As people from around the world start to focus on how to implement and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals–the ambitious vision for ending poverty and protecting our planet for the next decade– 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”

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development gives business a significant role to play in efforts to achieve the SDGs, based on its ability to invest and innovate. However, for companies to truly contribute, they must move beyond current forms of engagement, abandon a narrow focus on the SDGs as an opportunity to increase corporate profits and embrace their wider responsibilities to the societies in which they operate and partnering with social enterprises and entrepreneurs will help leverage in achieving the SDGs.

The SDGs represent an unprecedented global consensus and is the result of 193 countries coming together in agreement on a comprehensive and ambitious development agenda for people and planet towards 2030. The SDGs describe the greatest challenges and needs of our time and the goals for addressing these. Achieving these goals require collective action across governments, civil society, private sector and dedicated individuals and communities and need to be matched with the necessary resources, innovation capacity and partnerships to drive implementation.

Social Entrepreneurs and Mentors

The private sector, in this context, is an indispensable partner and has a critical role to play in advancing the global development agenda. In developing countries, private sector operations constitute, in average, 60 percent of GDP, while generating 90 percent of jobs and 80 percent of capital inflows (OECD). The private sector further contributes to development by providing goods and services, financing social and economic investments through taxes, and creating innovative solutions to help tackle development challenges. Innovation in the private sector across the world is a prerequisite for achieving the 169 ambitious targets, which collectively make up the 17 SDGs. 

It is important to recognize that the private sector is extremely diverse and not defined only by multinational corporations and industry giants. Unleashing the transformative capacity of the private sector for development is not possible without small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and social enterprises. For example, SMEs create over 50 percent of formal jobs globally and many innovation leaps have happened in SMEs as well as start-ups.

Private sector partnership with social entrepreneurs for impact.

“Social entrepreneurs are the essential corrective force. They are system-changing entrepreneurs. And from deep within them (and therefore their work) are committed to the good of all. Whenever the world needs to turn in a better direction, they emerge to ensure that it does so. “(Drayton, 2013)

Just as any business has to niche their market, social entrepreneurs must niche their impact. while the UN Sustainable Development Goals are a great framework for thinking about development, not many social enterprises can “wipe out global poverty”. A lack of focus on specific, achievable impact goals can dilute your effectiveness. For social entrepreneurs to fully engage the Decade of action and delivering sustainable development, the private sector needs to partner in mentoring and resource acquisition to help them focus on one specific impact area and plan the necessary steps to achieve their vision.

Mr. Josiah Abakah Kwesi Eyison
Founder Ispace Foundation and Chairman Ghana National Hubs Network

Businesses can play a crucial role in identifying social needs as part of their CSR scoping process. CSR provides a platform to reach out to the communities and identify their key concerns. Such needs could be filled by mapping existing social innovations with community requirements. In the next stage, facilitating a community led social business around such social innovations could significantly improve the quality of life of community members. Such incubation exploits corporate expertise in value creation and delivery. Well established corporate systems and processes add resilience to such community enterprises, poising them on a path of growth and self reliance.

Benefits of Engaging Business in the SDGs

Harnessing business’ core role in generating growth, productivity and jobs—all core drivers for progress. 2. Accessing private sector innovation around technologies, products, services, processes and business models. 3. Creating opportunities to achieve scale by harnessing businesses’ knowledge of designing business models to meet specific customer needs in a scalable way. 4. Leveraging public sector and aid investments with corporate philanthropic, social or commercial investment. 5. Accessing complementary know-how and skills. 6. Building alliances to promote responsible social and environmental good practices, as well as spreading broader values and norms such as protecting and respecting human rights, promoting good governance and accountability, and increasing inclusion and equality.

Bridging the SDG financing gap is not a matter of reinventing the wheel. It is about understanding and removing the constraints to the supply of, and demand for, capital and improving how we link the two. We need only 3% of global GDP in investment to close the SDGs financing gap. With it, the world would be one step closer to realizing the goals of the 2030 Agenda and achieving the inclusive growth and sustainable development we all desire.

Private sector investments and market-based solutions, as well as philanthropic contributions and blended finance or hybrid models, will be needed to achieve scale and sustained impact in many sectors. -George A. Geraldo de Lima

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