Guest Articles

November 9

Karen Newman

NexThought Monday: And the big winners in the move to SDGs are … why not everyone?

As we move from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the transition process is filled with a mix of excitement, expectation and guarded optimism. Perhaps some of the early hesitation voiced by various stakeholders, in both the public and private sector, trying integrate the SGDs will come to pass. Of course, challenges remain in creating a greater awareness, especially for small and medium-size enterprises, about how the SDGs could add value to their enterprises over time. However, the flourishing ecosystem of large companies diligently working in corporate social responsibility, shared value and in the inclusive business arena is encouraging.

So while some issues remain, aside from semantics, the key trend and objective of bringing new players to the development arena is still quite impressive. With this in mind, what will the 17 goals and 169 indicators provide in terms of a framework for development? How can we think cohesively about what world we want and then more precisely consider new ways to proactively meet these challenges? Can we do a better job at improving the quality of life for those living in extreme poverty? Are there commercial programs that can be created to offer real opportunities for some of the most vulnerable populations?

From our perspective at the SDG Fund, the learning and inputs developed over the past few years have paved the way for some real clarity in how the new global development agenda will evolve. We know from the rich experience of the MDGs that the private sector, especially SMEs, must be brought into the equation, especially in implementation. We also know that we must do a better job of educating all people on what the goals actually mean. Business especially should understand that there are some tangible social benefits to working in low-income communities and, of course, financial returns also to be gained by recalibrating business models. In our case, using the messages from the recent Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa, we at the SDG Fund are keen on inviting business to the table in a more meaningful way, while working to do a better job at listening to their concerns about building partnerships and opportunities for engagement.

The SDG Fund is also seeking innovative ways to build greater synergies with the private sector. And tomorrow, the fund will launch a new report, “Business and the United Nations,” in collaboration with partners at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Business Fights Poverty and a group of global business leaders who are part of the SDG Fund’s Private Sector Advisory Group. The report (published here Tuesday) focuses on the business perspective of how companies can support the SDGs as well as some key recommendations on how the UN can best harness what companies can to bring to the process. This means understanding new trends (i.e., hybrid and core business models), identifying commercial partners and addressing systemic challenges through more open dialogue and more transparent collaboration.

Other findings from the report suggest that businesses very often want to be more involved in shaping programs that meet their strategic and core business objectives. Typically, when companies become an integral part of the planning and initial development discussion there is a greater likelihood of long-term and more sustainable partnerships – which is especially critical in low-income communities. For us, our mission to tackle poverty is embedded in our programs focusing on inclusive growth, food security and nutrition, and issues linked to water and sanitation. For example, our joint programs with UNDP, ILO, UN Women and FAO are working in Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast with the extractive industries to generate growth opportunities for the larger population. In Mozambique, analysis indicates the top five projects in the country have generated an investment of USD $3.4 billion, but created only 33,000 new jobs. We hope to change this. At the same time, in Bangladesh and Tanzania, the SDG Fund works with UNDP, ILO, UNICEF and UNFPA to contribute to the construction of the social protection systems and universal social safety nets, with special attention to empowering women and creating jobs in some of the most vulnerable regions.

The report, which stems from in-depth interviews with the SDG Fund’s private sector advisory board, looks forward with a clear agenda for action entitled “Inspire-Connect-Equip.” It outlines what the UN can do to motivate and mobilize more companies to get actively engaged in supporting the SDGs, how it can simplify and facilitate the process of business engagement with UN agencies, especially at the country level, and how to build and share knowledge useful for designing new models of partnerships and necessary measurement.

As a fairly new mechanism in this space, we also look forward to sharing our evolving best practices and joint program strategy with the other resources that are emerging for businesses interested in the SDGs, including the UN Global Compact and KPMG SDG Industry matrix which showcases industry-specific examples and ideas for corporate action related to the SDGs. The United States Council for International Business also hosts the Business for 2030 platform with concrete initiatives and examples of key public-private partnerships to inspire and to catalyze deeper business engagement in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

We think that this fresh report, along with our programs under way in 21 pilot countries, are a pretty good start to meeting the objectives of the new development agenda. At the same time, we hope to expand our partnerships and focus on ways to co-create and collaborate on new programs that make sense not only to meet the needs of our UN agencies and country offices, but also for the business with which we are seeking to partner. This means doing a better job of listening to sector specific needs, building mutual trust and engaging companies in the actual concept and co-creation process.

Karen Newman is a Senior Consultant for the SDG Fund.


Impact Assessment
business development, impact measurement