Businesses cannot prosper in a world plagued with poverty, inequality, violence and environmental stress. Hence, for companies, doing well and doing good simultaneously is of paramount importance. To do so, they must align themselves with the global development priorities and ensure that they fuel and catalyse the global efforts towards achieving SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) within the stipulated time frame.
Speaking of global agenda for addressing challenges – such as poverty, gender inequality, public health and deteriorating environment – many endeavors have been planned and implemented. Most noteworthy of those was the Millennium Development Goals which were supposed to unite the hitherto fragmented efforts for development. These were eight goals pertaining to issues like poverty, education, maternal and child health. They were agreed upon by 191 United Nations members to be achieved by 2015.
However, to further strengthen this endeavor and emphasise on equity, human rights, non-discrimination and collaboration, SDGs were adopted for the next 15 years (from 2016 to 2030). SDGs are a set of 17 goals (broken down further into 169 targets) pertaining to social, economic, environmental and governance issues.
If SDGs must be achieved within the set time frame, all the agents of change need to be activated and should work in harmony – be it governments, companies, non-profits or communities themselves. This is a herculean task and can’t be thought about (and worked upon) in silos.
The countdown has begun. We are just 12 years away from the culmination of SDGs, and hence, it is important to take stock of where we stand owing to all the efforts previously undertaken. Since the turn of the century, the maternal mortality ratio in sub-Saharan Africa has declined by 35 percent and the under-five mortality rate has dropped by 50 percent. In South Asia, a girl’s risk of marrying in childhood has declined by over 40 percent. And, in the least developed countries, the proportion of the people with access to electricity has more than doubled. Globally, labour productivity has increased, and unemployment rate decreased. More than 100 countries have sustainable consumption and production policies and initiatives.
These statistics are encouraging but are only a part of the whole picture. Without undermining the importance of what has been successfully achieved, we must ponder on the issues where further interventions are required.
In 2015, 2.3 billion people still lacked even basic levels of sanitation service and 892 million people continued to practise open defecation. Close to one billion rural people still lack electricity. In sub-Saharan Africa, the HIV incidence among women of reproductive age is 10 times the global average. Nine out of 10 people living in cities breathe polluted air.
In such a scenario, corporate responsibility presents a unique opportunity to companies across the globe to contribute towards SDGs. Times have passed when social development was responsibility of the governments and the non-profits, while companies were thought of to be of profiteering nature. The lines have blurred and have provided companies a window to leverage their expertise, management proficiency and resources to address social and environmental challenges.
Companies should not ignore corporate responsibility, considering it as a cost center but must understand the vast potential it has to benefit the profit objectives by ensuring business sustainability and welfare of stakeholders. The SDGs promise significant economic rewards for companies that invest in delivering innovative solutions and transformative change. According to a flagship report from the Business Commission, achieving the SDGs could create 380 million jobs and help unlock at least $12 trillion in opportunities for business by 2030.
Despite the encouraging news that 81 percent of all disclosures show some level of sustainability disclosure, fewer than 24 percent of these disclosures contained metrics and more than 53 percent used “boilerplate” language – demonstrating that many companies still take an approach of minimal compliance to sustainability disclosure. Many companies fall prey to SDG washing – by choosing only to report on the positive impact of their actions on the SDGs, omitting any mentions of adverse impact created in the process. There is a two-fold challenge to mainstreaming the idea of companies adopting SDGs.
» The first one is, many companies are yet to explore the linkage between their business objectives and SDGs, and how the latter may benefit the former. Many companies are still at the beginning of their SDG journey. They need to work further to integrate SDGs in the business objectives and decide how to efficiently report on them. Companies still need to further integrate SDGs into their business objectives and performance matrices. Only then the intent of doing good will be formalised.
» Another challenge, that of effective impact tracking and reporting is faced by companies that have adopted SDGs in their corporate responsibility plans. António Guterres (Secretary-General, United Nations) outlines these issues – ‘there are challenges in collection, processing, analysis and dissemination of reliable, timely, accessible and sufficiently disaggregated data. Today’s technology makes it possible to collate the data we need, to keep the promise to leave no one behind.
Technology is the solution for most of the program management-related issues. The SDGs Report 2018 mentions, ‘reporting and dissemination platforms for SDGs are indispensable to policymakers and, indeed, to all stakeholders for understanding where progress is being made and informing future interventions.
Companies must leverage technology platforms that allow easy navigation, tracking and reporting of impact that their corporate responsibilities funds are driving on the ground. Technology will be the link between on-ground impact at micro level and its implications on the achievement of SDGs at the macro level. These platforms are the easiest and the most robust tools to organise and analyse the program related data and derive actionable insights for driving further strategies. If companies can consolidate their impact numbers, it will be very easy to plan resources to bridge the gap between the achieved and the desired.
The author is a manager at Goodera.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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