How The UN Plans To Use Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development
Thursday, March 12, 2015
Several months ago, I wrote a post that was critical of ongoing efforts by the United Nations to renew theirMillennium Development Goals (MDG’s) – to be called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) moving forward. My concern with the plan stemmed from the fact that we have seen incredible progress in areas of international development as a result of innovation, social entrepreneurship and good policy. And yet, “Draft Zero” of the Sustainable Development Goals, did not showcase the learnings of the last 15 years, and instead, seemed like a laundry list of interest-group agenda items lumped together.
This week, I had a chance to speak with Amina J. Mohammed, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning. She works directly with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on the Sustainable Development Goals, and I asked about the status of the SDG’s and the role of innovation and entrepreneurship. She made some good points about how different the process is this time, and how the growth of development entrepreneurship and social media have “disrupted” policy planning.
The biggest change, she said, was that the creation of the SDG’s is being done in a more “bottom’s up” manner. While the Millennium Development Goals were released in 2000 with great fanfare, they actually lacked significant input from NGO’s, activists, social entrepreneurs and business leaders in the developing world. This time, the planning process started there. She mentioned that it was no surprise that “Draft Zero” had so many ideas in it – it reflected the real input of a globally diverse community.
What the developing world and the activist community conveyed through “Draft Zero” was two important points. First, that eliminating poverty, which was the overarching goal for the MDG’s, cannot be measured solely by per capita income. It must be measured by a variety of factors including income, health, safety and broad-based economic opportunity. Secondly, the impact of climate change must be integrated into all development goals. Leaders in international development see sustainability as an encompassing term that applies to the environment, people’s health and the future of the economy.
A good example is China. China’s economic growth since 2000 is the primary reason that the first goal of the Millennium Development Goals (to reduce extreme poverty by 50%) was achieved. And yet, China’s struggles against pollution and related health issues are problems that nobody wants to see replicated elsewhere. So the SDG’s reflect a global agreement about the importance of economic growth, the environment and providing broad-based opportunities for economic participation.
Ms. Mohammed expects a big role for innovators and entrepreneurs in the implementation of the SDG’s – from a policy and execution standpoint. Governments often pay lip service to the terms innovation and entrepreneurship. Most of the time, policy makers and bureaucrats do not have the background to understand the implications of an innovation. And they often don’t trust entrepreneurs (social or for-profit) to be as reliable as larger, well-known companies and NGO’s. That is where policy development comes in. Government agencies, at all levels, must be encouraged to consistently seek out “the best technologies and innovations” in their programs, and provide opportunities for entrepreneurs to use their new models to achieve results.