On Friday, September 21, 2018, students, professors, and professionals crowded the Mario Laserna auditorium at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia to hear from Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, university Rector Pablo Navas, and Colombian president Ivan Duque. They spoke about the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the world’s agenda for economic growth, social equity, and environmental protection.

The event marked the official opening of the Center for Sustainable Development Goals for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is hosted at the University, and serves as a hub for professors, civil society, and political leaders in Latin America as they develop solutions to the unique development challenges countries in the region face. The Center was launched with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank, and in partnership with the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. It joins a network of similar Centers around the world, in Southeast Asia, Africa, China, and the Middle East.

Rector Navas opened the event by speaking about the mission presented by the SDGs and Agenda 2030. He called the opening of the Center a great honor and great opportunity, but also a great challenge and great responsibility. His vision of the Center is as a place that sets the research agenda for the region, and functionally collaborates with other universities to achieve that agenda. Already, the Center has formed partnerships with seven top universities in Latin America, including in Chile, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru.

The Rector also said the Center will produce specialized research to inform a wide array of professions, to incorporate the private sector and ultimately foster behavioral change across the entire spectrum of society. Importantly, considering the presence of the President, he said the Center will be an active agent in advising public policy, and serve as an ally and trusted source of expertise to governments across Latin America.

President Duque gave a 30-minute keynote speech on creating a new development plan for Colombia based on the SDGs. He said each of the 17 SDGs will be reflected in the objectives of the new national plan. He followed this with examples of concrete policies around each of the SDGs, from health and education to taxation and including rural parts of the country.

The President invited Colombians from every region, ethnic group, business, and academia to contribute to the plan, so that the 17 goals will become part of the Colombian national pride. In all, the plan will be a “pact for equity,” to create access to opportunities for every Colombian.

Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of SDSN, gave a keynote speech following the President’s. He spoke about Colombia as the home of the SDGs, as one of the first proposers and supporters of the agenda. He gave a detailed presentation on the unique economic and environmental circumstances facing the region, highlighting the importance of having an SDG Center tailored for Latin America.

Dr. Sachs emphasized how the world must commit to the SDGs. He said it took years of effort to build up the SDGs – a similar agenda in 1992 failed, and was forgotten soon after it was proposed. He said “The SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement are going to be the only global agendas of our generation.” No others will come along, and therefore we must commit to accomplishing these.

Dr. Sachs also spoke about moving beyond optimism and pessimism about if the Goals can be achieved by 2030, and implored the audience to focus on being the creators of our fate. “I’m not betting on these, but I spend every hour of the day on them. Because there is no alternative.”

The Center will focus on just that: being the creator of the fate of the SDGs in Latin America, and working across society and across borders to ensure the Goals are achieved.