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The SDG Action Awards 2020 – Celebrating Great Initiatives for a Better World

Want to be inspired and see what the future holds? Meet the winners and finalists of the SDG Action Awards, making change happen and generating useful lessons for us communicators.

Good ideas can become influential ideas when you share them. So if you want ideas on how to fight sexual harassment, make TV broadcasting more inclusive or keep plastics out of the ocean, then read on and meet the winners and finalists of the 2020 SDG Action Awards!

As always, this year’s award ceremony was part of the SDG Global Festival of Action, hosted by the United Nation’s SDG Action Campaign. The Festival – held entirely online in March – brought together more than 24,000 participants from all over the world!

The nine finalists below emerged from a healthy competition of more than 2,000 contenders from over 140 countries. Subsequently, a diverse jury of 21 experts (including the OECD DevCom Secretariat!) had the tough job of choosing the winners in each of the three award categories – “Mobilise”, “Inspire” and “Connect”.

The winners and finalists brought incredible ideas and great determination to the table; they also brought their communication skills. After all, you can’t mobilise support, inspire action or connect partners without great communications! Indeed, our DevCom Toolkit encourages communicators to become more ambitious with their goals, from simply raising awareness to changing attitudes, promoting action and seeking advice.

Let’s have a closer look at the finalists and their communications efforts.

The Mobilisers

The award went to the Stand to End Rape initiative, founded by Nigerian women’s rights activist Oluwaseun Osowobi (@AyodejiOsowobi). The Initiative fights against sexual harassment within universities, where students too often are victims of abusive lecturers threatening to deny admission or good marks. The organisers work with communities to bolster awareness and prevention, support victims with psychosocial services, monitor policies and practices, and establish a network of activists. They have also used their communications efforts to put pressure on politicians to enact change. Their documentary, Sex for Grades: undercover inside Nigerian and Ghanaian universities, aired on the BBC in 2019 and went viral across Africa. Many have joined the organisation in its calls for change.

The runners up for this category were also nothing short of fantastic. The first one, El Avispero, is a Colombian project founded by business leader Juliana Uribe (@julianauribe). The digital campaigning platform provides young activists with tools and resources to launch their own campaigns and organise local action. The second runner up, the Sustainable Development Festival, is an annual event in Italy put on by the Unipolis Foundation and the University of Rome. It brings together citizens, businesses, public administrations, universities and civil society to foster dialogue on the 2030 SDG agenda. In 2020, the festival became a global online event, supported by Italy’s embassies around the world.

The Inspirers

The judges found their winner in Kenya. Signs TV is a social enterprise that seeks to promote a more inclusive media landscape. It produces television programmes in sign language for people with hearing impairments. Its TV station employs people with disabilities as programme hosts and producers. In reaction to new difficulties posed by the COVID pandemic, Signs TV is now developing a smartphone app that deaf people can use as a virtual sign-language interpreter in places like hospitals, workplaces and universities.

There are two other inspiring initiatives among the finalists for this category. The first is the Fight Forever Chemicals Campaign in the US. It aims to draw attention to the dangers of so-called “forever chemicals”, i.e. the non-biodegradable chemical substances that pollute our environment. A powerful accompanying narrative film, Dark Waters, explores the issue through the lenses of experts and activists. The second is Rap2Rep, a Liberia-based initiative from Accountability Lab, a nonprofit focused on open government and transparency, founded by social entrepreneur Blair Glencorse (@blairglencorse). In partnership with the US Embassy in Monrovia, the campaign held talent contests for first-time artists producing and performing songs about social change. Popular musicians and production professionals also connected with young talents to help them develop their ideas and reach new audiences.

The Connectors

The SDG Action Award went to Nextwave Plastics. Unlike the other initiatives in the final round, this project specifically addresses the private sector. The aim is to encourage technology and consumer brands to restructure their supply chains and use recycled raw materials that would otherwise end up in the ocean. To do so, the initiators connect multinational companies, waste collectors and recycling specialists.

One of the finalists in this category, Entrepioneers 2030, is a social platform founded by civil engineer and social entrepreneur Bassel Al-Madani (@Bassel_almadani) to help young Syrians develop projects and enterprises. Through workshops and consultations, the platform promotes sustainable development and connects young people with expert advice from entrepreneurs, activists, public organisations and the private sector.

The other finalist, Equal Measures, provides individuals, organisations and grassroots movements with the data and evidence they need to highlight discrimination against women. In various countries, the initiative organises advocacy training, focused on using a data-driven approach to empower women to stand up for their own interests.


The finalists thus demonstrate an impressive variety of approaches to communications. Some use popular formats – music, films, documentaries or competitions – to convey their message; others provide a platform – digital or on-site – to encourage interaction and partnerships; others have diversified their channels to reach new audiences.

It is worth noting that the SDG Action Awards themselves are an example of how to engage audiences for sustainable development. They combine a fun format with the global authority of the United Nations and its partners. The OECD DevCom Secretariat is delighted to be on the judging panel for the awards — and we are already looking forward to next year’s edition!


This post is published in partnership with Engagement Global, a German service agency working on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to engage civil society on issues of development co-operation.

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