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Leave No One Behind: how systemic racism impacts Sustainable Development Goals

Kutisha T. Ebron (Institute for Ethical Leadership, University of St Thomas, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA)
Cheyenne Luzynski (Institute for Ethical Leadership, University of St Thomas, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA) (West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA)
Carolynn S. Nath Komanski (Institute for Ethical Leadership, University of St Thomas, Miami Gardens, Florida, USA) (University of Florida, Gainsville, Florida, USA)

International Journal of Public Leadership

ISSN: 2056-4929

Article publication date: 19 January 2023

Issue publication date: 9 March 2023




This paper critiques how the member states adopted the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a concerted effort to improve the lives and meet the basic needs of all global citizens. COVID-19 has been an unexpected precipitous monitoring system that has exposed the current implemented policies and systems, begging the question, “are these goals failing?” Furthermore, may it be equated to failed leadership on a global scale? The UN 17 SDGs is an urgent call for union by all countries – developed and developing – recognizes that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality and spur economic growth. This paper is central to addressing the shortcomings of UN leadership and multilateral organizations. The UN coordinates multilateral organizations' actions in reaching the most marginalized communities (United Nations, 2015). Hence, these outcomes have become more distant to those without means and most in need, a likely consequence of program failure and our globalized world. The pandemic has taught us national solutions to global problems fall short and may only exacerbate the outcome. The authors approach this as a failure of global leadership. The UN's pledge to “Leave No One Behind” has undermined its commitment to poverty and inequalities of racism and sectarianism. The UN staff are often unprepared to deal with the issues they have contributed to. They continue to perpetuate the inequalities that stem from racism and discrimination even though the pledge is to leave no one behind. The 17 SDGs are designed to impact citizens' health and livelihood. The goals have direct and indirect effects on women, children and the most marginalized groups residing in urban cities across the globe. This article examines systemic racism and the UN and its impact on the SDGs’ agenda.


This article proposes a human-centered approach to address leadership inadequacies in a global public leadership institution using a literature review and contemporary cases.


This article argues a premise for the UN institutions to adapt their leadership approaches to better understand the global communities with whom they serve.

Practical implications

This article is directed to multi-lateral leaders and governments in hopes to expose inequities and hypocrisies in order to advance more inclusive and culturally responsive approaches to tackle the most challenging social issues the world faces.


This article draws on current events of racism that challenge one of the largest global institutions and can potentially undermine the achievement of meeting the 2030 UN SDGs for any country.



Ebron, K.T., Luzynski, C. and Nath Komanski, C.S. (2023), "Leave No One Behind: how systemic racism impacts Sustainable Development Goals", International Journal of Public Leadership, Vol. 19 No. 1, pp. 31-44.



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