“A single story told is a thousand stories untold”

Maria Njeri discusses the power of '2030 and Counting', a global reporting initiative led by youth with disabilities.

2030 and Counting, run by Leonard Cheshire and On Our Radar, established citizen reporting networks in Kenya, the Philippines and Zambia to collect stories and data around the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which are due to be achieved by 2030.

Reporters in Kenya, the Philippines, and Zambia, have revealed a gap between youth with disabilities and their non-disabled peers. Do you think that this suggests that the SDGs are unlikely to fall short of their targets in 2030?

Most likely, youth with disabilities will be left behind in 2030. Many developing countries will struggle to meet all of their targets. First, there is an exsiting huge gap between youth with disabilities and regular youth which begins from the inequalities during childhood, stigma and discrimination in education systems, and societial biasis. The gap is also brought on by assumptions and the ‘one shoe fits all’ perspective – youth with disabilities have different needs and rights and their sustainable solutions are different.

In education, regular youth require access to affordable quality education while youth with disabilities require access to inclusive affordable quality education, with reasonable accommodations and assistive technology. For the success of the SDGs, there is a need to better define youth with disabilities, accommodate their needs and find distinct solutions, apart from the regular youth.


A focus of the project was on local ownership and youth leadership – mobilising young people to establish themselves within the disability rights movement as agents of change. How important is this?

When representing the project in Berlin, one of the participants from a disabled persons’ organisation questioned the abilities of youth with disabilities in developing countries to own and manage their own project, citing the convenience of organisations owning and managing the projects on their behalf. But this is the niche that ‘2030 and Counting’ gave youth with disabilities – an immense value of responsibility and trust in local ownership, leadership and management.  This was unheard of in the past and [the approach] lacked a track of evidence-based data. 

This aspect also gave youth with disabilities leverage around the quality of delivery, the uniqueness of reports, grassroot influence, and the mentorship of the project.

This aspect is important for the sustainability of the project because youth with disabilities own ‘2030 and Counting’ as part of their personal initiatives and are willing to drive forward its success, as well as cascade the mentorship and leadership roles to other youth with disabilities. The project is for the youth and that is how it will continue.


The film “Maggie’s Story”, produced as part of  the project’s “The Missing Voices” documentary series, offers an individual viewpoint on the humiliations and frustrations of an unequal society. Do you think that lived experience, presented as a human story, is necessary to bring context to the more statistical reporting around the SDGs?

A single story told is a thousand stories untold. 

People relate better to stories; communities understand more through stories and initiatives are taken from a story. Throughout the years, as voluntary national reviews [of the SGDs] are collected in countries, we fall for the danger of a single story – a story of statistics and numbers in well-written reports – versus a story of life.

Looking ahead, what do you feel are the most immediate issues to be tackled in order to further reduce, or resolve, disparity, and bring us closer to achieving the SDGs?

Within each and every SDG, the most immediate issue is inequality. Extreme inequality is continuously increasing globally. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, with billions of people living in extreme poverty while exaggerated wealth is for those at the very top. Global systems of power are out of control and governments are massively under taxing corporations and wealthy individuals, while underfunding public services, food, healthcare, education, and social security. Inequalities affect the vulnerable most, with their humanity decreasing. Inequalities cause devastating consequences to all affected, especially people with disabilities. People with disabilities experience lower education levels, poorer healthcare, poorer nutrition and have fewer resources than people without disabilities. People with disabilities also have inequalities amongst themselves.

Goal 10 aims to reduce inequality, and target 10.2 is specifically focused on reducing inequality for persons with disabilities, by aiming to empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of disability. Achieving the SDGs calls for bridging the inequalities gap in every country. Countries and individuals must take action to ensure everyone, including people with disabilities, have the basics – enough income, food, quality healthcare, quality education, and employment. 

Read the analysis report, lead by the young reporters, here: The Countdown Is On

2030 and Counting was funded by Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)