Five years Cifal Flanders: ‘Responsible entrepreneurship is key’


Flanders’ training centre for the realisation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals celebrated five years of achievements this week

‘We must be pro-active’

As far as fifth birthdays go, Cifal Flanders’ recent event was quite an international affair, with a who’s who of the development industry and local businesses in attendance. From aid organisations like 11.11.11 and Plan International to financial institutions and corporations like BNP Paribas Fortis and Brussels Airport Company, they all gathered at the Flemish parliament in Brussels on Monday evening.

That’s because Cifal Flanders – like the other 16 United Nations training centres that bears the Cifal name – has made it a mission to involve local actors in the global effort to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They do this by organising guest lectures, master classes, international conferences, workshops and study days for municipal and regional governments, researchers, trade unions, businesses, educational institutions, NGOs and civil society.

“To learn, to build capacity, you actually have to be pro-active. It’s not enough to just hear and see, you have to share best practices, and you have to be committed to being active,” said Alexander A Meija, head of the Cifal Global Network, speaking at the event.

Jan Peumans, speaker of the Flemish parliament, stressed that the region fully supports Cifal’s efforts when it comes to promoting peace, human rights and sustainability. “Flanders and the Flemish parliament also try to excel in all these domains,” he said.

17 global centres

Cifal Flanders was born from the Antwerp Itcco training centre, which was already working with all of these actors on sustainability issues. Last year, the Antwerp-based organisation trained 4,700 people in more than 100 events and workshops, a more than tenfold increase from 2014.

Cifal Flanders is one of the 17 United Nations training centres across Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean. The efforts of these centres, which are part of the Geneva-based United Nations Institute for Training and Research, are focused on the SDGs, the successor to the Millennium Development Goals.

Adopted by the UN member countries in 2015, these 17 SDGs and their specific 167 targets aim to end poverty, protect the environment and ensure that people across can live in peace by 2030.

Speaking at the Flemish parliament event, Cifal Flanders director Peter Wollaert said that the organisation has been able to administer Unitar certificates to 21 partners. "But our work is not done, of course,” he said. “We will continue our efforts to convince companies, universities, NGOs and governments to make work of the SDGs. And this year we also expanded our expertise across the border and are now active in the Netherlands.”

Also at the event, Nikhil Seth, executive director of the UN’s Institute for Training and Research, said that meeting the SDGs was on the agenda in Belgium thanks to the work of Cifal Flanders. He noted that the work with entrepreneurs and industry was particularly crucial.

“Sustainable, responsible entrepreneurship is good for society, for the economy, for the environment and for the company itself,” he said. "Those who think with an open mind and take action will get much more benefit from the SDGs than they ever imagined."

Seth also stressed that equality of women and girls across the globe (SDG number five) would be key to achievement of the 16 remaining goals in the years to come.

“It will make a difference to poverty; it will make a difference to health; it will make a difference to education, agriculture and, of course, to gender equality and empowerment,” he said. “Each and every goal will be impacted by this.”

Photo courtesy GlobalGoals UN/flickr