How can Business and the UN Work Together Towards the Sustainable Development Goals?

As people from around the world start to focus on how to implement the Sustainable Development Goals–the new ambitious vision for ending poverty and protecting our planet– they are exploring new ways of engaging and partnering with each other to achieve greater scale and systemic impact. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which sets out the SDGs envisions a “revitalized global partnership for sustainable development”.

This discussion will bring together representatives from business, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG-F), the CSR Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School and Business Fights Poverty to explore the following questions:


1. What is the business and development case for increased UN-business engagement?


2. How can business most effectively engage in the SDGs, and how can the UN most effectively engage with business?


3. What should the priorities for action be in 2016 to strengthen UN-business partnerships?


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Click here to download the Report "Business and the UN: Working Together Towards the Sustainable Development Goals".

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2016 should be a year in which businesses identify issues affecting their businesses and take action by forming alliances, advocating and lobbing for a change in policy on the issues for gender equality and business growth .

Hi Everyone

I´m  Giovanni Di Placido Research and Strategy Director of BBVA Microfinance Foundation. The institution is non-profit, with the mission of driving sustainable and inclusive economic and social development for disadvantaged people in society, with Responsible Productive Finance.

The BBVA Microfinance Foundation is developing and consolidating a group of sustainable microfinance regulated entities in Latin America, with a majority stake in all of them. Since its official launching, the Foundation has consolidated a group of eight financial institutions in seven different countries: Colombia, Peru, Chile, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Argentina and Panama. With a network of 500 branches and total headcount of 8,000 employees, it is providing financial services to more than 1.7 million low income entrepreneurs, and has granted more than $ 7 billion in accumulated loans since 2008.

It is a pleasure to be here in this online discussion with a topic that inspires to this group of people who are connected, that believes in the need to build a better world.

Thanks Paloma. I'd love to hear a bit more about how your organization is approaching promoting business contributions to the SDGs, as a strategy. Hope we'll get into that over the next hour!

Paloma Duran said:

Dear all, I'm Paloma Duran, Director of the SDG Fund, I want to thank Business fight poverty and all the members of the private Sector Advisory Group who participated in the process of launching this report. Thank you all for joining us today. We look forward to a rich and informative discussion.

Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Welcome to this online discussion!


This is a written live chat.  We'll work through the three questions set out above over the course of the hour.  Please add your comments, ideas and examples in the text box at the top of the page or by clicking on "reply" under a specific comment you are responding to.  Please add links or attachment that you think would be useful.


I am delighted that we are joined by a great panel to help us explore this topic.  I will ask each of them to introduce themselves briefly before we get going.

I'd be interested in what the panel think about the current level of awareness amongst businesses on the SDGs. Do enough companies know about the opportunity? When we published our own research on this last year (From My World to Our World: What the SDGs mean for business), we found many companies knew about them - but weren't clear what action they could take. Does the panel see that changing?  How can progress be made faster?

The SDGs provide a comprehensive framework for individual and collective action. The agenda it`s universal inclusive and ambitious, that makes attractive to get into it, but at the same time challenging. The SDGs are ambitious and demand equal ambition in using the current flows of official development assistance and all available resources to attract, leverage and mobilize resources in investments of all kinds, public and private, national and global. The SDGs have opened new opportunities for businesses to shift in the achievement of development goals. They also offer a unique opportunity for development actors to be strategic about their collaboration with the private sector, so it´s important to manage expectations, believe that there is a significant premium on the business reputation of being involved in doing something to contribute to the SDGs agenda. The private sector is playing an increasing role in financing goods, services and infrastructure and the multilateral development banks must be committed to engaging differently with private sector partners on a wide range of interventions, including connecting investors with opportunities, helping countries make investments more attractive, and building local financial markets.

For example, we believe, that financial inclusion is essential in order to reduce vulnerability and achieve more inclusive economic growth. It is fundamental for anyone wanting to begin an activity or expand an existing one, to smooth consumption, to create assets and mitigate risk. Financial exclusion is an obvious obstacle to development and therefore for the SDGs goals. Increasing financial inclusion for individual help for example to SDG´s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10. But expanding the financial inclusion requires a well-coordinated effort among different stakeholders.

The SDGs are more ambitious than the MDGs, embracing the view that development needs to be economically, socially and environmentally sustainable, to do it, need all kinds of supports. 

For me the business imperative for engaging in the SDGs is based both on the value to business and the values of business.  It can help companies protect value or manage risks as well as create value or enhance opportunities for the company and its stakeholders.  But beyond this, engagement in the SDGs can help companies articulate and demonstrate the deeper values of progressive business leaders and their employees, investors and customers.


The imperative for the development community to engage with business also rests of the dual principles of identifying and mitigating risks and negative impact, and identifying and mobilising resources to achieve positive impact. There is a strong imperative to work with companies and business associations to agree on and spread responsible business practices and standards in areas such as human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption. At the same time, there is the untapped potential to mobilise and leverage private financial investments, technological, product and business model innovations, and networks to help achieve the SDGs.

Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Ok - let's go into the first question:

Q1. What is the business and development case for increased UN-business engagement?

Hi everyone, Sergio Fernandez de Cordova here from PVBLIC foundation and P3 Global Management. 

Let me introduce a quick summary of our work with the PVBLIC Foundation and P3GM:

P3GM works structuring Public Private Partnerships (PPP) around smart infrastructure with local, state and national governments. Also, as acting Chairman of PVBLIC I lead the foundations engagement with the White House, United Nations and hosts the Media For Social Impact Summit.

Looking forward to and exciting and fruitful discussion!

Ketan patel said:

On September 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by the next 15 years. This provides an unprecedented opportunity to shift the world onto a path of inclusive, sustainable and resilient development. It would be hard to drive such development forward without business being on board.  The degree and speed with which companies around the world develop more sustainable business models and partner with development actors will play a large role in the success of achieving the SDGs. In turn, all companies are impacted by the challenges that the SDGs address. For companies, successful implementation of the SDGs will strengthen the environment for doing business and building markets around the world.


Two critical business imperatives stand out to encourage UN- business engagement in the achievement of the SDGs:

  • Firstly, businesses that align and engage their strategy with national priorities will most likely be given their license to operate, by governments and citizens alike those that do not. Companies that contribute towards the achievement of the SDGs will also have a competitive advantage over those that don’t understand their contribution or use the knowledge to revise their strategies respectively. According to the Pwc SGD Engagement Survey of 2015, 90% of citizens believe it is important that business signs up to the SDGs and the 78% said they were more likely to buy the goods and services of companies that had signed up to the SDGs.
  • Secondly, Governments are already using the SDGs to inform development of policy and regulation. Those businesses that are aware of and aligned with the SDGs are more likely to have alignment with emerging policy, giving them more resilient business models.


The case is clear for companies to get involved by doing business responsibly and pursuing partnership opportunities with the United Nations to solve global challenges through innovation, investment and collaboration. While business is central to growth, productivity, innovation and job creation – all drivers for progress at scale – the UN counts with a unique position and universal mandate to support global issues. Through combining our distinct but complementary resources, technology, skills and networks, the United Nations can work with the private sector towards common objectives such as building inclusive markets, combating environmental sustainability, improving food security and promoting social inclusion.

Great question Richard.  Have you seen any shift since you published the report?

Richard Hardyment said:

I'd be interested in what the panel think about the current level of awareness amongst businesses on the SDGs. Do enough companies know about the opportunity? When we published our own research on this last year (From My World to Our World: What the SDGs mean for business), we found many companies knew about them - but weren't clear what action they could take. Does the panel see that changing?  How can progress be made faster?

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