Increasing Role of Private Sector in Sustainable Development Goals

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By Himanshu Sekhar Panigrahi

In order to build upon the attainments of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and address their unrealized agenda, the UN has developed, through consensus of its member countries, a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which is envisaged to carry forward the global development agenda till 2030, from 2016. Consisting of 17 interconnected goals and 169 associated targets this agenda mandates to achieve sustainable development in its three dimensions- economic, social and environmental.

All these goals are relevant for all countries- developed, developing and underdeveloped, and bear adequate scope for contribution by all sectors- government, civil society and private. These goals are centered on poverty eradication, food security, good health, quality education, gender equality, water and sanitation, access to energy, employment, environment and climate justice, sustainable consumption, social inclusion, marine resources, global peace and partnership.

This new and universal policy agenda seeks to bring together players from all sectors for pursuing the common endeavour of sustainable development, and eliminate social and environmental problems. It is evident from the fact that one of the major differences between MDGs and SDGs is inclusion of the private sector in the latter. Involvement of private sector in MDGs was irregular and limited. SDGs have more opportunities for private sector participation.

All the 17 goals are directly or indirectly relevant for business sector. It has been well realized that the private sector has a greater than ever role to play in eliminating or alleviating the global crises. The efforts being put in by the government and civil society sector to combat these problems by finding out new solutions will be augmented by the business sector. Hence, SDGs have shown new ways for businesses to modify their framework for accommodating ‘priority change’ for society.

Also, there is a growing demand from all the stakeholders that business houses be more accountable, transparent and responsive to social expectations. In compliance, more and more companies are taking up activities leading to overall social development by joining the movement of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Since the beginning of the last quarter of the 20th century corporate bodies are increasingly espousing CSR either as manifestation of their philanthropy or as key business functions; and, as a consequence supporting the development efforts. Some companies have gone much deeper by practicing the concept of “creating shared value” (CSV) that involves strategies and operating practices leading to concurrent creation of economic value for the company and social value for the society. And, in order to be involved meaningfully in SDGs the companies have to align their CSR or CSV actions with the ideals of SDGs.

Multi-national enterprises, Fortune 500 companies and other big industries can contribute significantly towards realization of each of the SDGs by utilizing their power, reach, resources, technology, research, knowledge development, management skills and innovation. They need to pick up appropriate goals and targets, considering their business impact, area of expertise, infrastructure, experience and opportunities for contributing in their own ways. For this purpose the companies need to shed mere philanthropic attitude and adopt the principles of sustainability. It is desirable that they integrate the essence of SDGs in their operations and strategies, and make shift from shareholder approach to stakeholder approach.  Goals prioritized by the stakeholders ought to be given consideration. The ‘shared value’ approach, focused on people, should be the key.

Chart_of_UN_Sustainable_Development_GoalsSDGs are going to create new market opportunities for private sector. They can be game changers for the businesses. Involvement in the process of accomplishing SDGs will bring them long-term and sustainable mileage.  Companies can find ‘business case’ in this endeavour. Successful execution of SDGs will build up the ambience for doing business and building markets. Business entities who get engaged with SDGs will remain in agreement with new national and international policies. And, they are more likely to find resilient and sustainable business models. Apart from this, by getting involved in SDGs companies may cope with new challenges and risks in availability of raw materials, regulations on carbon emissions, climate change, fiscal crisis, and energy price shocks.

In order to effectively work for the cause of the SDGs and solve global challenges, the corporate houses should assess their own and their value chain’s impact, both positive and negative, on the SDGs, and modify operational strategies accordingly. They should select the SDGs carefully and put them into wider context of their business. Their initiatives must be tailor-made to go well with specific situations and contexts. Negative impact should be minimized and positive impact must be enhanced.

As companies will be required to pump in financial resources, focus must be on smart spending. As SDGs are interlinked, a holistic understanding is considered necessary to create affirmative impact. Also, they should align their strategy with national priorities and support government’s goals. In return it will help them secure the license to operate and get competitive advantage. As a closer cooperation between public and private sector is vital for SDGs, companies should be amenable to collaboration and partnership development. In the same way as corporate outfits are devoid of expertise needed to implement development agenda, role of civil society organizations and NGOs as active partners must be sought.

According to a recent study, there is a high level of awareness on SDGs among the private sector. Now is the time to convert this awareness into action. However, their preparation to be engaged in them is not so encouraging owing to many factors. In this context, respective governments and international agencies should show the way.

Himanshu Sekhar PanigrahiAbout the Author: Himanshu Sekhar Panigrahi is the Dy. Manager-CSR working at Hindustan Copper Limited (A Government of India Enterprise). The views expressed in the article are personal.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR.

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