"As societies build walls of separation between communities,
ICAAD works to remove each brick to illuminate our common humanity"

TrackSDGs: Monitoring Sustainable Development Through a Human Rights Lens

One thing that has become increasingly clear following the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the level of intersectionality between each of the 17 goals and the core human rights standards embedded within. Therefore, monitoring each country’s progress towards achieving each goal is imperative to local, regional, and international stakeholders in both the private and public sector.

For example, women in rural Africa walk an average of 10 miles for water every day. Often this is a task carried out by girls or younger women, and affects everything from their education and physical development to their chances of facing a sexual assault. Improving access to running water therefore would impact goals 3 (Good Health), 4 (Quality Education), 5 (Gender Equality), and 6 (Clean Water & Sanitation) immediately, and it is easy to extrapolate that goals 1 (No Poverty), 2 (Zero Hunger), 8 (Decent Work), 10 (Reduced Inequalities), and 11 (Sustainable Cities & Communities) would eventually be positively affected. Looking at the SDGs through a human rights lens is extremely valuable in improving monitoring, participation from a broader coalition of stakeholders, transparency, and implementation.

While the conversation on designing an appropriate mechanism for monitoring implementation of the SDGs is ramping up, we have a rich set of data already at our disposal that allows us to monitor human rights concerns and violations across the globe.

ICAAD has been working to develop a system to better track and inform progress on the SDGs using country recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). UPR recommendations cover the gamut of human rights issues and all 193 UN member states have participated in the UPR for two cycles of review, resulting in close to 50,000 recommendations.

In partnership with a DataCorp team from technology nonprofit DataKind, over the course of six months, we manually reviewed and processed over 2,000 UPR recommendations, created an algorithm to automatically correlate the remaining 50,000 recommendations with SDGs, and launched an alpha visualization of the information.

ICAAD DataKind Sustainable Development

Closely working together to develop the dataset and refine the algorithm, members of the DataCorp team included Ben Cohen, Software Engineer at Warby Parker, Rebecca Wei, PhD Candidate at Northwestern University, and Karry Lu, Data Scientist at Plated, and the ICAAD team included Natalie Druce, Hansdeep Singh, Joe Wheeler, Jaspreet Singh, Terence Park, Jarl Soltoft, and Conan Hines.

Commenting on the project Karry Lu said, “I’m grateful I had the opportunity to lead such a great team and work with the fine folks at ICAAD. We built a killer data product for a worthy cause, and hopefully showed everyone that there’s more to data science than Hadoop servers and optimizing digital marketing spend.”

Rebecca Wei followed, “I really enjoyed collaborating with ICAAD on this data science project for human rights. I learned a lot about current issues in human rights as well as gained experience communicating with non-technical partners. My favorite conversations were ones where both the data science team and ICAAD shared their expertise to move forward–whether discussing how to use ICAAD’s domain knowledge to improve model performance, or both parties sharing information to create as robust a training data set as possible. This project is one of the first to connect the two pieces of international policy, UPRs and SDGs, and I’m proud to have been a part of it.”

We are in the process of designing a user-friendly, interactive data visualization tool that demonstrates the relational overlap between sustainable development and human rights. The algorithm will continue to categorize UPR recommendations according to their corresponding SDGs over the lifespan of the goals (2015-2030). The hope is to use the data provided by the UPR to better guide tailoring of implementation of efforts according to national human rights concerns.



This Civil Rights and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we’d like to challenge you to reflect on how fear may have influenced your opinions, especially of others, and to take a step towards the courage to overcome those fears. Why the focus on fear you might ask?

Famed marketer and author Simon Sinek in his book “Start with Why” outlines six typical manipulations used in sales and marketing, one of which is the use of fear. On fear, Sinek says, “When fear is being employed, facts are incidental. Deeply seated in our biological drive to survive, that emotion cannot be quickly wiped away with facts and figures.”

In the current political atmosphere, in the U.S. and around the globe, fear is often used by politicians and campaigners to polarize debates and to demonize marginalized communities, using them as scapegoats for the real economic, social, and political challenges that societies face.

Martin Luther King, Jr. understood how important fear is, so much so that he gave a sermon on it named “Antidotes for Fear.” It’s worth reading in its entirety, especially because it recognizes the importance, necessity, and creativity of fear (kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/draft-chapter-xiv-mastery-fear-or-antidotes-fear). However, particularly pertinent section was highlighted by King’s wife Coretta Scott King in her book “My life with Martin Luther King, Jr”:

“First Martin spoke of the many kinds of fear that troubled men and women in this period of change and "calamitous uncertainty"— fear of illness or economic disaster, fear of personal inadequacy in our highly competitive society. More terrible was the fear of death, even racial annihilation, in this atomic age, when the whole world teetered on "a balance of terror . . . fearful lest some diplomatic faux pas ignite a frightful holocaust."

"Some fears are normal and necessary," he said, like the fear of snakes in a jungle, but when they become neurotic and unchecked, they paralyze the will and reduce a man to apathy or despair. He quoted Emerson, who wrote, "He has not learned the lesson of life who does not every day surmount a fear."

How, then, to overcome fear? First, Martin said, "We must un-flinchingly face our fears . . . this confrontation will, to some measure, grant us power. . . . "Second, we can master fear through one of the supreme virtues known to man— courage . . . courage is the power of the mind to overcome fear.”"

MLK Coretta Scott King Simon Sinek
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