Malaysia has made important steps forward with the release of the second Voluntary National Review (VNR), the main reporting system used by all the United Nations members to explain their progress and challenges on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs.
One area, however, needs strengthening. If there is something to learn from Indonesia that at the same time has just published its 3rd VNR, itself an indicator on how much attention was given on SDGs since day one, is the fact that the process of institutionalising the goals, that inevitably requires enhanced levels of coordination at the center, cannot truly happen on the grounds if there are no efforts to engage the people.
Certainly, what's happening in Jakarta and throughout Indonesia is far from being perfect in matters of localising the SDGs and all the mechanisms of involving the citizenry are still very much a work in progress.
Yet, you can see the level of visionary approach that is being used there starting from the outreach efforts that brought to the creation of more than 20 SDGs Centers being hosted by local universities throughout the country.
The process of localising the SDGs is basically about setting localised versions of the goals at all the levels of local government, from village to small urban areas to neighbourhoods of big megalopolis to entire cities' council.
Ideally is about driving the process of policy and decision making based on goals, with the citizens understanding the relevance of embedding them in the day-to-day policy making not only because their lives will be positively affected but because this could lead to a different form of better governing.
All this cannot happen if the people are unaware of the SDGs. After all, without meaningful engagement based on sound understanding of major issues at play locally, what we would have is just more tokenistic people's involvement in local affairs.
This is what the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has been focusing on when he talks about using the SDGs as a way to enable a New Social Contract, a way to enable new relationships between the citizens and the government.
Certainly, Malaysia has taken some important steps in the area of localising the SDGs. The final outcome here would have the governing bodies of as many cities as possible preparing their own localized version of the VNR (in jargon Voluntary Local Review) through more meaningful public engagement.
Positively there is quite a work in progress in this area across the nation from Shah Alam to Kuala Lumpur to Subang Jaya to Putrajaya, Alor Gajah and Melaka but all these exercises must ensure a real participation of the public.
This should not be seen as a remedy at the lack of local elections but as a way to strengthen the process of citizens' participation in the local governance that would ultimately make any future local elections more meaningful and impactful.
That's why what is being tested in Indonesia could be an interesting model to observe and adjust to local realities in Malaysia. As already proposed in this column, higher education institutions have a big role to play.
It is true that many of them now participate to the SDGs Impact Ranking but how many of them have institutionalised the SDGs within their governance system?
Writing an SDGs focused report is one thing but another is committing the intellectual capital to establish SDGs centers the way Indonesia has been doing.
Such centers can, not only aim at creating awareness and capacity building among the student populations, but they can become hubs for a far better quality of community engagement.
Universities in Malaysia have taken important steps towards the SDGs but now what is required is a big leap forward. For example, how many universities have introduced a mandatory course on the SDGs?
How many are truly enabling their students to come up with their own SDGs focused social innovations and how many of them have been consistently facilitated new forms volunteering opportunities besides the traditional "community work"?
Hopefully the incoming SDGs Road Map will help local administrators and the leaderships of higher education institutions to find the answer to these questions.
The next VNR could potentially reflect what localizing the SDGs means: engaging people, starting from the youth, for transformational change.
By then, people might have become conscious of the difference the SDGs could make in their lives.
The author writes on social inclusion, youth development, regional integration and the SDGs in the context of Asia Pacific
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times