After managing to get the pivotal agreement on the global framework for the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed upon last year, it is now critical to continue this momentum and understand the opportunities and challenges it creates for the private sector as partners in sustainable development efforts.
Building on our interest to tip the scales and generate greater private sector engagement, the UN Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG Fund) in collaboration with its Private Sector Advisory Group and the Global Compact examined these questions through a new report, Universality and the SDGs: A Business Perspective. The report, launched last week highlights varied perspectives from both large and small companies working to understand the commonality of the new development agenda.
Universality in this context is defined by the UN as “applicable to all countries, while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development that respect national policies and principles.” Thus the notion of Universality also envisions that everyone has a role to play in development and poverty alleviation efforts framing the development agenda.
The business community has, and continues to be deemed an important partner for us, serving as a critical economic engine and multiplier to catalyze economic and social development programs in our 23 joint programs around the world. The task at hand is to now reinforce this commitment and ensure that companies of all sizes and sectors are properly aware of the new SDGs.
To this end, the outcomes of the report were based on a year-long series of workshops and dialogues and reflected input from over 100 firms across a variety of regions and industry sectors. These findings stemming from countless interviews and in-depth questions were not unexpected and mainly in-line with our experience at the SDG Fund. We found that companies were keen to address the new set of goals which they viewed as critical to their core business activities, but many firms still struggled to fully understand the depth of the goals.
The report also mirrored some of our unique experience working with the private sector. For example, while many firms are already working in areas linked to the SDGs, this work is not always associated with the same “UN” or development language. In fact, many companies articulate the “global goals” using other mechanisms, including using other metrics or reporting based on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) indicators or other industry standards.
The new report offers some other useful findings. First, companies both small and large are increasingly aware of the concept of the SDGs, but many firms did not fully grasp the intricacies of the SDGs in context of their work or internal operations.
In addition, although many companies find a clear and added value to framing sustainability initiatives through the SDGs which provide a unified set of globally accepted principles–many companies are still accustomed to working within the confines of their philanthropic and CSR programs.
Despite a strong willingness to embrace the SDGs, many companies are exploring how to best integrate the SDGs into their work. But perhaps the most compelling case for the SDG Fund’s continued efforts to engage companies in a “co-design, co-invest and co-implement policy” is that the private sector remains eager to work on global challenges.
Companies continue to express their desire to be brought into the process to build innovative and robust multi-stakeholder partnerships at the local level and very often with UN partners.
Undoubtedly, with the one-year anniversary of the 2030 agenda approaching in January, this new report reminds us that the UN can and should play a more active role in educating and informing companies on the “universal” dimensions of the SDGs.
It is also important to continue to translate the new agenda into language and simplified reporting metrics that are palatable for businesses of all sizes – all of which means greater education on how companies can integrate the SDGs in their value chains, disseminate accessible resources and tools to promote learning, and support implementation and alignment across sectors.
In the end, the universality principle embedded in the SDGs provides a clear invitation for action and alignment to advance the new development agenda.
We hope to continue to raise public awareness and foster the much needed dialogue and advocacy required to encourage business to support the SDGs. In addition, our report highlights additional information on the ongoing work of the SDG Fund, including Private Sector Advisory Group case studies that continue to build the case for greater engagement in development, especially across sectors and with welcome actors like the private sector.