I SDG and You Should Too | JB Holston

Fifteen months ago, I had the opportunity to work alongside the last US Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith, at the United Nations.

The occasion was the United Nations’ second annual Solutions Summit, an event that Megan helped launch during the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting.

That week was my introduction to the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. The Solutions Summit was crafted and launched simultaneously with the UN’s adoption of the 17 SDGs, an effort endorsed by 160 of the UN’s 194 countries in 2015.

Now, I am a complete convert.

What are the SDG’s?

The Goals are an interlocked set of objectives for global development which, if met by 2030, will put earth on a path of long term sustainable economic development.

The Goals are aspirational, interconnected, accessible, and provide critical path if we’re to collectively thrive on this planet.

Why am I converted?


A great deal of detailed analysis and work has gone into what all of us will have to do to meet these Goals, including more than 160 subsidiary trackable indicators of the goals.

Plans are underway at country, city, and major corporation levels. Commitments are being made. Work’s getting done.

Why am I converted? (Part 2 — Beyond the Science)

The alternative is unacceptable and possibly unlivable.

Megan and her team at Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy — working in tandem with the UN Foundation and the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Office — had one vital insight that was the third, and most critical step in my conversion:

The single most critical engine for achieving these goals is to activate and harness the innovation and entrepreneurial energy from the edges — everywhere in the world.

Top-down, governmental, large organization approaches are necessary — but not sufficient to fulfill the goals on a global level.

When technology is disrupting traditional mechanisms of everything, it will be our great innovators who deliver and scale the most vital solutions to achieve the SDGs.

“encouraging the spirit of entrepreneurship can help us to tackle some of the greatest challenges that we face around the world”

President Obama 2015

And it will be innovators everywhere, not just those in Silicon Valley, who make these solutions possible. The edge — or as Steve Case puts it the “rest” — is where we’ll Rise.

Meanwhile, the line between social and traditional entrepreneurship has disappeared for the next generation of innovators. Scaled impact is the scale that matters. Ethics are at the heart of everything of value, now — be it Facebook, or the next AI algorithms we’ll write to automate the next great thing. Ethics, moral purpose and a human mission are what matter.

While in New York last year, I met social entrepreneurs like:

· Refunite — Reconnecting tens of thousands of refugees to their loved-ones via this platform. Read one story and I dare you to not be moved. @Reunite

· Atmocean — Wave motion to generate desalinated clean water with no fossil fuels. @Atmocean

· Humanitarian Tracker — Crowsourced vital visual and other data on conflicts and epidemics around the world. @HNtracker

· SafeCity— Crowdsourced geo-tracking of sexual harassment and assault in cities around the world. @pinthecreep

This work was so inspiring that before we’d even landed back in Denver, we decided to invite all the Solution-makers to Denver. This wasn’t a choice. We knew we could do it, and we simply HAD to marry the Colorado ecosystem to these great global innovators. Wonderful things would occur.

So we did. In March 2017, we launched Flight to Denver and welcomed 15 unbelievable teams of global entrepreneurs to Denver over a long weekend to accelerate their solutions and work hand-in-hand with 200 willing Coloradans — students, faculty, public, private, and nonprofit sector leaders.

And they did.

SafeCity launched its new mobile app at DU and Regis this month. Colorado engineers are helping ColdHubs pioneer food storage in West Africa. Some of our state’s best and brightest social media experts have helped put many of these solutions on awareness steroids. And all of the Solution Makers now consider Colorado a second home. When nearly none of them had ever visited the state before.

Last week, we were invited by Megan and the teams at the UN Foundation and UN-NGLS to report back on that work at this year’s UN Solutions Summit .

I also had the privilege to be a judge for this year’s UN Solutions Summit. Picking 11 winners from a pool of more than 400 was inspiring. Here are a few:

Syria STEM (Sonbola Group )Think makerspaces and experience for Syrian refugees in Jordanian refugee camps. Think of the possibilities for refugees around the world. “I learned that for each obstacle there is a solution; nothing will ever stand in my way,” Sondos Tayara, 15 year-old refugee. @ngosonbola

Afghanistan Learning Institute :Text-based mobile literacy program that has taught 2,000 Afghan women and girls to read and write to a fourth-grade level in only four months. @AIL_ngo

Gifted Mom: In Cameroon, 20% of pregnant women never have an antenatal care appointment. Mobile delivery of critical health info to women to prevent infant and maternal deaths. SMS-based, brilliant SaaS platform with a GREAT team!. @thegiftedmom

Murgency: 6 billion worldwide lack sufficient access to emergency care. Why not an Uber for global emergency transport? This Indian innovator grew his company in 15 years to 3,000 ambulances. His strategic partner is a Denver-based firm that’s in turn backed by KKR. Why not the world? @murgencynetwork

All this is wonderful — but now we need to take the next step.

We were delighted to connect Governor Hickenlooper to Megan Smith in March.

Governor Hickenlooper and Megan Smith
It was great to see Governor Hickenlooper taking pictures of the SDG Icons.

We had a start.

And now we’re ready for the next step.

It’s time to bring the Sustainable Development Goals to Colorado.

And we need your help.

We’re partnering with the Colorado Office of Economic Development and the UN Foundation and holding our inaugural Colorado Solution Summit this October.

It’s a one-day intensive boot camp and celebratory event for SDG solution providers from Colorado. Megan Smith is coming back out to kick off the event. You’ll want to be a part of this, because it’s only going to get bigger from here.

You can help in two ways:

1. Nominate great solution providers who are building innovative companies that address one or more of the 17 SDGs — from Colorado and for Coloradans as a focus at the inaugural Colorado Solutions Summit this October.

2. Be a mentor! If you have connections and scale-up experience that can support young companies, join us for a half-day or the full day. (link)

For me, it’s easy. A primary focus of my life through 2030 will be helping in every way I can to collectively accelerate us all to achieve the SDGs.

They are a huge stretch.

But they are do-able. The pace of technology change will enable us. If, and as soon as, we all pitch in.

I’m converted — and you should SDG too….

See you in October!