One year ago, the SDG Fund´s Private Sector Advisory Group launched its first report with a clear objective: to understand how the United Nations and the private sector could better work together and partner to achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development clearly recognizes a prominent role for the private sector. Alliances and innovative partnerships between governments, businesses, civil society and UN Agencies are also clearly central to meeting the needs of such an ambitious agenda. Most telling from the report was a key conclusion: businesses want and need to be brought to the table from the very start. Developing partnerships and initiatives must mean that relationships are aligned from the beginning. For companies, true collaboration often means co-investment, but also working to codesign and participating in the implementation and evaluation process. At the SDG Fund, a multi-donor and multi-agency UN mechanism, we are taking these conclusions to heart, and as a result we are eager to continue to devise a greater understanding of engagement as well as build on a new generation of public-private partnerships in the field.
Tackling some of the most pressing challenges requires a diverse array of investment and impetus from both governments and businesses. Now, one year into the SDG implementation, our second report sets out to address another key feature of the 2030 Agenda: universality. With this report, the SDG Fund intends to shed light on the practical business aspects of the concept of universality and bring the business perspective to the forefront. The fact is that universality offers a clear message for achieving the SDGs in a more inclusive way, leaving no one behind. The concept also envisions a strong role for businesses, both large and small, across all countries and sectors to engage with the SDGs. This means that businesses need to understand the compelling case for the SDGs, determine methods to incorporate them in their activities, and ultimately find ways to make them part of their organizational culture, reporting systems and operations.
The report process stemmed from 5 regional workshops and an accompanying survey that allowed the SDG Fund to engage in a focused dialogue with almost 100 companies (and their leadership), representing enterprises of all sizes, sectors and regions. This report aims to reflect their inputs and voices along with those of the SDG Fund´s Private Sector Advisory Group.
After providing an initial overview on the concept of universality, the SDGs and the link to varied business activities, our findings highlighted four main conclusions:
- First, many companies admitted that they did not fully comprehend the depth of the SDGs and, in some cases, how to best implement them, while others were fully embedding the SDGs into their planning processes and current initiatives. In some cases, companies were already contributing directly to the achievement of one or several of the 17 Goals. This is clearly indicative of the need for governments, UN and development actors to strengthen our communication and outreach efforts to ensure that the SDGs are understood, not only by the private sector, but also by citizens, whose behaviors, attitudes and priorities will determine business operations.
- Second, sustainability, understood in its three dimensions (economic, social and environmental), is the key feature that seems to allow companies to connect with the SDGs. Most companies understand that sustainability is essential for their long term success and to operate and thrive in new markets. The notion of sustainability allows companies to make a significant contribution to the SDGs, often through their core operations. Not surprisingly, this is happening not only among large multinationals but also with some of the SMEs that participated in this study. Organizations such as Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative, the World Resource Institute or UNDP´s Business Call to Action are developing useful tools for companies, but according to our findings, only a small selection of the companies participating in this research are benefiting from such learnings. Expanded training on the use of these tools as well as creating new resources will be a key priority going forward.
- Third, many companies see an added value to building their sustainability plans around the SDGs. This is because they provide an overarching and globallyendorsed framework that can bring together all their current corporate social responsibility, sustainability and environmentally-friendly initiatives. By providing a common language and set of targets, it allows for better communication and collaboration between actors, resulting in a more effective use of companies’ resources and human capital when it comes to sustainability and development initiatives.
- Finally, in spite of a clear willingness and interest in partnering with public and private sector actors, business are still lacking viable opportunities for engaging in crucial multi-stakeholder partnerships. Overall, business are eager to work with the UN and find the UN to be an important partner for convening programs, especially linked to development initiatives that are innovative, inclusive and otherwise perceived as somewhat risky. The report includes some examples of public-private partnerships that the SDG Fund has established in Nigeria, Viet Nam, Mozambique and the occupied Palestinian territory. This is a critical aspect that will be the focus of the SDG Fund in the next few years.
I want to thank all our partners that have been engaged in the process of preparing this report. First, to the companies that have shared their insight and experience, particularly to the member companies of the SDG Fund´s Private Sector Advisory Group. In the last two years, their commitment, creativity, and much needed input has allowed us a greater understanding of how to partner in achieving the SDGs. For this report Nutresa, Organización Ardila Lülle, Fundación Seres, Sahara Group and BBVA Microfinance Foundation, supported us in our efforts to organize regional workshops. A special thanks also to the Global Compact and its local networks that moderated all of the workshops and produced a description of tools already available for companies interested in the SDGs. Especially, thank you to Javier Cortes, responsible for local networks of Global Compact in the Americas. He prepared the first draft explaining the GC compass tool incorporated in the last part of this report. Also, a heartfelt thank you to Ignacio Alvaro, who analyzed the qualitative data (interviews, surveys, transcriptions of workshops) and collected this important reflection and report from the participating companies.
I also would like to use this chance to give thanks to the whole team in the SDG Fund. Huan Xiao coordinated the final version; Rebeca Huete who prepared the report’s concept note and questionnaires; Nuria Diez del Corral prepared case studies; Teresa Burelli coordinated the work with PSAG; Karen Newman facilitated valuable comments to the final draft; Raul de Mora coordinated the process for editing and design; the whole team was completely committed and I’m very grateful for it.
While going through this report, the reader will find as many answers as questions on how to bring businesses to the forefront of this universal agenda. This we believe is an integral part of the starting point for this report. The 2030 Agenda and its SDGs are the universal property of governments, of international development organizations, of communities, of businesses. But as a universal asset we need to better understand the agenda, and protect it as a collective mandate for the next 14 years. This will be the crux of the SDG Fund´s vision and future work.
Director, Sustainable Development Goals Fund