By Camila Corradi Bracco, Policy Senior Coordinator, GRI
It’s widely accepted that the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are central to how, as an international community, we collaborate to address the most urgent global challenges that we face. The Goals provide a route map towards a better and more sustainable future, yet what do they mean in practice for companies? And how can businesses meaningfully contribute to their fulfilment?
To answer key questions like these, GRI launched a new podcasts series, SDGs: The Rising Tide. Bringing together a wide range of expert voices from the public and private sectors to share experiences and inspiration, episodes focus on each of the 17 Global Goals in turn.
With all episodes now available, the Rising Tide is packed full of though-provoking discussion on the business relevance of the SDGs, and how increased innovation and partnerships will be essential to achieve the 2030 Agenda. During the annual Global Goals Week — focused on action and accountability for the SDGs — it’s timely to share highlights from the first half of the series.
Episode 0: The Beginning
We start with the context of COVID-19, and how economic consequences are changing how businesses approach the SDGs. Bart Houlahan, co-founder of B Lab (the organization behind the B-Corp movement) and Peter Paul van de Wijs, GRI Chief External Affairs Officer, discuss what this means for transitioning to a ‘new normal’.
Bart says: “There is increasing awareness that we need to restructure our economy around behavior change, cultural change and structural change, moving to a new concept of value.”
As Peter Paul reflects: ”a positive side-effect of the crisis is that companies better understanding their limitations, recognizing the need to look beyond financial impacts.”
SDG 1: No Poverty
In this episode, Anders Gerdin, Program Manager at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and Zahid Torres-Rahman, co-founder of the Business Fights Poverty global network, ask a fundamental question: is focusing on poverty alone enough to eradicate it by 2030? They stress that poverty is a multi-dimensional issue which cannot be seen or solved in isolation — so governments and business working together is a prerequisite.
Anders set the tone: “the problem is really about looking at the SDGs as 17 separate goals. Rather, it is a combination of all of these goals which, eventually, leads to poverty reduction.”
SDG 2: Zero Hunger
Valerie Bizier, Senior Statistician at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Juliana Meneses, Sustainability Manager at Colombian food conglomerate Grupo Nutresa, and Maria Clara Piedrahita, Nutresa Foundation’s Executive Director, explore the role of business in securing the world’s food systems from the ground up.
With an additional 100 million+ people facing malnutrition as a direct consequence of the pandemic, Valerie warns: “We are not on track to achieve SDG 2. We need to double our efforts.”
Juliana emphasizes that effective capacity building is key: “to be able to help communities find and develop their own capabilities, understanding one another is of uttermost importance.”
SDG 3: Good Health and Wellbeing
This episode features Dr. Sara Saeed, co-founder and CEO at Sehat Kahani, an online medical consultation service, and PTT Global Chemical’s Dr. Savanit Boonyasuwat (Vice President of Sustainability) and Poom Polachan, (CSR Officer). They debate technological innovations in healthcare, and why digitalization is core to health improvements around the world.
Dr. Saeed shares how a new app is transforming female health care in Pakistan, reaching over 1,000 patients every day. She does however have a warning: “we need governments to realize that digital healthcare is convenient and affordable… they need to really invest.”
SDG 4: Quality Education
Corporate engagement has a role in redesigning education systems, with a focus on active and stimulating activities that deliver the skills for life and work in the 21st century. Dr. Veerle Vanderweerd, former Director of Environment and Energy at the UN Development Programme, and Lego Foundation Vice-President Bo Stjerne Thomsen, lead the conversation.
As Dr. Vanderweerd emphasizes: “Those countries that change their education system first will be the economic powerhouses of tomorrow.”
On the value of play-based learning, Bo Stjerne explains: “When you play, you are applying your knowledge and skills to real-life and practical situations. At the same time, you are engaged and excited to learn something new.”
SDG 5: Gender Equality
Danielle Sharaf is founder and CEO of Switch ITC, which delivers a counselling text message service for women and girls, and Meral Guzel is Partnerships Manager for the UN-led Women’s Entrepreneurship Accelerator. They conclude that, while gender equality in the business world can’t be achieved without systemic solutions and structural change, individual action can have a big impact.
Meral says: “when we talk about economic development of any given country, women entrepreneurs have a crucial role to play. For example, as they tend to employ more women, this has a direct impact.”
SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
The episode brings together two experts in water management — Dennis van Peppen, International Water Programmes Team Lead at the Netherlands Enterprise & Development Agency (RVO), and Chong Mien Ling, Chief Sustainability Officer at the Singapore National Water Agency.
Dennis frames the global challenge: “In many places, we are reaching the limits of our water resources. We urgently need a global water agenda, which simply does not exist.”
Chong Mien Ling shares solutions based on Singapore’s experiences of dealing with water stress: “we looked into innovative technologies to reduce the amount of energy required in water management. In the end, we learned small things can make a big difference.”
SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
Koen Peters, Executive Director of GOGLA (Global Off-Grid Lighting Association) reflects on why collaboration between the public and private sectors is a central component to achieving affordable energy sources for all.
On the risks for companies to address persistent challenges in electricity access in some parts of the world, Koen says: “we are changing our messaging, calling on governments and donors to step in and help us make the products to end users more affordable. We need to work with the public sector to achieve public goals.”
SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
Growth alone cannot be the measure for success, when it comes to securing full and productive employment — as Linda Germanis, Private Sector Engagement Specialist for the UN-DP in Bangladesh, and Brittany Burns, Director of Strategy at Fashion for Good, discuss in this episode.
Linda highlights the risks of “jobless growth”, calling for a cultural shift that emphasizes agile and lifelong learning. As Brittany adds, improving working conditions is crucial: “traceability and transparency are huge topics right now. For businesses, bringing more meaningful data to the table about what is going on in the supply chain is imperative.”
Listen in — and get engaged
I hope we can inspire you to embed the SDGs at the heart of your sustainability reporting, and by so doing inform better corporate strategy and unlock benefits for your business — as well as people and planet.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Camila Corradi Bracco joined GRI in 2018, where she engages with international organizations, policymakers and corporate reporters to drive transparency and strengthen the role of GRI-based reporting in connection to the UN SDGs. She also co-manages the Business Leadership Forum on Corporate Reporting as a driver to achieving the SDGs.
With a background in corporate social responsibility and sustainability, Camila previously worked for the Business Network for Diversity & Inclusion in Argentina. She is a graduate in International Relations (Universidad del Salvador, Argentina) and a candidate for a Masters in Regional Integration with a specialization in Human Development and Environment (University of Buenos Aires).