Achieving sustainable development requires a whole of government approach

Progressively building productive knowledge and capabilities through a whole of government approach can be one of the ways to achieve sustainable development while spurring economic growth.

Sustainable Development Goals & Challenges vs Economic Complexity Indices by region scaled 1-100, 2014
(Bubble size reflects GRP 2015)

There is no single pathway to sustainable development. Progress on sustainable development can be achieved through discrete strategies that depend on a country or region’s factor endowments, capabilities, phase of economic development and existing government policies.

Whiteshield has developed a methodology to measure progress on SDGs at both the national and regional levels and define the most appropriate pathway to sustainable development.

The Regional Sustainable Development Goals Challenge Index (RSDGCI) is based on 6 Sustainable Development Goals and over 30 indicators at the sub-national level. It builds on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) and 169 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets.

Based on this Index, 4 distinct policies emerge for countries using this approach:

  • “Innovate”: regions with strong results on both the Economic Complexity Index and SDG Index should focus on R&D support, strengthening linkages between private enterprises and universities, encouraging cross-border R&D collaboration, and attracting FDI that is targeted towards innovation and skills transfer.
  • “Go Structural”: regions that have a high score on the SDG Index but a much lower one on the Economic Complexity Index must implement measures to upgrade their capabilities through more open competition, FDI-SME linkages, export promotion and public-private partnerships for skills development.
  • “Go Social”: regions with a high score on the Economic Complexity Index but a low score on the SDG Index have not invested sufficiently in human development and sustainability. These regions must focus further on investment in education, healthcare, social security, gender equality and sustainable forms of production and consumption.
  • “Rescue”: for regions that demonstrate weak results on both the SDG Index and the Economic Complexity Index, there is a need for a combination of horizontal and vertical policies to progressively move up the value chain and generate the financing for sustainable development.

Regional Sustainable Development Challenge Index Results in Kazakhstan’s regions, 2015

To be successful this approach requires two imperatives: a whole-of-government approach and a common set of key performance indicators at the national and sub-national levels.

The whole of government approach must be led at the prime minister level, and involve all relevant Ministries, including the Ministry of Economy, Environment, Labour, Health and Industry.

Leveraging the existing SDG Indicators as a framework, the indicators used must be adapted to the specific needs of each country through a consultative process. Representatives from each region should be brought together in order to align on the indicator framework and methodology.

Ultimately, economic growth can be reconciled with sustainable development. It is just a matter of adopting the right pathway to development.





Senior Partner


Nadia KLOS

Senior Associate

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