Good news is always welcome, but April’s announcement from Times Higher Education in London brought particular pleasure and satisfaction. Out of 1,240 universities ranked for their work toward the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations (the SDGs), Queen’s had placed fifth overall in the world and first in North America. For our work on SDG1 (No Poverty) and SDG16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) we topped the tables, while finishing in the top 10 on SDG2 (Zero Hunger), SDG11 (Sustainable Cities), and SDG15 (Life on Land). These results gave our university the highest first-entry position of any institution participating this year, an achievement of which the whole Queen’s family can be legitimately proud. Special acknowledgement must be made to the team which assembled Queen’s submission, a Herculean project involving more than 600 separate pieces of evidence.

To speak of our participation as a “project” is both accurate and significant: the first because the Impact Rankings demand work from an institution, the second because that work has meaning, importance, and utility outside the immediate context which requires it. The decision to participate was in fact made because of the process to which that committed us – a process of institutional self-discovery and self-analysis, making use of the SDGs as a heuristic to help us see more clearly where we were already having impact in the world, and where we might hope to do so in the future. That Queen’s fared so well was of course gratifying, but even if we had not done so, the process would have been just as valuable to us in pursuit of our mission and goals.

In May, the Board of Trustees approved a new Strategic Framework for Queen’s. That outline of our vision, mission and values was distilled from a year-long conversation about the challenges and aspirations of the university, and its focus is on maximizing our global impact. The Strategic Framework shows the influence of our continuing engagement with the 17 SDGs. Indeed, the “project” of self-exploration which I just described was as important for our strategic planning as it was for our submission to the Impact Rankings. And this summer, as six working groups are meeting to build on the priorities laid out in the Strategic Framework, nearly 300 members of our university community have participated in a “17 Rooms” exercise modelled on the flagship program created by the Brookings Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation to stimulate collective action on the SDGs.

The SDGs are by no means the only framework within which we might measure and amplify our impact as an institution, but they provide an extremely helpful one. In the first place, they are extraordinarily comprehensive: it is difficult to imagine a taxonomy more encompassing of our diverse efforts than the Global Indicator Framework for the Sustainable Development Goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. But the second and perhaps more useful aspect of the goals is their widespread currency. Universities around the world have adopted the 17 SDGs as a lingua franca, a shared vocabulary by means of which common interests can be identified and real and meaningful collaborations forged that will bring benefit rapidly and widely to the world.

Queen’s can and must be an important player in that global effort. The Strategic Framework articulates our institutional vision in this way: “The Queen’s community – our people – will solve the world’s most significant and urgent challenges with their intellectual curiosity, passion to achieve, and commitment to collaborate.” That last commitment, like SDG17 (“Partnerships for the Goals”), is the prerequisite for everything we might hope to achieve.

Originally published in 2021, issue 2 of the Queen's Alumni Review.

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