS: This podcast is co-hosted by Dr. Erica Di Ruggiero, Director of the Centre for Global Health, and Ophelia Michaelides, Manager of the Centre for Global Health, at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, and produced by Elizabeth Loftus. Audio editing is by Anwaar Baobeid. Music is produced by Julien Fortier and Patrick May. It is made with the support of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:00:05] Welcome to Healthy Cities in the SDG era, a podcast, where we'll talk about the Sustainable Development Goals and how we can achieve them from the perspective of a global health focused center at an academic institution in Canada's most populous city, Toronto. We're recording from Toronto or Tkaronto on the traditional land of the Mississauga of the New Credit First Nation Anishinaabe, Wendat, Huron and Haudenosaunee Indigenous Peoples. The territory was the subject of the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Treaty, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Confederacy of the way and allied nations to peacefully share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. The meeting place continues to be the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land. My name is Erica Di Ruggiero and I'm the Director of the Center for Global Health and an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. My research examines how evidence affects global policy agendas related to employment, other determinants and health equity in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals. I also study health and the health equity impacts of policy and program interventions at the population level. As a projected 5 billion people or 60% of the world's population will live in cities by 2030, it's clear that urban health is a matter of global health. Throughout our episodes will be focusing on research and policy topics related to SDG 3 Good Health and Well-Being and SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and communities and the ways in which they work with other SDGs. For example, areas like poverty, hunger, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, reduced inequalities and climate action. It's important to highlight that we're recording our podcasts during the COVID 19 pandemic. While it won't be our major focus, we will discuss how COVID 19 has magnified the ways that people are being left behind in Toronto, Canada and globally. This is undeniably impacting progress towards the SDGs, and we're here to talk about ways we can continue progress. In episode one of our podcast, we'll speak about what the SDGs are, why they matter to all countries, including Canada, and how academic institutions like the University of Toronto can play a role in achieving these goals. In September 2015, Canada and 192 other countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a global Framework for Action for People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership. These goals include a broad range of targets, such as the eradication of poverty and hunger, making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, promoting economic growth and innovation and promoting good health and reduced inequality. Described as a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, the SDGs Agenda was adopted in 2015 with an intention to be achieved by 2030. So why were these SDGs created? The SDGs are a form of continuation of the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, which started as a global effort to address poverty in 2000. The MDGs, while providing a global framework for poverty reduction, were criticized on a number of accounts as they lacked specific indicators and an implementation plan took a vertical approach, lacked extensive stakeholder consultations, and paid limited attention to human rights and the social determinants of health. The SDGs and this turn includes 169 targets and over 230 indicators, which are measurable metrics that Member States can utilize to assess whether they have progressed on a goal. The 17 SDGs incorporate a wide range of global goals concerning but not limited to poverty, food security, gender equality, peace and justice, reducing inequalities and good health and well-being. The SDGs were created through a far more interactive process where countries were consulted extensively in their creation and ratification. The challenges that the SDGs address are the very issues that have put some people at greater risk for contracting and dying from COVID 19. The Sustainable Development Goals Pledge to Leave No one behind. Looking beyond the ethical and moral imperative to do so, this pandemic has shown just how important it is to prioritize the health, safety and security of all.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:05:18] So we're going to move on and talk about the Sustainable Development Goals and why they should matter to Canada. And I'm delighted to have as my guest today Margaret Biggs. Margaret is the Mathews Fellow in Global Public Policy at Queen's University, Chairperson of the Board of Governors for the International Development Research Center and Vice Chair of the Canadian Partnership on Women's and Children's Health. Ms. Biggs previously served as president of the Canadian International Development Agency and was responsible for overseeing Canada's international development and humanitarian assistance efforts worldwide, including Canada's G8 Muskoka initiative on maternal, newborn and child health. She is an active contributor on issues related to Canada and global sustainable development. In 2018, she coauthored a Canadian North Star crafting an advanced economy approach to the Sustainable Development Goals. Brookings Institution MBS makes his board chair, also of World University Services Canada and member of the Advisory Council for Fin Deaf Canada. Welcome to the program and thanks so much for making the time to speak to us. So I'm going to start off with rather large question, and that is why do the SDGs matter to Canada and also to academic institutions, but primarily to Canada? What's your perspective on that?
Margaret Biggs [00:06:46] Great question. Well, if you [...] Canada's never had an integrated framework that looked across economic, environmental, social, health, governance issues, and the SDGs were created to try to integrate these various strands of global challenges and the disciplines that work on them. If you go back to 2015, 2014, the environmental movement and climate were on a different track from the follow up to the Millennium Development Goals, which focused mostly on health and social and poverty issues. And finally, we have, as a as a global community, an integrated framework. And Canada's never had anything like that. So it provides us and we with John MacArthur, we called this a North Star, a framework that allows us to look at these interconnected challenges, and they're focused on outcomes. So it's not, you know, telling us how to do things, but allows us to share how we're going to achieve these goals, how different jurisdictions, how disciplines, how different levels of government can can contribute to achieving these goals. So I think for us it's in Canada, it's a tremendous opportunity and we've seen the take up at the community level, for example, with the community foundations of Canada. Cities are organizing around around us so that Sustainable Development Goals so can be used by and private sector businesses there as well. For universities like the University of Toronto that aspires to be a global university is a global university. It's a it's a way to focus on what those global challenges are that the world and the university community can contribute to. It's a way again, universities struggle, as do governments, because I come mostly from government, too, to cross those those silos across ministries and disciplines. And the SDGs provide a readymade framework to to focus on and define those global challenges.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:08:40] That's great. Yeah. And actually, we'll have a chance to speak to Dr. Joseph Wong in the second part of this episode. And so we'll be talking to him specifically about the University of Toronto's role in the SDG. So where is Canada doing well? With respect to meeting the SDGs, I know we're only five years in, but where do you think we're really punching above our weight?
Margaret Biggs [00:09:05] Well, let me just put back in this a different way of looking at how Canada can use the SDGs in part. We can use them as a scorecard, if you will, about how Canada is doing well across these various areas, but also how Canada is, is, is or is not contributing to the global solutions. So, again, a colleague at the Brookings Institution tonight I did the first sort of assessment of how Canada measures up. You can look at it in absolute terms, of course. Is a well-off country one of the most successful, highest living standards in the world? You'd expect us to do fairly well, and we do in aggregate, you know, sort of absolute terms. But if you look at how Canada's doing in terms of are we on a trajectory, are we on a path to get to get to achieve these goals? We are not on track to achieve any of them and in total. So if you look at where we're doing well, as you would expect, we're not doing we're doing quite well in terms of our living standards in extreme poverty. We do well on child mortality. We do well on many of the health indices like cardiovascular disease, etc., but we do not do well in the sense that we are not on track in terms of the current trajectory on food security, on substance abuse, on child obesity. And of course, many of these issues, we might be on track in Toronto, but we're not on track in all all regions and the north in particular. There's a number of issues there. And if I could highlight where where we're particularly not on track is when we come to our indigenous communities.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:10:39] Yes.
Margaret Biggs [00:10:40] And what the SDGs reveal, which is, again, another helpful role for the SDGs, is, you know, it's easy for us to say we're doing fine compared to other countries. But what the SDGs basically put into sharp perspective is that we're not doing well everywhere. And for Indigenous communities, it highlights how some of the historic injustices, inequities, whether it's on child poverty, whether it's on violence against women, whether it's on issues to do with food security, we are not on track. And if I guess who's one example, safe drinking water, which is a huge issue, as you know, in many parts of the world, and contribute to disease and mortality, morbidity around the world. And of course, in Canada, we do very, very well. And you would expect us to score in the high nineties in terms of the percentage of our population that has access to safe drinking water. And we do. But but we haven't budged that number for years. We are on the trajectory. We are not we are not on track to get to 100% because we have pockets of particularly in indigenous communities and on reserve where we have not changed that number over the last five, ten, 15 years. So it again, it just exposes where we continue to have problems and challenges. And that often is where we have, you know, poverty and inequities, etc., and it just surfaces those issues for us.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:12:04] So, you know, I think the SDGs is providing really a good framework to shed the light, not just on between country comparisons, but within country inequities as well, because all the regions within the country are not served equitably when it comes to different access to health and social services, for example. So, of course, the COVID 19 pandemic has been on everyone's mind. How has the pandemic affected people being left behind? Are there any examples that come to mind? Maybe building on some of the ones who've already mentioned?
Margaret Biggs [00:12:43] Yeah. Well, obviously, the current crisis is a double headed catastrophe, really, in terms of a health crisis, an economic crisis together. And with all crises like this and humanitarian crises, it's the poor and the vulnerable that suffer the most because the least able to adapt there. They have the fewer supports underneath them. And that's true in Canada, and we've seen it in our numbers here in Canada in terms of the lower lower income families and and individuals who've been most affected, women have been most affected in terms of their jobs and their occupations and also in terms of their responsibilities around care. And just magnify that in developing and emerging countries where they have they don't have the same social safety nets and health systems that we do so. So just across the board, these kinds of crises are absolutely catastrophic for poor and vulnerable people. The most recent World Bank estimates that I've seen have said that in terms of the the most significant around extreme poverty sorted by the premise inter pares around extreme poverty, that that the crisis has already pushed us back the progress that we've reached from 2015. So we're back to 2015 in terms of we've erase the progress that we've made in the last four or five years. And that's particularly true. It's going to be particularly true in places like sub-Saharan Africa and apparently also in South Asia. So just in terms of people losing, there's the health crisis in terms of loss of life and morbidity. There's this the loss of jobs and livelihoods, and that particularly affects people in the informal sectors, and they don't have any access to safety nets. That also affects education. And we know how many hundreds of thousands, millions of children that are out of school. It's an issue in our own country. But in many, many emerging developing countries, these children can ill afford to be out of school. Many of them won't go back. Right. And these deficits may not be made up. And we've also seen a huge impact on women and girls in terms of the setback, in terms of their ability to to to to stay in education, to to be empowered to to pursue economic opportunities. So if I if I could just so we and we don't know where the trajectory is going to go, there's a lot of uncertainty. If I could. If I could. If I could inject a positive a possibly positive note. You know, I think [...] and it may be wishful thinking, but this also could be an inflection point. The the if you look at the SDGs, which focus on what really matters as societies and you focus on the impact of this crisis, it is in developing countries, but also in Canada, an opportunity to to see what what the impact is. And perhaps as we respond to the crisis, we think about how we how we can I to use the phrase build back better, but how we can respond. So for example, I would take social protection, which in Canada we have we have quite a quite a robust safety net, but not perfect obviously. And for developing countries, for many of them, it's an opportunity to look at how they need to build social protection systems so that people don't, you know, suffer and fall through the cracks the way they are right now. It just puts a highlight on things that we've known before, but creates a greater sense of urgency. And, of course, a global community can help help with that.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:16:17] And where do you think Canada can lead by example, you know, sort of taking the pandemic as a window, a policy window of opportunity to do better and to shift the emphasis on what's most important?
Margaret Biggs [00:16:31] Well, that's a great that's a great question. I think if you look at other similar shocks and crises that have hit countries like Canada, if you go back to the First World War and in in the flu epidemic in 28, in 1918 or the World War Two and the Depression, these have been major inflection points in Canada, the UK, elsewhere in terms of basically coming out of the postwar period, we built the we have the blueprint on the Marshall Report for the for Canada's welfare state, sort of the social, Social Security system. And we picked away at it over the decades. And this is another opportunity, a shock to our system to think about how where people are falling through the cracks and that that just doesn't this actually matters to us because maybe we've gotten too complacent. So I think that the current crisis for for Canada and the world, but speaking for Canada is an opportunity to have us focus again on what really matters. And that means, you know, the health and well-being of our elders, of our frontline workers, all those things that we talk about. But what are we going to do about it? It focuses to how to show how we're. All connected within our communities, but also globally. We know, as we will not all be safe with this with this pandemic until until there's greater security around the world that this this cannot be stopped at our borders. And I think it also shows us how these issues are interconnected. You know, the obvious one is around health and the economy. And you can't have a robust economy. People will not go cannot go back door. People will not go back into restaurants or whatever until we have the health situation under control. So it just shows us the interconnection of those issues, which is what the SDGs were set up to do. Right. So it's an opportunity, I think. And will Canada seize this opportunity? There's a fundamental there's a lot of resources and thinking, a lot of people, not just in government, but in the private sector and in cities and communities that are thinking about how we can use this crisis as devastating it as is as an opportunity to to really get some things right. And I think we're at that kind of point right now, Erica. We'll well, we'll wait and see. But again, it's quite obvious in terms of our own system, the extent to which long term care we have a fail there. We we do not have a robust system of child care in the country that allows children to to have a really high quality child care, that allows people, particularly women, who are bearing the costs to go back to work. And just in general, too, to put a priority on what really matters.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:19:15] Mm hmm. And given our government's emphasis on gender equality, I think these are two exact examples of how important we need to attend to gender inequities, both at home, but also in other countries. Any last thoughts about where we could go next in Canada, other areas where we should really put attention? The SDGs are a very bold agenda. They call on Intersectoral action. Anything else from a Canadian perspective that you think is really important to bring to the forefront?
Margaret Biggs [00:19:49] Well, about just a couple of final points. And I think, for example, at the university trial, I know that Joe is going to talk about this or even at the Dallas school. I think it's a huge opportunity as you're thinking about public health, how for how many decades that we've been talking about the social determinants of health. Well, now it's an opportunity to finally say, we told you so. Now that it's an opportunity to look at things that are in a broader perspective, because our default will be to go back into our silos, to go back into our discipline, to go back into our ministries, to go back into our schools. Right. So I think I think that's a final point is let's not lose this moment and what it what it tells us. The other thing I would say, if I could just shift to foreign policy. Sure. Is that and because I I sort of wear that as well, I just think we tend to think of global development and issues related to global development as, quite frankly, still afterthoughts. In terms of Canada's international policy. We've done a lot of tremendous things, particularly around, I would say, maternal, newborn and child health. I think the focus around gender equality. But we still tend to underinvesting it and we still see it as kind of secondary, if you will, to to more important issues like security and diplomacy, all of which are hugely important. But I think the pandemic and this economic crisis have shown us that these global development issues are, in fact, issues of national security importance. They are of national prosperity and economic growth importance. So, you know, we can't think of these issues is an afterthought anymore. I think we have to factor that much more strongly into our foreign policy, new social policy going forward. And that's not something that Canada, I think, has done to the extent that it should. So, again, another opportunity.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:21:32] Yes, absolutely
Margaret Biggs [00:21:33] For us to think about how how we can rethink some of our policy frames. And maybe if my final point, perhaps if that's okay?
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:21:41] Sure, absolutely.
Margaret Biggs [00:21:43] When I say about the SDGs, there are mirror that we can there's the refrain that we can use to see how how we're doing collectively and also in our own communities. And we've never had that before. But it's also a way for us to look at how we're contributing to global challenges. So if you take, you know, so I guess the climate change framework is integrated within the SDGs. So the, you know, the Paris Accord and cities are integrated. Similarly, issues around indigenous people, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People is integrated within the SDGs. So it allows us to see how Canada is contributing on those issues to both domestically but also globally. And obviously we're not where we want to be on issues related to climate and greenhouse gas emissions. We're not necessarily on track there, but there are some areas where so we're not contributing to global collective challenges, but there are some areas where Canada actually has a disproportionate responsibility because we have a very outsized marine coastal areas. We are on three oceans, the boreal forest. There are areas where what Canada does, we think often of the Amazon Amazonian, you know, as being really critical. But we have the Arctic, we have the boreal forests, we have marine coastal areas. And what Canada does in those areas, we'll have a disproportionately sort of outsized impact on how the world is going to achieve the SDGs. So I think that's something we can also need to take seriously.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:23:14] Yeah. So in addition to Intersectoral action, I think you've re-emphasized the importance of the interconnectedness between our actions as countries and the SDGs provide a really good framework for thinking about that and measuring progress towards those big global challenges. So thanks so much, Margaret, for taking the time. I could talk to you all day and your wealth of knowledge and your perspective is really appreciated. And we'll be picking up actually some of those other themes you touched on, like gender equality, indigenous peoples health, because that's so central to Canada's progress and also diplomacy will be actually in the future episode to talk about how health plays out in global diplomacy discussions. So thank you so much for touching on those very important themes.
Margaret Biggs [00:24:00] Thanks very much, Erica, and good luck with everything.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:24:09] So we're now going to move on and talk about the role of academic institutions on delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals. And I'm delighted to have as my guest today Dr. Joseph Wang, who is the Vice President International for the University of Toronto. He's the Ralph and Roz Halpert, professor of innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and professor of political science at the University of Toronto. He formerly held the Canada Research Chair in Health, Development and Democracy for two terms. His research focuses on poverty and innovation, and he's had extensive background working with the World Bank and the United Nations and has advised governments around the world on matters of public policy. Welcome to the program. Thanks so much for making the time.
Joseph Wong [00:24:57] Great. Thank you.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:24:59] So I'm going to start with a rather big question. I'd like to hear you your thoughts on what is the University of Toronto doing to advance the SDG agenda?
Joseph Wong [00:25:10] That's a great question, Erica. The University of Toronto, as I think with many universities around the world, is putting more and more of an emphasis on impact. I think the COVID situation has really illuminated the need for research and education intensive institutions like the university to really focus on impact. And we're seeing this reflected in our research and in our teaching. And this, I think, will have a really large impact on the SDG agenda, to give you an example. So in my own research, I, the P.I. for a large research project called Reach and the aim of the REACH project is, is, is to explore questions of how we reach those who are the hardest to reach in the world. So those who are marginalized, those who are the poorest of the poor, those who are the most geographically distant and so on. In a way, the point of that research project really does cut to the heart of the sustainable development goal agenda, in particular the notion of leaving no one behind. So that research is very in sympatico, I think, with what the SDGs are doing. And on one level the research is, you know, uncovering really important insights about how public policies, how public private partnerships and so on are in fact reaching those who are the hardest to reach around the world. But it's not just research, right? It's also pedagogy. It's also teaching. It's an opportunity for students to gain skills in research methodology, to gain skills in research ethics and understanding the importance of research ethics, and in the imperative of building ethics into the work that we do, which of course is infused throughout the SDGs. And it's also an opportunity for students to learn new skills in research and of course acquire knowledge about parts of the world that they didn't know about. So the point here is that, you know, large research intensive universities like the U of T have an opportunity to embrace both the research and teaching components. And when you put that together and you put students as kind of the engine of all of this, you have you have greater impact. I'd also like to add that the university has an important role to play in the sense that it bridges a lot of different sectors. Right. So even though the University of Toronto is a public university, it sits apart from government. And so what the university can do is it can play through its research and teaching. It plays an important role in fostering collaboration between government. We have lots of connections to the private sector. Of course, civil society and NGOs are connected to the university as well. And so playing that role of bridge, we're able to actually foster collaboration across different sectors that might otherwise not have opportunities to work together. If you think about the U of T, oh sorry
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:28:16] Yeah, I was just going to say that the university is really a powerful convener of a lot of those collaborators, as you were saying.
Joseph Wong [00:28:24] Yeah, absolutely. I like that word. It's it really is a convener. And, you know, the university, too, is not just limited to the four walls of, you know, our labs or our classrooms. The university in the University of Toronto in particular, really is an entire network of actors. It's it's a whole ecosystem in and of itself. Right. I mean, U of T has partnered with several teaching hospitals. There's a large diaspora community in the city region of Toronto. We're connected to the financial center that is Toronto. We're connected to civil society organizations, NGOs, startups and so on. And so when you start unpacking the University of Toronto, it's not just a lab or a classroom, but rather a whole ecosystem. You can start to see how then the university as a partner can really have some tremendous impact, especially as it relates to the SDGs. Mm hmm.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:29:26] So how how do you think the university is achieving the SDG agenda through its pedagogy? You touched on it briefly, but in its teaching and its scholarly work.
Joseph Wong [00:29:37] Yeah. Well, I think one is, you know, the university is is is providing a more globally minded education to students. So I think any university in the 21st century really has to be pitching its teaching irrespective of whether it's in the humanities, the social sciences or in the hard sciences or engineering. It really does have to have a global outlook. And so at U of T, we're infusing that global that global spectrum and scope into all of our teaching. So, you know, in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, for instance, there is a global scholar certificate and in fact there is the certificate now in almost every division and faculty at U of T where students can be taking their very disciplined, specific courses, but with an eye towards a kind of global landscape and a global scope. So, of course, there's the the knowledge that they're gaining in the university. There's also the research opportunities that I've also just described with the REACH the REACH project, for instance, or the REACH lab that I run. But there's also real opportunities for students to gain leadership skills. You know, this is the opportunity where students are encouraged to try something new, to work in an organization, to take a chance to take a risk, to be innovative and so on. In many ways, the university provides that kind of cover for them, right? I mean, we know that real innovative outcomes come when people take chances, when they take risks, when they're in fact risking even the potential failure. Well, the university is just a great place for young people to experiment, to take that chance, because they know that the university is there in many ways to kind of underwrite that. So what that means then is it's really facilitating and fostering, fostering an innovative mindset and really imbuing these students with leadership skills and opportunities.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:31:39] Yeah. So it seems like the university is a great place to learn things, but also the approach to learning and learning with others.
Joseph Wong [00:31:49] So great, a great place to practice.
Joseph Wong [00:31:51] Practice.
Joseph Wong [00:31:51] Practice that leadership and practice that kind of innovative thinking.
Joseph Wong [00:31:55] Mm hmm. So you touched on at the very beginning of your remarks about impact. And of course, that's no easy feat. How what does success look like? It's in the eye of the beholder. So what are we monitoring and evaluating our success at U of T? And where do you think we can improve as an academic institution?
Joseph Wong [00:32:16] So in the first instance, one of the things that we are doing as a university and it's it's a it's a longer term project, I think, but it's really to take stock of what exactly it is that we do at the University of Toronto that's related to the SDGs, be it in our research or in our teaching. I mean, the U of T is a massive university with many different faculties and divisions. And so the opportunity is there for us to really take stock. What courses are we offering that are related to the SDGs? What kind of research projects that are ongoing by our faculty are related to the SDGs? And so in one sense it's about cataloging and inventory rising everything that we do it at the University of Toronto. But I would also want to stress that in so doing, we're also raising awareness about what the SDGs are. And so we have lots of colleagues, for instance, who may do work in early childhood education in Canada and Sweden, and they may not see that as work that's related to the Sustainable Development Goals agenda. But in fact, it is. Mm hmm. Or we may have someone working on maternal and child health in in the UK, and they might see that as not necessarily related to the SDGs, but in fact, that kind of work is. And so not only are we taking stock in recognizing and counting and inventories and what it is that we do, we're also raising awareness among people who may not think that the work they're doing is having an impact on the SDGs and when in fact the work that they are doing does have an impact. I want to say also related to that, what it what it does at the university is I think it also just kind of transforms our thinking about what the SDGs are by infant rising, by assessing and counting, in effect, all the different things that we're doing. We're also, I think, exploding that myth that the SDGs are a developing world agenda. You know, Canada is, is, is a signatory to the SDG agenda, right? That there are a whole host of development challenges that may be more pronounced in low and middle income countries, but which are nonetheless present and very present here. And because Canada is such a rich nation and, you know, on the surface, such an equitable nation, the fact that these challenges exist and that there are still so many communities of people being left behind is even more conspicuous. And so by orientate the university towards. Yes agenda. We're exploding this notion that the SDGs are all a developing world problem and in fact we have major contributions that we can be making here at the U of T within our own city. I mean, if you think about a lot of these SDG challenges, they would they would raise red flags. And in our own city, as it relates to inequality, food security, homelessness, access to health and so on, right within our own city, within our own province, within our own country. And of course, thinking more globally. So this is just a tremendous opportunity, I think.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:35:34] So it sounds like SDGs have a bit of a catalytic force to help harness the energy and the talents that are already at the university, but to orient the work towards this bigger global agenda.
Joseph Wong [00:35:46] Yeah, you know.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:35:48] So I think you've touched on a little bit how the SDGs are both local and global, and it kind of ties in to sort of something else I wanted to hear your thoughts about. The agenda has been described as something that can actually bridge the local with the global. So how do you think that's happening here in Toronto and at the University of Toronto, that bridging between local action and the influence on the global policy?
Joseph Wong [00:36:17] Well, on one level, I think we're extremely fortunate that the University of Toronto is located in the city region that it's located in, because, as you know, the greater Toronto area is is home to so many diasporic communities. It's home to so many people from so many different parts of the world. And so we benefit, I think, enormously from having a very global outlook in our very local setting. So that's the first thing. The second thing is, again, this notion that by bringing that global outlook and understanding that the global SDG agenda is very much an imperative, even within our own city setting is critically important. And the University of Toronto, being one of the anchor academic institutions in the city, really has a role to play there. So it's again, it's sort of traversing the local and the global. I think importantly as well, the university as an institution has an incredibly important role to play as we move forward in thinking about what global collaboration is going to look like. So, I mean, I think one of the very unfortunate things, one of the many unfortunate things that has emerged or surfaced because of the COVID pandemic, in addition to obviously the health crisis, is that we have a crisis in many ways of global governance and global collaboration. Right. We're seeing vaccine nationalism. We're seeing political attitudes increasingly turning inwards. We're seeing the defunding of international organizations such as the World Health Organization, which was already, I think, a popper, if you will, among most of the world's international organizations. So precisely at the time when we need more global collaboration, more cooperation, coordination, sharing of best practices, indeed even sharing of resources, we're seeing the opposite happened. And I think there there's an opportunity for universities which are rooted in their local place. For us, it's in the Toronto city region, but there's an important role for universities to be the engines, if you will, of global collaboration. I mean, if you think about it, if governments are less willing to collaborate with each other, if companies, for instance, are in competition with one another and the competition has only become intensified, there are very few institutions left, actually, that are hard wired to collaborate. And I would go, I would say that universities are actually one of the few remaining large institutions and large impactful institutions that are, in fact hard wired to be collaborating. So as I think about the connection between the local to the global, I think that while the University of Toronto has an intense focus in its own city region and its own backyard, we really are one of the as a university, we're one of the key institutions that will actually allow for and facilitate this multilateral global collaboration. And related back to the SDGs and I'll just finish with this thought. The SDGs will require global collaboration and universities conspicuously weren't at the table, if you will, when the SDGs were first conceived it. Was first conceived among governments. Global corporations have signed on in their own ways, in terms of their own compacts and so on. But the university sector actually hasn't. So in one sense, we're a little late to this conversation, but better late than never. Right. And as we look around now and as the more traditional means for global collaboration are increasingly undermined or people are increasingly unenthusiastic about, this is the opportunity for universities to continue to facilitate that kind of cooperation. So it's an important role to play. And I think the University of Toronto certainly embraced that leadership role, and I anticipate there'll be a lot more collaboration into the future.
Erica Di Ruggiero [00:40:42] Mm hmm. So it sounds like it's an untapped potential still to be realized and oriented towards the SDG agenda. Well, thanks so much, Joe, for those thoughts and for reflecting on the role of an academic institution like the University of Toronto. But I also really appreciated your thoughts about how the sector, the academic sector, could rise to the challenge of meeting the global agenda. So this concludes our segment on the SDGs and academic institutions. Thanks so much to Joe for being our guest and for sharing his insightful comments. The SDGs matter to all of us, including Canada. And we've been very fortunate in this first episode to hear from Margaret Bakes and Joe Wong and their insightful comments on where we could do better as a Canadian institution like the University of Toronto, where Canada could continue to punch above its weight and areas for improvement as part of the global ecosystem. Addressing the Sustainable Development Goals. Healthy Cities in the City era is produced with the support of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto, whose mission is to bring urban focused researchers, educators, students, practitioners and the public together to explore and address complex urban challenges. You can find us wherever you listen to podcasts. Join us for our next podcast in the coming weeks, where we'll talk about the importance of strong global partnerships in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Thank you for tuning in and we look forward to speaking to you soon. Take care.