How Does Culture Contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

Through research and mapping, Nordicity undertook an in-depth analysis of this question for the British Council, providing evidence of the links between culture and development in British Council programming and wider international development practice, with an emphasis on the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the repositioning of the value of culture, the hope is that such insights become even more applicable in the global recovery effort. 

Photo: Crafting Futures, Thailand ©Simon Mills

The objectives of the report were to shine a light on both the implicit and explicit role of culture as a vector for development, making the connections more visible and valued. A critical finding shows that even though cultural organizations do not always use the language of development, their work responds directly and indirectly to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and can play a powerful role in driving positive social and economic outcomes. As Rosanna Lewis the British Council’s global lead for Culture and Development remarks, “This disassociation can result in a lack of understanding of the value and impact of arts and culture to social, economic and environmental development, and a divide between policy and practice that can limit the achievement of the SDGs.” 

To track culture’s contributions to sustainable development, Nordicity identified key thematic areas where arts and culture embrace and respond to the SDGsincluding education, tangible and intangible cultural heritage, social development, gender equality, and technology. In order thighlight case studies from around the world, we invited thematic experts to contribute to the researchAvril Joffe, UNESCO Cultural Governance Technical Expert, Head of Cultural Policy and Management, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa; Holly Aylett, Associate Research Fellow, Birkbeck College, UKand, Edna Dos Santos Duisenberg, International Consultant and Policy Advisor Creative Economy & Development, Brazil. 

The report’s overarching findings outline the need for major institutions to improve the messaging of their work and their capacity to map outcomes to the SDGs, and, to advance programme design and longitudinal evaluation with local actors so as to draw on local knowledge to foster context-specific solutions. The report also calls for a broader coordination of stakeholders from different sectors and levels of government for more responsive policies and holistic agendas, where culture is given a more prominent position – indeed, where culture is considered the fourth pillar of sustainable development. 

Culture shapes the way we understand our lives and the meaning we make of them, and it lies therefore at the basis of any notion of people-centred development. 

Culture and cultural policies leverage the inherent value of heritage, creativity, diversity and knowledge for lives worth livingThrough Nordicity’s literature review, interviews and case studies, The Missing Pillar showcases how culture enables social participation, entrepreneurship and resilience at the community level, with global resonance. As Emilia Saiz Secretary General United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) expresses in the report’s foreword, “The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how cultural participation is essential to people’s lives, and therefore, the urgency of the tasks […] to guarantee that culture is not missed in the policies and programmes for the recovery.” 

For more information, please contact Nordicity’s Project Lead for The Missing Pillar: Culture’s Contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Carly Frey. 

Nordicity is a leading international consulting firm providing private and public-sector clients with solutions for Economic Analysis, Strategy and Business, and Policy and Regulation across four priority sectors: arts, culture and heritage; digital and creative media; and information and communication technologies (ICTs) and innovation. With offices in London (UK), Toronto, and Vancouver Nordicity is ideally placed to assist our clients to succeed in the rapidly evolving global markets.