In addition to its own research and development work, KIT Royal Tropical Institute offers a place to work for organisations working on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), called SDG House.
“It is essential for us that we are inclusive,” says the director of KIT/SDG House, Mark Schneiders, speaking in the run-up to SDG Action Day 2020, below he answers some pertinent questions.
In what way have the SDGs proved to be of added value for KIT?
Mark Schnieders: We have been working on development since the Second World War. Initially, it was mainly economic development and healthcare in low-income countries, then we began working on gender equality and minority rights. It is only when you understand how all these things connect that you can come to better solutions, and the SDGs a useful way to hang this on, a language to connect everything together.
Has KIT’s field of activity been broadened by the SDGs?
MS: A few years ago we had the opportunity to accommodate other organisations in our building, in addition to our knowledge unit. The SDGs became the guiding principle, with a focus on organisations that propagate and promote the values of the goals. In this way, there is a clearly recognisable common goal. So the SDGs were already very much in our DNA, but now they are the guiding principle in everything we do. The presence of these other organisations has broadened the subjects KIT works on.
How do you select which organisations can work in KIT?
MS: We talk to everyone to gauge their motivation and how they contribute to the SDGs. We read their annual reports and look at whether we can add themes that are still underexposed. There is currently a waiting list for organisations that want to move here, so we have the luxury of being able to choose.
Is KIT focusing more The Netherlands than it used to, given that the SDGs apply both at home and abroad?
MS: The 90 or so people who work in our knowledge unit work on subjects such as agriculture, gender and economics. For the most part, this is aimed at low-income countries, but that knowledge can also be applied here too. There is also poverty in the Netherlands, and people who experience issues fitting in. In principle, this is not so different, so we are responding more to questions from organisations that are working on the SDGs in the Netherlands.
In order to achieve the SDGs within ten years, we need various large and small transitions. To which transitions does KIT contribute?
MS: We are trying to bring the realisation of the SDGs closer in the role of facilitator (SDG 17 – Partnership for the Goals). We hope to do this with the residents here and those of the six other SDG houses. At the end of the day, it is not the title of the SDG but the actual content. What is essential for us is that we are inclusive, that we ‘leave no one behind’. When our knowledge department works on healthcare, it has to be about healthcare for everyone. In the future we would also like to make our public spaces and garden more attractive and use them to involve even more people in sustainability and the SDGs.
With the corona crisis, do you see opportunities to take a new sustainable direction?
MS: What we are experiencing now is unique, but not in a pleasant way. We are actually doing a joint experiment with the rest of the world. Changes are happening that help to achieve some of the SDGs, such as less travel and even consumption, but they are being forced upon us.
Are there transitions which are gaining momentum as a result of the crisis?
MS: It is a period of learning that will continue. For example, at KIT we are learning how to work together remotely. Our knowledge unit used to travel a lot but they are now unable to visit the projects they are working on, despite this, 80-90 per cent of what we do is going well. Like many organisations, we are going through a rethink, but what we focus on is not going to change – KIT will be 110-years-old this year – however, we will think differently about the way it is implemented.