Capturing the red thread at the 2019 UNECE Regional Forum

What do you get when you combine a spool of red thread, a large white board with pegs and the 17 Global Goals? The SDG Lab’s “SDG Linkages” activity at the Regional Forum on Sustainable Development for the UNECE Region, which was held on March 21-22 in Geneva.  

As part of its mission to experiment and engage in new ways and try different methods, the Lab joined the 2019 UNECE Regional Forum to invite participants to make visual connections between the SDGs.


Even before the UNECE Regional Forum opened, the SDG Linkages board quickly became a meeting point for participants to share their SDG implementation stories.

Over the two-day forum, 45 conference goers participated in the activity, providing linkages from a diverse set of UNECE member States and organizations. Many participants selected SDGs 3 (Good health and well-being), 4 (Quality education) and 5 (Gender equality) as their starting point. When explaining their linkages, they stressed the indivisibility of the goals, as well as the challenges they face in making linkages at the policy and programmatic level.

The Lab interviewed participants on their SDG linkages and captured their reactions:


It was interesting to put myself and my region into this perspective because I came up with some very unexpected things when I started going. Finding a starting point is the most difficult part because you can start with any angle. None of these issues are superior to one another and they are equally important in order to achieve sustainable development.

— Beatrice Bucht, President, Youth Representative, Arctic Section, Swedish Association of International Affairs

We don’t only need partnerships between governments or high-level institutions, we need partnerships between kids, young people; every stakeholder should understand that the SDGs are really for everyone, not for someone who needs to make our voices heard. We are the ones who need to make our voices heard.

— Nino Chitishvili, Fellow, Y-PEER Georgia

In Ireland, we look at the SDGs holistically. All of the SDGs together need to be implemented at the same time. There is no one more important, and no one stands away from the other. They are all inter-linked and we have written our policies mindful of the SDGs and making sure each department’s policy has a target of the SDG on it.

— Joe Gallagher, Deputy Director, Sustainable Development, Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Ireland

It made me think of how different goals are interconnected and it was interesting to understand how I connect different goals. I started with education because it’s all how we ended up here. First, we learned about the SDGs and then we act. It is also important to teach other people these goals, and not just putting it into student books but showing how it works and giving real examples.

— Sofya Ignatenko, Secretariat Coordinator, Student Academic Society, MGIMO University, Russian Federation

Many people think of the SDGs as being separated or that some might be more important than others. It is nice to remind them that they are all together, that they all form one and if you want to achieve one SDG we should on work the others.

— Amine Lotfi, Consultant, WHO Regional Office for Europe

There is a collective and universal narrative that helps push this understanding that these goals are indivisible and need to be addressed in their totality.

— Michael Møller, Director-General, UN Geneva

For me it was about making the logical connections between where we, persons with disabilities, fit into the goals. It is of great importance that the SDGs are achieved by 2030.

— Thorkild Olesen, Chairman, European Disability Forum, Denmark

When people look at the numbers, they think these are discrete stand-alone goals, but the SDGs are a matrix of inter-relationships, where each goal and target has co-benefits for other goals and other targets. When we imagine the SDGs, we shouldn’t think of them as different things to be solved with different interventions.

— Nikhil Seth, Executive Director, UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR)

“I started with SDG 6 as it is related with what I am doing actually now. It was nice to connect it with quality education, and then with no poverty and zero hunger.

— Adriana Spahiu, Project Coordinator, Women in Development, Albania

It’s great to see how all of the SDGs are interconnected because sometimes we think about them as separate entities, sort of silos, but I also understand the challenge of implementing them because we often talk about the SDGs as massive plans and goals, but when we go down to local levels, often we hear that people are either unaware of how to implement them, or what would be the right approaches to achieving the SDGs.

— Kamila Tuyakbayeva, Deputy Director, Center for Health Promotion, Kazakhstan


Commenting on the SDG Linkages activity, Lab Director Nadia Isler said, “it was really encouraging to have so many practitioners coming to see us and wanting to tell their story, but also through the questions we asked them how it sparked other ideas and other analyses of what were the drivers and incentives that made them have a more integrated approach to the challenges at country level.”

“We experimented and it was great to see the amount of interesting stories that came out of just actually visually showing those interlinkages,” added Ms Isler.