March 21

Heather Esper

Getting to the SDGs – And What’s Next for Multi-Sector Collaboration

We live in an era of multi-sector solutions. But it can be easy to take for granted the fact that diverse sectors working closely with one another toward big global development goals is a very recent phenomenon. It didn’t happen by chance.

Tami Kesselman, founder of Aligned Investing Global, recently reminded me and an audience at the University of Michigan about several key tipping points over the past two decades that allowed the business, government, philanthropic and impact investing communities to overcome misaligned priorities and mistrust. We don’t have to look back too far to see the silos between these players. The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio convened government leaders from 118 countries, while 45 km down the road civil society and company leaders packed in for the Global Forum. The fact that zero investors were present at either event is quaint by today’s standards. So how did we get to where we are today?

At a recent talk for the William Davidson Institute’s Global Impact Speaker Series at the U of M, Kesselman pointed to Kofi Annan’s legacy as the seventh Secretary General of the UN as a turning point. In 1998, just a year after he assumed the office, Annan fielded a $1 billion pledge from CNN founder and billionaire Ted Turner. But since the UN constitution banned accepting any money from individuals and businesses, Annan got creative and launched the UN Fund for International Partnerships. The fund went on to dole out $100 million a year for 10 years while breaking silos between government and business.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were then created in 2000 (by eight men who almost forgot to include the environment) – however, Annan realized they weren’t effective. Not everyone was invited to contribute to their development, and initially there wasn’t much thought to how they would be measured or how much they would cost. So in 2001, the UN Global Compact was launched as a call for companies to align their operations with universal principles on human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption. The compact now totals 9,500 companies, 160 countries, and over 4,000 other groups, such as academic institutions and local governments. And in 2006, the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), which focuses on better aligning investments with society, was launched. Today PRI has over 1,500 investment institutions and 62 trillion assets under management. Shortly thereafter, Ban Ki-moon assumed UN leadership and oversaw the creation of Business Call to Action (BCtA) at the UNDP, which accelerated MDG progress through company leadership in developing inclusive business models engaging the base of the pyramid. Together the UN Global Compact, PRI and BCtA continue to encourage multi-sector collaborations.

Fast forward to 2011. In an attempt to learn from the past, a consultative dialogue started in preparation for Rio+20 and the off-ramp of the MDGs, which would end in 2015. Organizers of Rio+20 included business, government, philanthropic and impact investing communities. The launch of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 benefited from input from all these sectors and players. Additionally, the UN held an Addis Ababa gathering one year after the launch of the SDGs to explore the cost of achieving them. The gathering led to a consensus among economists that the SDGs would cost US $7-9 trillion per year. That equated to a $2.5 trillion/year gap in funding (taking into account the existing aid, philanthropy and government money focused on achieving the goals). The deficit led to a significant role for business in achieving the SDGs.

Check out our video interview with Kesselman below to hear more on her thoughts about using a systems approach with multi-sector collaboration to identify unintended consequences and increase positive impact. In the interview you’ll also hear how the SDGs have created a common language to further encourage collaboration across sectors. Kesselman also stresses why it is so important for businesses to consider the SDGs as a whole, rather than cherry-pick within and across goals. And finally, Kesselman encourages you to think through what systems your work will break or displace and what you can do about it.



Heather Esper is Senior Program Manager for the Performance Measurement and Improvement team at the William Davidson Institute, NextBillion’s parent organization.




Impact Assessment
ESG, global development, impact measurement, public-private partnerships, SDGs, William Davidson Institute