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Corporate Engagement’s Critical Role in the Success of the SDGs

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Just last year, the United Nations finalized the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a group of objectives that will continue the Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs) journey to make the world a better place.

The global goals for sustainable development were ratified this past September as part of the United Nations’ annual meeting by 193 member states. Building on the MDGs, the SDGs were established following the largest multiple stakeholder consultation process of its kind. The process included 11 issue-based consultations, 83 national consultations and a number of door-to-door surveys in order to involve all countries and groups in creating the SDGs. Any group that doesn’t get on board quickly will be playing catch-up in the coming years.

The U.N. has already shown its commitment to the SDGs, but with the target areas ranging from ending poverty to achieving universally accessible healthcare, the goals are achievable but challenging. The success of the SDGs will take a coordinated effort from many groups, including the public sector and nonprofits, but especially from the private sector. The key role that corporations will play in this effort was highlighted during the 2015 Private Sector Forum in New York that was held in conjunction with the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit.

The private sector definitely is important to the success of the SDGs, now the question is, why should a corporation care? How can they get involved?

Unlike the MDGs before them, the SDGs are more business-oriented. According to a U.N. report, “In addition to eliminating poverty, the new framework will need to address the drivers of change, such as economic growth, job creation, reduced inequality and innovation that makes better and more careful use of natural resources. Industry plays a prominent role in advancing all these drivers.”

As the report points out, the sector’s international reach and business practices can enact real change and innovation. Corporations can reach developing regions to spur sustainable economic growth, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and champion peace and gender equality. All of these things, while being good for the world, are also good for business.

The private sector can also align CSR strategies with the SDGs, encourage skills-based volunteering for SDG progress among employees, include global causes in workplace giving campaigns, and raise awareness of the SDGs and efforts to achieve them among staff and the public.

Additionally, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has estimated that if the SDGs are to be successful, they will require between $3.3 and $4.5 trillion in funding each year—and that’s in the developing world alone. At the current level of funding from both the public and private sectors, there is still a funding gap that needs to be filled. We need to close this gap, but we can’t do that without investment from the private sector and private philanthropy in general (corporations, foundations, individuals). Without their assistance, the SDGs cannot succeed.

The upcoming Charities@Work conference this March will discuss private sector involvement in the SDGs through IMPACT 2030, a collaboration of international leaders from the private sector, nonprofits and governments that are working towards the success of the SDGs. The session, led by Chris Jarvis from founding partner RealizedWorth, will officially kick-off the conference on March 28 at 3pm, and will explore specifically what can be done to mobilize corporate volunteers to contribute directly to the success of the U.N.’s SDGs.

Achieving the SDGs would mean a safer, cleaner, more peaceful world for all, but that success will require commitment, participation and coordination from all kinds of groups—from governments and NGOs, to individuals and the private sector. While the next 15 years will bring challenges, they will also bring change as we work together to overcome those hurdles and meet these goals.

To find out how to use the SDGs to shape your strategy, join us at the 15th Annual Charities@Work Summit in New York on March 28th – 30th, 2016. Click here to register.

Scott Jackson
Scott Jackson


Scott Jackson is the Chief Executive Officer of Global Impact. A veteran of the nonprofit community, Jackson has more than 20 years of experience working in this field for organizations such as PATH and World Vision. He received an MBA from the University of Edinburgh School of International Business and an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Puget Sound, where he also earned a BA in history.
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