Paloma Duran: The UN, Business and the Sustainable Development Goals

Photo: BBVA Microfinance Foundation

By Paloma Duran, Director, Sustainable Development Goals Fund 

On 25 September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly 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 2030. This provides an unprecedented opportunity to shift the world onto a path of inclusive, sustainable and resilient development. Hopefully, ours can be the first generation to end poverty, but we must do that in a way that simultaneously reduces inequality and exclusion and avoids wrecking the ecosystems on which life depends. It would be hard to drive such development forward without business being on board.

The recognition that the SDGs apply to everyone and that everyone has a role to play in their delivery opens exciting opportunities for exploring new partnerships. In this sense, there is a renewed emphasis across the United Nations on partnering with responsible businesses to deliver sustainable development on the ground. As the Addis Ababa Action Agenda noted, we must focus on “unlocking the transformative potential [of the private sector... and invite] businesses to apply their creativity and innovation toward solving sustainable development challenges and to engage as partners in the development process”.

At the SDG Fund (www.sdgfund.org), the first development cooperation mechanism created to achieve the SDGs, we stand ready to partner with business. We are addressing the challenge of how businesses can become more involved in joint development initiatives with governments, civil society and UN agencies. Every company, large and small, has the potential to make a very significant contribution towards shared economic, social and environmental progress. This can be through core business operations and value chains, social investments, philanthropic contributions and advocacy efforts. While we recognize that there are some who question the linkage and even the legitimacy of the for-profit private sector and the development agenda, we believe that responsible business is central to growth, productivity, innovation and job creation– all drivers for progress at scale.

This has been an important aspect of the SDG Fund’s work since it was established in 2014 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), on behalf of the UN system, with an initial contribution by the Spanish Government and 22 additional contributions from countries where the Fund is operating. The Fund was conceived as a multi-partner facility open to other public and private donors interested in advancing sustainable development through UN agency coordination. Initially working in 22 countries through matching funds, our programmes focus on three key thematic areas including inclusive growth for poverty eradication, food security and nutrition, and water and sanitation and three cross-cutting themes: sustainability, gender equality and public-private partnerships.

From the outset, the SDG Fund has been working to ensure that businesses are at the negotiating table to design new partnerships and initiatives. Through combining our distinct but complementary resources, technology, skills and networks, the SDG Fund can work with the private sector towards common objectives such as building inclusive markets, combating environmental sustainability, improving food security and promoting social inclusion. The private sector has been invited to think deeply and act decisively about how to make a difference. However, at the same time and in order to harness the expertise and the in-kind potential of the private sector, we need to first listen to what companies have to say when it comes to engaging the United Nations and participating in development initiatives. Understanding these dimensions can enable the UN to engage more creatively with business.

For this purpose, the SDG Fund launched a Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG) in April 2015, composed of business leaders of major companies from industries worldwide. These leaders committed to work diligently towards identifying areas of common interest with the primary objective of deciphering the best methods of UN-private sector engagement. It was agreed that its first initiative would be to contribute towards the preparation a practical guide about the role of the private sector in development, identifying how companies can work more effectively with the United Nations towards the SDGs, not only as donors but also as partners in the field.

To support this effort, we have partnered with Harvard Kennedy School’s CSR Initiative and Business Fights Poverty to work with PSAG members in developing a set of business recommendations for how partnerships can be most effective. These recommendations have been compiled into a comprehensive guide that tackles what works, what doesn’t and what more can be done by the UN to harness the full potential of what business can bring to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This document will be shared with the purpose of providing a practical framework for how to engage effectively with business.

From the outset, the SDG Fund has been working to ensure that businesses are at the negotiating table to design new partnerships and initiatives. Through combining our distinct but complementary resources, technology, skills and networks, the SDG Fund can work with the private sector towards common objectives such as building inclusive markets, combating environmental sustainability, improving food security and promoting social inclusion.

However, this initiative is just the beginning of an on-going dialogue between the private sector and development actors for joint efforts to achieve the SDGs. We hope that our partner UN Agencies will also benefit from this valuable feedback to better align our decision-making and create more balanced and lasting partnerships going forward to achieve a sustainable and inclusive world post-2015.

 

The scale and ambition of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) require us to be bold and creative in how we work together to achieve them. A great deal has been written and learnt about how business can engage as an equal partner in this endeavour.

This report provides a practical framework for how to engage effectively with business in support of the SDGs. It provides a business perspective on what works, what does not and what more can be done by the UN to harness the full potential of what business can bring.

It draws primarily on the perspectives of the 13 member companies of the SDG Fund’s Private Sector Advisory Group, but also distils insights from the extensive analysis that has been done on the theory and practice of business and sustainable development, including by our own organisations. We hope that the report will serve as a useful resource for those who see the SDGs as a fresh opportunity to engage business as a true partner in development. There is much work to be done by all leaders in all sectors and all countries.

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