May 4

Karen Newman

The Nigerian Prototype: Youth, Companies, Government Rallying Around the SDGs

Let’s be clear, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are relatively new and exciting, and are also here to stay for the next 13 years, when the 2030 Agenda comes to the end. That said, will global poverty be alleviated in this short timeframe? Will companies use the 17 development goals as a much-needed framework to meet their overarching sustainability objectives? Possibly not, but the good news is that many companies are rallying around issue areas linked to the SDGs and becoming increasingly creative when it comes to the sustainability agenda.

Consider Nigeria-based Sahara Group, which as a member of the Private Sector Advisory Group for the United Nations SDG Fund was able to translate the SDGs into strategies that resonate alongside all facets of their work.

The Sahara story goes beyond marketing in Nigeria. The company has proven to be quite adept at selling African businesses on the notion of the SDGs and building a network of companies dedicated to alleviating poverty – and watching consumers respond. And respond they have. The company recently launched the #NigeriaStartsWithMe campaign to meet the needs of young people eager to transform their communities. The concept asks young people to share insights into how they can enhance their country at the local and national level. At the end of the contest period later this month, the company will compile the inputs on a specially designated portal and Sahara Hub. The company also plans to share input with the president’s office and development agencies eager to advance the SDGs.

The Sahara Hub, a central platform geared to youth and young adults, is designed to spark economic ideas and innovation. Through what they have deemed the “extrapreneurship framework,” the company has set its sights on youth as economic engines for growth. In fact, the Sahara Foundation plans to impact an estimated 12 million Nigerian youth in the next five years through efforts to grow and sustain businesses.

The company as a whole has worked to embed the SDGs in other aspects of its work, and has recently helped spur the Nigerian government to create its own Private Sector Advisory Group to advance the SDGs. The company has wasted no time, working to establish a special group to work closely with Yemi Osinbajo, the acting president of Nigeria, and Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, his senior special assistant on SDGs, to ensure that the global goals are achieved in Nigeria. The group, made up of more than 13 companies, is committed to working to improve Nigeria’s global SDG ranking as well as the livelihoods of numerous low-income Nigerians, through solutions to basic problems. The Nigerian advisory group works to mirror the global Private Sector Advisory Group to achieve the SDGs by building effective partnerships.

Given that there is no shortcut or one-size-fits-all model for meeting the complex issues linked to the SDGs, the group is likely to find greater success working in tandem to identify areas of common interest and by offering suggestions on how companies can work more effectively with one another at the national level. Besides educating companies on the basic framework of the SDGs, the Nigerian prototype sets out a fresh way of working, one that supports companies in how they can align their core business with programs that make sense to their consumers and a broader community of practice. It also helps companies align and set measurable goals which can seem abstract in a vacuum, but certainly relevant with the support of government policymakers.

More importantly, by bringing a variety of stakeholders together, it is likely that more concrete and robust solutions will be generated and key government participation will provide greater political traction and ownership of the SDGs.

The Nigerian Private Sector Advisory Group includes key companies who share a commitment in achieving the 17 SDGs and an interest in corporate social responsibility. They include: Growing Businesses Foundation, Lagos Business School, Sahara Group Limited, British American Tobacco Nigeria, Nigerian Economic Summit Group, PricewaterhouseCoopers Ltd., Google, Unilever Nigeria, Airtel Nigeria, GT Bank, General Electric, Dangote Group, Coca-Cola, Channels Television, Chamber of Commerce-Lagos/Kano, National Association of Small Scale Industrialists and NASME.

As the work progresses, the number of organizations that make up this group is expected to grow. A few companies are working collectively to take ownership and make meaningful improvements linked to the SDGs. Going forward, it is likely that as businesses and brands step up to changing the dialogue with the government, they will identify new opportunities not only linked to the SDGs, but also material to their core business and long-term strategy. It is hoped that the Nigerian model is not created in isolation but perhaps with great fanfare, and then, just then, perhaps their collaborations can be replicated in countries and local communities around the globe.


Karen Newman is senior consultant for the Sustainable Development Goals Fund at the United Nations Development Programme. She thanks Bethel Obioma, head of corporate communications, Sahara Group, for assisting with this post.

Photo courtesy of Sahara Group


business development, poverty alleviation, public-private partnerships, SDGs