Concept Note


Overarching Theme of the SDC 2020 


The Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) is pleased to announce its Twenty-third Sustainable Development Conference (SDC) from 14 – 17 December 2020 in Islamabad, Pakistan. The overarching theme of this year’s Conference is Sustainable Development in the Times of COVID-19.

 This year, keeping the COVID-19 pandemic in mind, we are looking at a conference where some speakers will be able to attend in person taking care of the social distancing and other precautionary measures, while the rest will participate through a web-based platform meant for virtual conference. 

In an unprecedented turn of events, the year 2020 saw COVID-19 pandemic take over the world. The world since COVID-19 is not the same as it was before. Multilateral organizations have already warned about global recessions and major food crisis after the health emergency. Epidemiologists are also warning about a second wave of COVID-19 next winter. Scientists are yet to determine how the virus evolves and human response to it. 

Keeping this in view, the Twenty-third Sustainable Development Conference will focus on “Sustainable Development in the Times of COVID-19”.

Background: On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic, urging the governments to devise their preparedness plans, place emergency procedures to protect the public, cut down drastically on travel and initiate other restrictions. Within weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic spiralled exponentially as the scientists, doctors and health care providers, international organisations, states and countries tried to get a grip on it.

Since China officially reported its first case on 10 January 2020 and WHO declared the pandemic a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January the coronavirus (COVID-19) had spread to 212 countries/territories along with two international conveyances by 10 May[1] By that day, the numbers had reached four million one hundred twenty-four thousand seven hundred sixty-five cases of COVID-19 globally, one million four hundred fifty-two thousand seven hundred eighty-eight recoveries and two hundred eighty thousand nine hundred thirty-eight deaths (ibid).

After China, the pandemic rapidly spread to many other countries, including Iran, Italy, Spain, France and the UK. Simultaneously, the cases in the USA grew exponentially surpassing the figures of the other countries. As the pandemic continues, it is further being predicted that Afghanistan, Pakistan and India may become its next targets.

A pandemic like this neither differentiates between cities, regions, countries, nationalities, religion, race, colour, class, sex or age nor between public or the leaders. It forced the states to go for lockdown of localities, cities and shutting down of businesses, industries, educational institutions, and closure of borders. It has brought travel to a grinding stop and jolted the livelihoods, and everyday life of the rich and the poor.  

A world since this pandemic is indeed a different world altogether. The repercussions will go a long way. In the light of this, SDPI’s Twenty-third Sustainable Development Conference will specifically be focussing on the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) and a changing world order since the outbreak of the pandemic. The Conference will also deliberate upon how the macroeconomic developments, trading across borders, and social safety-nets will evolve as governments around the world respond to this challenge and are getting ready to grab some of the opportunities, mainly digitalization of economy, telehealth, distance learning, etc. These opportunities may help in reducing inequalities in Asian countries provided they are able to overcome digital divide between the developed and the underdeveloped world.   

It all implies that other threats the humanity is being warned about, including climate change, food insecurity; recession and unstable economies, to name a few, are real and we need to be prepared for them.

This Conference invites experts and researchers from academia and think tanks as well as policy makers to come forward and deliberate together on the key questions one should be asking and propose solutions in the context of health, climate change, migration, peace and harmony, human rights, energy, social protection and good governance, water issues, cultural diplomacy in the times of COVID-19 and much more.

The progress that continues to inspire and connect millions of us remains ever evolving; impossible to put in a box and be labelled as one stands amidst the rapidly changing world since COVID-19. With the advancement in technology and connectivity, which the previous Sustainable Development Conference gave a prelude to, one remains aware that shifting power will create important new security concerns; inequality may grow; and societies fragment[2].

As countries try to grapple with the COVID-19 situation, new ways of communicating, working and interacting are being devised. Social distancing, wearing a mask, remote learning, web-based classrooms, working and meeting online to name a few, have become a new normal since the pandemic.

This year’s Conference will reflect on what worked and what did not in the fields of health and social safety nets, economy and trade, food security and supply chains, non/availability of water, impacts on migration, climate change and environment, cultural diplomacy, how is it going to impact our day-to-day life, methods of governance, education, tourism, cybernetics, artificial intelligence – in short the security of humankind. 

  1. Speakers are invited not only to deliberate upon the priority areas in the times of COVID-19 but also to share their experiences, lessons learnt and the way forward.
  2. What were some of the best practices that can still benefit in the days to come?
  3. How will the pandemic era impact the last decade of action with regard to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
  4. What will be the new ways of contributing to and working in the various fields of life?
  5. Where do the countries need to invest more in order to recover and improve?
  6. How is it impacting the different vulnerable groups of society, i.e. children, women, minorities, students, small business holders, daily wagers, etc.?
  7. What impact it may put on culture, art and literature, social relationships, politics, media, etc.


Depending on how the situation evolves and the year pans out, and as mentioned in the beginning, this year’s Conference may be a virtual conference using a web-based platform; or, a conference, where some of the speakers and audience would join in person and the rest may join online.

Soon as after the Government of Pakistan announced a lockdown in the country in March 2020, SDPI quickly adapted to web-based ways of working and has successfully been organising COVID-19 policy dialogue webinars, engaging speakers from numerous countries and disseminating all its research and policy advocacy activities through social and mainstream media. Between March and May 2020, over 30 webinars were organised in which more than 100 speakers participated from within Pakistan and abroad including Afghanistan, Australia, China, India, Malaysia, Nepal, UK and the USA. The organization has published a number of research articles, COVID-19 policy reviews, and aired all the webinars through SDPI’s web-based television (

Details will continue to be updated at the Conference website:  


A list of panels is being updated at the given weblink:

Speakers are requested to click on the active link of the panel title and review the focus of the panel before submitting an abstract. 

 Speakers are requested to submit their abstracts corresponding and suitably associated to the panel sub-theme objectives addressing the questions specifically being addressed in that particular panel. For details of the panels, authors’ guidelines, submission deadlines, etc., please continue to visit the given web link

All abstracts will go through a software review for originality and if cleared will be reviewed by an editorial committee. Only those speakers with short-listed abstracts will be informed to submit their papers by the deadline, i.e. 1 November 2020. Potential speakers are requested to specify the panel title while submitting their abstracts. 


Recapping the previous SDC: The Twenty-second SDC was held from 2 – 5 December 2019 in Islamabad, Pakistan. It paid homage to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and an era of digitalisation, which has changed how human beings interact in the era of rapidly changing technologies. 


The overarching theme of the mega event was “Sustainable Development in a Digital Society”. The Inaugural Plenary was held on 2 December 2019 at the Presidency with President of Pakistan H.E. Dr Arif Alvi as the chief guest. The keynote speech at the occasion was delivered by Dr Sania Nishtar, Federal Minister and Chairperson, Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). At the Introductory Plenary on 3 December 2019, Mr Asad Umar, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, was the chief guest followed by a keynote address by Mr Haroon Sharif, former Chairman, Board of Investment. A total of 35 sessions were organized of which six were plenary sessions, and 29 concurrent sessions. The Conference was attended by 223 panellists from 17 countries. Apart from 192 from Pakistan, 31 speakers came from Afghanistan, China, Finland, France, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Maldives, Nepal, the Philippines (via Skype), Sri Lanka, Thailand (via Skype), Turkey, the UK and the US. A total of 150 were male panellists, 69 female panellists and 4 transgender panellists. Over the span of four days, the Conference was attended by an audience of over 3,500.


SDC 2020 Conference Outcomes: 

A peer reviewed conference anthology based on papers presented on the occasion is launched at the succeeding Conference. Keeping up with this tradition, the Twenty-second SDC will showcase launch of the SDC 2019 anthology titled ‘Sustainable Development in a Digital Society’, a peer reviewed publication along with other publications.

During the Conference, the crux of the policy recommendations is shared at the plenary sessions in which key policy makers are requested to give a keynote address. As done so in the previous SD Conferences, SDPI will compile policy recommendations from the panels and plenary sessions which will be communicated to the respective ministries and institutions at regional level. The compiled recommendations along with detailed reports of the sessions will be published in a special edition of SDPI’s Research and News Bulletin. The last SDC special bulletin can be viewed on SDPI website by clicking the given link

The Conference will provide an interactive forum with researchers, experts and scholars from different disciplines and to find relevant ideas, best practices and solutions in an atmosphere of sharing and exploring.

SDC keynote plenary sessions and selected panels will be broadcast live on SDPI’s web-based TV (www.sdpi.tvfor wider dissemination.


[1] These are the latest Worldometer figures, which are updated on this link daily: <> viewed 10 May 2020.