The UN Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. They were adopted by all UN member states in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which set out a 15-year plan to achieve the 17 Goals.
As students developing their capstone projects, which often aim to solve real-world problems, it is important to consider how your project can support progress toward one or more of the Global Goals. Here are some key steps students can take to ensure their capstone project is aligned:
Learn about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and understand what each goal is aiming to achieve by the 2030 deadline. You can find descriptions of all the goals on the UN website. Read through each goal area and its associated targets so you have a solid understanding of the scope and ambitions of the 2030 Agenda. Make notes on which goals relate most directly to the types of issues or problems you hope your capstone project will address.
Consult with your capstone advisor, career counselors, or faculty members involved in sustainability initiatives at your educational institution. They will likely have expertise in linking student projects to the SDGs and can help guide you toward goals and targets where your work would make the most meaningful contribution. Your advisors know the kinds of challenges local communities are facing and how student solutions could support SDG progress at regional and national levels.
Speak with potential community partners if collaborating directly with organizations, businesses, or public entities on your capstone project. Explain the Global Goals framework and ask which goals are priorities for the work they do. Aligning with a community partner’s existing SDG efforts or initiatives validates how your project outputs could create real impact. Partners may also be well-positioned to help scale and implement student solutions after graduation.
Review your preliminary capstone project idea and draft goals/objectives through an SDG lens. Ask yourself questions like: Which development challenges does this project aim to directly address? How could successful outcomes contribute to targets underGoals like no poverty, zero hunger, good health, quality education, clean water/sanitation, affordable/clean energy, decent work/economic growth, industry/infrastructure, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities/communities, responsible consumption, climate action, life below water, life on land or peace/justice/strong institutions? Be specific about linkages.
Incorporate SDG alignment into your research methodology. For example, conduct a needs assessment or stakeholder interviews that reference the Global Goals framework. This helps validate how your work supports international development priorities based on local input and expertise. Quantitative and qualitative data gathered should demonstrate clear linkages to the social, economic or environmental dimensionsof one or more SDG targets.
Discuss SDG relevance in your capstone proposal, progress updates and final presentation. Clearly state up front how your project outcomes could advance specific Global Goals and targets if successful. Revisit this alignment throughout the capstone timeline to strengthen the case for how your work is meaningful within the 2030 Agenda. In evaluations, assess both project outputs and SDG progress enabled to gauge impact.
Consider opportunities to scale your piloted solution in partnership with others to enable wider SDG impact after graduation, if warranted. For example, could aspects of your work inform public policy development or other stakeholder initiatives? Be strategic in planning continuity that allows student solutions to live on in sustainably advancing countries’ development priorities.
By following these steps, students can ensure their capstone projects are purposefully aligned with real-world needs expressed through the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This provides value and relevance for the projects, validates student work as a potential catalyst for positive change and sustainable development progress, and strengthens the case for how solutions from higher education can support global priorities to build a more just, prosperous and environmental-sound world for all. Thoughtful integration of the SDGs framework informs high-quality, impactful student work with tangible outcomes for people and the planet.