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Words from Waller

September 14, 2022

Dear Willamette community,

I asked Provost Carol Long to take over this week's Words from Waller to talk about the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and why we are using them as a framework for Willamette's strategic plan.


wheel of colors logo from UN Sustainable Development Goals

In last week’s Words from Waller, Pres. Thorsett reminded us that Willamette University has always been a values-driven institution devoted to service, to action, and to access, as well as to its mission to educate talented and diverse students who can and will change the world. These commitments guide Willamette’s updated strategic plan, which positions Willamette to equip leaders with the skills and knowledge to address the complex challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

Willamette’s strategic plan points to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework for identifying and shaping possible areas of contribution for Willamette. The 17 goals are a call to action to address global challenges related to poverty and economic development; health, education, and equality; and climate, peace, and justice. Universities are responsible for training and shaping the future leaders of sustainable development, and solving these complex challenges facing our world today requires a multidisciplinary, systems approach. Given Willamette’s strengths in both the liberal arts and sciences and in professional practice, we are effectively equipped to educate leaders who can approach these complicated and multifaceted issues with both historical context and an informed sense of our shared humanity and with breadth and depth in specific subject areas like law, management, data, and creative arts.

The SDGs build upon decades of work by individuals and nations around the globe. In 1992, the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro adopted Agenda 21 to collaborate for sustainable development. Then, in 2000, the Millennium Summit adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to tackle global poverty. The MDGs made notable progress; more than 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990. The goals also tackled child mortality and primary education shortfalls, as well as HIV/AIDS. These successes made it possible to think bigger.

In 2012 at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, a working group came up with a draft agenda for addressing the most pressing challenges facing the world. Representatives from 70 countries met and produced a draft of 17 interconnected goals, which were agreed upon in August 2015. After broad consultation, the member states of the United Nations adopted "Transforming the World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development" with 17 SDGs and 169 targets.

So, why should we think about the SDGs? First they provide a heroic model of collaboration, and demonstrate the need for consultation, exploration, and revision to achieve significant progress on substantial goals.

Second, for every learner, department, and school at Willamette, the SDGs provide a window into a crucial 21st century issue that is of interest. In the SDG information base, you will find discussions of how art and culture drive the achievement of the 2030 agenda; or how technology and innovation support global health; or the importance of inclusive finance for development; or how forests and trees can help to resist and protect from ecological shocks.

Finally, all of the SDGs are considered in an international and global context. Willamette is an institution of the Pacific Northwest but has always had a global reach and impact. Learning from or assisting our global neighbors is part of our understanding that “not unto ourselves alone are we born.” Although we may and should bring what we learn from the SDGs back to our local context, we will better understand that context through the lens of global engagement. How does the Salem, Oregon, Climate Action Plan stack up against the SDGs? How do the planning efforts in Portland contribute to the sustainable cities goal? And, how can our work contribute to global progress?

Universities can generate, translate and disseminate knowledge to help achieve the SDGs, and Willamette has the ability to contribute in key areas. Realizing the targets outlined in the SDGs requires leaders who are proficient in assimilating facts and frameworks and who can work in diverse groups, develop innovative solutions in resource-constrained settings, and advocate for partnerships. These are the skills needed to amplify the inequities in access to education, healthcare, housing, employment, food, and safety. These are the skills needed to work toward a more just and sustainable world. These are the skills developed through a Willamette education.


Carol Long

Willamette University

Office of the President

Salem Campus

Waller Hall, 5th Floor
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.