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How Business Can Help Deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals

[Perspectives on Innovation: As part of a regular series featuring content from Perspectives on GE Reports, Julia Roig writes about whether the UN’s new sustainability development goals will be taken seriously and if so, how can business make the most of its involvement.]

Through an incredibly participatory process, the United Nations brought the world together to launch the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). All 193 Member States agreed in September to an ambitious agenda of 17 new global development goals that aim to end poverty, promote well-being and protect the planet.

Yet, I find myself wondering whether we will go back to business as usual or if the SDGs will really spur us to collaborate between sectors to achieve real change by 2030.

Many have criticized the SDGs for including too many issues—17 goals with 169 targets—raising the risk that we could splinter off into our silos to work toward our “favorite” goal, forgetting the importance of long-term policy changes through strong local institutions. Goal 16 addresses this systemic, societal change:

Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Unfortunately, the private sector and local civil society often find themselves at odds on issues of accountable governance, social inclusion and peace building; however, meaningful joint investments to achieve Goal 16 are important now more than ever.

Courtesy of The Global Goals

Courtesy of The Global Goals

Private Sector and the SDGs

Businesses can be some of the most powerful drivers of change, bringing innovation and resources to the world’s development challenges. There is no shortage of good ideas, and each company must decide how the SDGs best fit into their strategy. But as Unilever CEO Paul Polman has stated, the private sector also must move past “declarationist behavior” that is long on words but short on meaningful action.

Development professionals and multilaterals also need to see companies not only as potential funders, but as authentic partners. We must unify efforts to engage the private sector, moving beyond the many existing platforms to more efficiently coordinate on implementation and reporting.

For example, GE partnered with our organization, PartnersGlobal, to support rule-of-law efforts in developing countries. The initiative is establishing self-sustaining “conflict resolution centers” that seek to manage and mediate the conflicts that arise as countries transition to more democratic systems.

The Recipe for Joint Action on Goal 16

Partnering with businesses to work for good governance and peace building isn’t a matter of mobilizing more money, but rather investing more wisely and reducing redundancy. Here are some recommendations for forging successful partnerships on Goal 16:

  • Political pluralism. Invest in dialogue skills and collaboration platforms, participate actively in policy discussions and insist that those most affected by government decisions have a seat at the table.
  • We need a new model of leadership (in government, business and civil society) to approach development with a systemic view of change.
  • Authentic partnership. Work with local organizations and actively build capacity and empower local ownership in decision-making.
  • Business skills. This is crucial for a thriving civil society sector, which is necessary for good governance and healthy advocacy.
  • International norms. Engage locally in the debate on the application of international norms as a starting place for dialogue.
  • Impact investing. There is a growing body of support for impact investing, beyond just corporate philanthropy.
  • Radical transparency. Transparency is the key ingredient to build trust between organizations working in partnership on development goals.
  • Access to information. We all need access to credible information in order to build common understanding, including Internet access and Freedom of Information Laws.
  • Share information. Be forthcoming about successful strategies and programs, but also about what doesn’t work.
  • Taxes. Corporations (and civil society) should pay their fair share of taxes under the law and be transparent about their interactions with government.
  • Do no harm. All operations and social investment should be conducted with clear and ongoing conflict analysis.

Fundamentally, companies should think of themselves as consumers of good governance and seek partnerships to help contribute to long-term policy solutions for all the SDGs. What is required of us now is to keep from going back to business as usual, rise above short-termism and commit to working together. Although the SDGs are ambitious, by working together with the right tools, we can achieve these ambitious goals for a more prosperous, safe and healthy world.

This piece first appeared in the Perspectives section of GE Reports.

Julia Roig

President of PartnersGlobal

Julia Roig, President of PartnersGlobal, works with an international network of 19 Partners’ affiliate organizations to build effective multi-sector partnerships for sustainable development.

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