Globally millions of people are unable to fully participate in or benefit from development, innovation, economic growth, and globalization. People are left behind when they lack the choices and capabilities to be a part of or benefit from human development. People who are left behind in development are often economically, socially, spatially, or politically excluded and are at risk of not enjoying their civil, cultural, economic, and social rights. To achieve Sustainable Development Goals, governments and stakeholders are working on frameworks to accelerate national progress.

Most of the development efforts have been focused on developed regions, failing to improve the lives of the poorest and most disadvantaged groups, thus being continuously locked out of global progress. However, now they are moving beyond assessing average progress to ensuring progress for all.  To end extreme poverty, curb inequalities, confront discrimination, and fast-track progress for the furthest behind the world is working explicitly with a pledge to ensure ‘Leave No One Behind.’ The UN system has come forward to support countries to identify, connect and give voice to those left behind.

Individuals and groups may be at risk of being left behind because of their personal vulnerabilities and their distinct entitlement. Their needs are not visible or recognized by society. Poverty, hunger, and inequalities drive people to be “left behind.” In general, people’s challenges intersect, often compounding deprivation and discrimination.

Key Factors

Discrimination: Discrimination based on ethnicity, age, sex, class, disability, religion, nationality, etc.

Geography: Enduring isolation, vulnerability, inferior public services, transportation, infrastructure gaps, etc.

Governance: Disadvantage due to weak national/subnational institutions.

Socio-economic background: Deprivation due to income, life expectancy, and educational attainment. Acute access to quality healthcare, sanitation, clean water, energy, and financial service.

Shocks & Fragility: Exposed to setbacks due to the impact of climate change, natural hazards, violence, conflict, etc.

A person may be left behind due to disadvantages related to only one of the factors described. However, most of the ‘left behind’ face intersecting disadvantages stemming from more than one factor.

Image: Intersecting factors of “left behind”. Source- THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development (

UNDAF Guidance is a framework at its core that prioritizes programmatic interventions to understand, track and address the situation of the most marginalized, discriminated against, and excluded. Leave no one behind is elaborated through other integrating programming principles:

  • Eliminating inequalities and discrimination: The central idea is to realize the human rights of all, to achieve gender equality, and empowerment of all women and girls.
  • Sustainability and Resilience: It aims to increase the resilience of societies and ecosystems to man-made and natural hazards, climate change, ensuring communities and institutions to enhance human well-being and political and social stability.
  • Accountability: It promotes accountable societies through strengthening national and local mechanisms. It aims to support action and help build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions.

Leaving no one behind (LNOB) is the central transformative promise of 2030 agenda for sustainable development.   Integrating it into different development and humanitarian planning is the need of the hour. Strengthening national capacities to gather, analyze, and use disaggregated data to understand the disadvantages and depreciation that leave people behind.

To achieve the SDGs, urgent action is required to enable and empower people who are “left behind”. It can be achieved by meaningful participation in decision-making and establishing inclusive civic engagement. Promoting equity-focused and rights-based laws, policies, and frameworks to address stigma and discrimination.

This article is based on Report: What does it mean to leave no one behind? | United Nations Development Programme (



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