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Implementing the 2030 Substantial Development Goals in Ukraine



The 2030 Substantial Development Agenda

In the year 2015, the United Nations laid out a comprehensive Universal Development Agenda comprising of 17 Goals and 169 corresponding targets. These 17 Substantial Development Goals (SDGs) marked the start of a new era of global prosperity, peace, and partnership. With the aim to stimulate worldwide action against the greater evils of poverty, inequality, and unsubstantial development, this agenda set out to build a better future for people all around the globe. All 193 members of the United Nations adopted the Substantial Development Goals and pledged to achieve all objectives by the end of 2030.

The trademark that helps this developmental plan stand-out in comparison to its predecessor (MDG) is the fact that it establishes a sound balance between the three dimensions of development, namely: economic, social, and environmental. However, the success of this plan in all entireties depends on the implementation by the member states. Thus, while taking into account the contrasting abilities of developed and developing states, an absolute and thorough execution of the plan in a period of 15 years seems like a farfetched dream.

This article aims to analyze the course of action taken by states for the enforcement of the 2030 SDGs and its level of success using Ukraine as a case study.

A Road towards Substantial Development in Ukraine

One of the first steps taken by the Ukrainian government was to develop a national report that would help set-up a solid base for achieving the 2030 SGDs; 17 working subgroups were established, each group reviewed and contextualized the goals according to the national context. A series of round table conferences were held; around 800 experts varying from diplomats, scientists, economists, health professionals, journalists, businessmen, ecologists, leaders of NGOs took part in the national SDG identification process[1]. Next, a national SDG system was developed; this system consists of 86 national development targets and 172 indicators that would enable the government to monitor the targets. These indicators further have target values spread over a period of 15 years.

The report known as the “Substantial Development Goals: Ukraine” was publicly launched in 2017, and by September 2019, the President of Ukraine issued a decree to integrate SDGs in all areas of national policy.

To ensure public participation within the development plan, Ukraine partnered up with UNDP to develop three e-learning courses on SDGs targeting the civil servants, civil activists, and business leaders. Moreover, all 24 regions of Ukraine are now capable of using “SDG Baseline Analytical Studies” to develop reports that can be used to incorporate the SDG targets into regional development strategies. This will allow the authorities to make decisions that are based on evidence. Additionally, a framework has been established for communities and cities that help monitor the progress of SDG enforcement at the national level.

All these efforts combined seem to paint a compelling picture for the successful implementation of the 2030 Substantial Development Goals; however, various systemic obstacles are hampering the process. Unless these obstacles are dealt with, the Ukrainian road to development will remain rocky and capricious.

Constraints Hampering the Achievement of SGDs

A number of deep-rooted systemic loopholes have resulted in the stunted growth of Ukraine in all dimensions of development. These loopholes are now obstructing the successful implementation of SDGs. Therefore, in order to achieve the 17 Substantial Goals by the end of 2030, the government must first acknowledge and address the impediments that compromise the feasibility of attainting the SGDs.

An ineffective policy analysis cycle

The Ukrainian strategic planning system is not capable of carrying out a high-quality analysis for the government policies or resolution implementation. This ineffective system of analysis is making it hard to incorporate the SGDs within the national policy. A desk review carried out under the supervision of UNDP shows that the SDG targets adopted by the Ukrainian government have only been partially incorporated within the government policies.

The only element that is evident in the policy analysis cycles is problem identification; however, in the case of SDGs, even the problems identified mostly do not correlate with the goals. The Government Strategies and public policy (GSPP) indicate that decisions made by the government do not include stakeholder surveys’ or wider discussion. Thus, the policies are deemed to be ineffective.

Weak Monitoring and evaluation systems

The apparatus for data collection and statistics is not only deficient but also faulty. Thus, it is hard to assess the progress of any policy or find out the linkages between different factors. This inefficiency in performance evaluation indicates that the SGD implementation strategy is flawed. Furthermore, no methodology exists to evaluate the financial resources required to attain the SDG goals.

As a rule, the successful attainment of SDGs requires investments hence, the short-term budget planning and scarcity of funds may result in a shortage of financing needed to achieve the SGDs[2].

Insufficient engagement of stakeholders

The government has failed to engage the public, businesses, and donors in the process of identifying the potential problems of SDG implementation and their possible solutions. Moreover, hardly any effort has been made to communicate the meaning and importance of achieving the SDGs to the general public. As a result, there is inadequate feedback from the public, which could not only help accelerate the attainment of these goals but also provide relevant indicators for the GSPP.

At present, one of the most pivotal challenges in achieving the SDGs revolve around the deficient coordination between government agencies and government agencies and civil society organizations. Thus, the application of SDGs is further complicated under the principle of inclusivity.

An ineffectual mechanism for integrating SDGs into government policy

The governance system of Ukraine does not allow effective coordination for the integration of SDG indicators and targets into strategic planning. No mechanism has been established to verify any new policy against the SDGs within the government or the parliament. No dedicated departments exist for the coordination of these processes within the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Economic Development and trade, or the Ministry of social policy. Moreover, the committee meetings and government agendas hardly involve any discussion regarding the achievement of SGDs.

Furthermore, reforms made in any sector are not coordinated with the SDGs, and at present, several sectors in Ukraine including social services, health care, energy, budget policy, pension system, and social services are undergoing considerable reforms. This lack of coordination will be of high cost to Ukraine in the long run.


Based on the limitations found within the SDG implementation strategy of Ukraine, the following steps must be taken to ensure the achievement of the Agenda by 2030:

  • Set up a new a policymaking stratagem consisting of all components of the policy analysis cycle. The components of the cycle must be well organized and effective
  • Develop an effective method of data collection using surveys and wider discussion
  • A thorough assessment of financial resources required for the execution of SDGs
  •  Establish an apparatus that successfully monitors the implementation of SDGs
  • Create a government policy analysis system that provides a greater insight to the experts and civil society.
  • The public should be given more leverage in monitoring the performance of government institutions and public institutions.
  • Establish a system for the coordination of reforms and new policies with SGDs

[1] Government of Ukraine, Ministry of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine, Substantial Development Goals: Ukraine (Kyiv: Ministry of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine, 2017), 5.

[2] Y. Horokhovets, Implementing the 2030 Substantial Development Goals in Ukraine: analysis of government strategies and public policy (          Kyiv: Institute for Social and Economic Research, 2017), 8.

A student at the National Defense University, Islamabad pursuing a bachelor's degree in International Relations.

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Eastern Europe

As Georgians Fight Each Other, Russia Gleefully Looks On



Earlier today, the leader of Georgia’s major opposition party – United National Movement (UNM) – was detained at his party headquarters by government security forces, the most recent escalation in a drawn-out political crisis. This could well be the beginning of a new troubled period in the country’s internal dynamics, with repercussions for the country’s foreign policy.

The optics favor the opposition. Images of armed and armored police storming UNM’s headquarters was damaging to the ruling party, Georgian Dream (GD). Western diplomats expressed grave concern over the events and their repercussions. Protests have been called, and will likely be covered closely in Western media.

What comes next, however, is not clear.

Much will depend on what long-term vision for the country the opposition can articulate in the aftermath of the most recent events. It was not that long ago that UNM was declining as a political force in Georgian politics. There is a real opportunity here. But the burden is on the opposition to make a play for the loyalty of voters beyond its circle of already-convinced supporters.

Appealing to ordinary Georgian voters is ultimately the key to resolving the crisis. Beyond the intra-party clashes about the legitimacy of the most recent elections, there is a growing chasm between political elites and the challenges faced by people in their daily lives. And tackling these challenges successfully will not be easy.

Both the ruling party and the opposition have been facing declining support from the public at large. Long-term economic problems, which have been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic, have not been credibly addressed by either side. Instead of solutions, both sides have engaged in political theatrics. For many voters, the current crisis is more about a struggle for political power, rather than about democracy and the economic development of the country. No wonder that most people consider their social and economic human rights to have been violated for decades no matter which party is in power. These attitudes help explain high abstention rates during the most recent election. Despite remarkable successes in the early years after the Rose Revolution, Georgia has lacked a long-term policy for reimagining its fragile economy since its independence and the disastrous conflicts of the 1990s.

None of this, however, should minimize the threats to Georgian struggling democracy. Today’s arrests reinforce a longstanding trend in Georgian politics: the belief that the ruling party always stands above the law. This was the case with Eduard Shevardnadze, Mikheil Saakashvili, and is now the case with the current government. For less politically engaged citizens, plus ça change: Georgian political elites for the last 30 years have all ended up behaving the same way, they say. That kind of cynicism is especially toxic to the establishment of healthy democratic norms.

The crisis also has a broader, regional dimension. The South Caucasus features two small and extremely fragile democracies – Armenia and Georgia. The former took a major hit last year, with its dependence on Moscow growing following Yerevan’s defeat in the Second Karabakh War. Today, Russia is much better positioned to roll back any reformist agenda Armenians may want to enact. Armenia’s current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has been weakened, and easily staged protests are an easy way to keep him in line.

Georgia faces similar challenges. At a time when Washington and Brussels are patching things up after four years of Trump, and the Biden administration vigorously reiterates its support for NATO, Georgia’s woes are a boon for Moscow. Chaos at the top weakens Georgia’s international standing and undermines its hopes for NATO and EU membership. And internal deadlock not only makes Georgia seem like a basket-case but also makes a breakthrough on economic matters ever more unlikely. Without a serious course correction, international attention will inevitably drift away.

At the end of the day, democracy is about a lot more than finding an intra-party consensus or even securing a modus vivendi in a deeply polarized society. It is about moving beyond the push-and-pull of everyday politics and addressing the everyday needs of the people. No party has risen to the occasion yet. Georgia’s NATO and EU aspirations remain a touchstone for Georgian voters, and both parties lay claim to fully representing those aspirations. But only through credibly addressing Georgia’s internal economic problems can these aspirations ever be fully realized. The party that manages to articulate this fact would triumph.

Author’s note: first published in

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Eastern Europe

A Fateful Step Towards Annexation



It’s easy to lose sight of regional developments amid high political drama. The story of Alexei Navalny’s poisoning, flight to Germany, return, and arrest has dominated Russia coverage in the West. Specialists have also been focusing on the struggle over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and the fallout of the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Meanwhile, when in November of last year Georgia’s Russian-occupied region of Abkhazia signed a 46-point agreement to create a unified socio-economic space with Moscow, not many took note. While pitched as a move to alleviate the territory’s economic troubles, the program marks a huge step toward eventual annexation of Georgia’s region by Russia.

Multiple new provisions feature in the new document which were absent in the 2014 military agreement. The new pact creates various provisions for the sale of local real estate, among them a stipulation on dual citizenship allowing Russians to get Abkhaz passports. A whole range of laws will be introduced whereby Russian investors will be able to invest money into and buy majority shares in what still remains valuable in Abkhazia.

The latest agreement also proposes allowing the Russians to buy into Abkhazia’s energy sector. Additionally, the Abkhaz will make legislative and administrative amendments according to the Russian law in social, economic, health, and political spheres. There is also a stipulation on simplification of law procedures for Russian investors.

While this may end up giving a shot in the arm to a decrepit Abkhaz economy, the high level of harmonization with Russian laws lays the groundwork for a future merger with Russia. It is this dilemma between closer cooperation with Russia and deep fear of Russian intentions that will haunt the Abkhazian political class for the foreseeable future. Though officially the new “socio-economic” program does not involve a change in Abkhazia’s political status, Abkhaz elites fret they are heading down the path to eventual incorporation into Russia.

Criticism of the pact in Abkhazia forced the region’s leader Aslan Bzhania to forcefully deny that Abkhazia was losing any sovereignty. Instead, he emphasized the positive elements of the document, especially the re-opening of Sukhumi airport. Bzhania also cited Abkhazia’s chronic energy shortages and the acute need for Russian assistance as justification for the deal. Still, fears persist. After all, unlike South Ossetia, the other Russian-occupied region in Georgia, Abkhazia has never entertained the idea of merging with Russia.

But Russia is playing a long game. Pressure on Abkhazia has been building up gradually over the course of 2020. After the resignation of Moscow’s preferred client Raul Khajimba, Bzhania’s candidacy was regarded with suspicion by Kremlin officials. As a result, when he won, Bzhania had to make multiple visits to Moscow to kiss the ring, even as Russian funding continued to dry up amid the pandemic. The cost of resuming aid, it appears, was increasing economic harmonization and with the looming threat of eventual assimilation.

With Russian investments into the energy sector and land purchases, Abkhazia will slowly lose its last vestiges of de-facto independence. On an economic level, Abkhazia is far richer than South Ossetia. But controlling it has other virtues. Out of all the separatist regions Russia controls, Abkhazia is arguably the most strategically located. A passage from the North to the South Caucasus, the region is also famous for its harbors and military infrastructure. Control over it gives Russia capabilities to check NATO/EU expansion into the region.

Russian plans in Abkhazia should be also seen within the context of Russia’s push to solidify its presence in the South Caucasus, especially in the aftermath of events in Karabakh and Russia’s peacekeeping mission there. Economic inroads into Abkhazia also mean a further distancing of other potential players such as Tbilisi and the collective West.

Author’s note: first published in

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Eastern Europe

In Azerbaijan, Human Capital Investments are the Key to Resilient Growth in the era of COVID-19



Photo: World Bank

By limiting access to health, education, social protection, and jobs, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse human capital gains in Azerbaijan. In a recently published report, Survive, Learn, Thrive: Strategic Human Capital Investments to Accelerate Azerbaijan’s Growth, the government of Azerbaijan and the World Bank identify the main challenges to building and activating human capital and put a spotlight on high-impact interventions that respond to constraints.

Fadia M. Saadah, World Bank Human Development Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, reflects on the success and challenges of the past, and opportunities for the World Bank Group to partner with the government of Azerbaijan in ensuring resilient growth, powered by human capital investments.

Q. What do you see as the main challenges facing human capital formation and activation in Azerbaijan?

The government of Azerbaijan has achieved a great deal in terms of human capital development. Over the last five years, enrollment in higher education rose 21 percent. The introduction of mandatory health insurance supported an increase in the use of essential primary care level and improvements in efficiency. Contributory pensions and poverty-targeted social transfers raised the incomes of the bottom 40 percent substantially, facilitating household-level investments in health and education.

Despite this progress, gaps in human capital investments persist. On standardized tests, students from wealthier families score the equivalent of three years of schooling above students from poor families, an indication of wide inequalities in learning outcomes. Out-of-pocket payments remain high, despite the launch of mandatory health insurance, reducing access to services needed to control the rise of noncommunicable diseases. Only one in five households in the poorest quintile benefits from the targeted social assistance program, and labor force participation remains low, especially among women.

Azerbaijan’s Human Capital Index is 0.58, meaning that a child born today in Azerbaijan would be 58 percent as productive as she could have been as an adult if she had enjoyed full health and had benefited from a complete education. The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced access to social services and is projected to lead to an economic contraction of 4.2 percent in 2020. The government has risen to the challenge of recovering the gains in health and learning outcomes and ensuring that human capital development remains central to the political agenda.

Q. Azerbaijan faces the dual challenge of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthening health, education, learning, and employment services to facilitate growth. What strategic investments do you recommend for the human development sector in the short and medium term?

The government aims to balance the medium-to-long term objective of reforming social systems with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response. Hence, in the health sector, we recommend the digitalization and interoperability of health information systems to support comprehensive surveillance and facilitate continuity of care in the treatment of noncommunicable diseases. Reforming health financing to increase public health spending and protect households from out-of-pocket costs will be important to increase health care access.

As schools reopen, Azerbaijan is investing in remediating learning losses. Doing so may involve ensuring that schools follow health protocols to reduce their risks of becoming the source of group infections, providing students with financial and nonfinancial incentives not to drop out of school, and equipping schools and training teachers to better manage in-person and distance learning. We also recommend establishing a fund to support innovation in higher education.

Social assistance will be essential to ensuring that the most vulnerable households are able to access social services. Improving the coverage of the targeted social assistance program and increasing public financing for these transfers will further improve households’ resilience to consumption shocks. Including employers in the design and implementation of active labor market programs will help link people to jobs.

The potential for human capital investments to drive growth and resilience in Azerbaijan is significant. An analysis by the World Bank, The Changing Wealth of Nations 2018, reports that human capital comprises 64 percent of global wealth. If Azerbaijan ensured complete education and healthcare among children and adults, its long-run per capita gross domestic product could be 1.67 times higher than it is today.

Q. The World Bank has partnered with Azerbaijan on landmark reforms since independence. How do you see the engagement evolving over the next few years?

The next phase of the human capital policy dialogue in Azerbaijan can benefit from a focus on putting this agenda into practice through investments in human capital. The World Bank Group remains committed to providing technical and financial support for operationalizing and implementing this ambitious strategy. We highlight important areas of engagement in education, health, social protection, and jobs below.

Education: The World Bank Group has long supported the government in the development of the education system, including reforms in general education and formulation of the country’s education sector development strategy. The government has introduced per capita financing in tertiary education and a remuneration and quality assurance system in secondary education.

The Second Education Sector Development Project, which closed in 2016, focused on improving the quality of teaching and learning in general education. Through ongoing policy dialogue, the World Bank Group will continue to support education reforms, especially to increase access to early childhood education and spur innovation in tertiary education.

Health: The World Bank Group has engaged in the health sector over the past few years through policy dialogue and provision of technical expertise to support health financing reforms. At the request of the government, it is facilitating knowledge exchanges that may inform the implementation of mandatory health insurance, drawing on the experiences of Kazakhstan, the Republic of Korea, and Costa Rica.

With funding from the Japan Policy and Human Resources Development Fund, the World Bank Group is supporting efforts to improve the governance of digital data and leverage claims data to strengthen provider payment mechanisms within the mandatory health insurance system. Over the next few years, the World Bank Group will continue to engage in policy dialogue on priority issues, including health insurance, e-health and telemedicine, and the development of an integrated claims management system.

Social Protection and Labor: In the past few years, the World Bank Group has supported efforts by the government to raise the most vulnerable people in Azerbaijan out of poverty, by investing in the implementation of the National Employment Strategy and critical social assistance and disability reforms.

A recently approved Employment Support Project aims to improve vulnerable people’s access to employment by enhancing the scope and effectiveness of the government’s Self-Employment Program, enhancing employment services and programs, and building public sector capacity.

The Internally Displaced Person Living Standards and Livelihoods Project and Additional Financing, which closed in 2019, helped improve the living conditions and increase the economic self-reliance of internally displaced persons. The World Bank Group will continue to support Azerbaijan through ongoing policy dialogue to strengthen the social protection system as a platform to improve human capital outcomes and households’ resilience to shocks.

World Bank

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