“Businesses can be a great help in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals”

04 Aug 2016

SDG-Fund director, Paloma Durán, reflects on the role the private sector can play in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, explaining some of the work the Fund is already doing to integrate businesses in the new era of sustainable development.

STI Experts

In general, what role do you think companies will play in the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)?

The New 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development considers the private sector as a major actor in its implementation. Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG-F) we have established a private sector advisory group, comprised of companies from all the geographical areas and in different sectors and sizes. The great challenge is to ensure that the private sector is an actor in the implementation of the agenda; and that the SDG are part of business work’s DNA.

What would you recommend to businesses to integrate with and commit to the new objectives?

Companies have the capacity to contribute greatly to the achievement of the sustainable development objectives, particularly through policies of decent and inclusive employment, promoting gender equality, innovation, sustainable industrialization and resilient infrastructures. We know that many of them are already in the process of developing specific plans aimed at achieving the SDG, integrating them into their strategy, not only from the corporate social responsibility perspective, but rather through its own business activity. A responsible private sector committed to sustainable development is indispensable for growth, productivity, innovation and job creation, all generators of large-scale development and poverty reduction.

How would you rate Spanish companies’ response and commitment with respect to the 2030 Agenda?

The report prepared by PwC in September last year is very significant, just when the SDG were adopted. It was stated therein that the majority of Spanish companies are aware of and committed to the seventeen SDG, though the percentage of Spanish companies that remain ignorant of them - 14 percent of the total - is higher than the European Union average. Despite the fact that there is still a long way to go, we cannot doubt that Spanish companies seem to be making progress in sustainability.

What are the main results coming out of the joint programs the SDG-F encourages?

The Fund has implemented 20 programs in 21 countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and also in low-income Small Island Developing States. These programs contribute decisively to achieving the 17 SDG, improving the conditions of more than a million direct and indirect beneficiaries. But the real achievement of the SDG-F is the ability to establish partnerships with multiple actors, including United Nations agencies, government ministries, the private sector and civil society to create solutions at the local level without leaving anyone behind.  For example, the SDG-F joint programs are fighting the chronic malnutrition of children under five in Guatemala, El Salvador, Sri Lanka and Vietnam; helping small entrepreneurs in Ecuador, Peru and the occupied Palestinian territory; promoting youth employment in Samoa, Fiji and Vanuatu; improving the social and environmental impact of the extractive industries in Mozambique and Sierra Leone; and empowering women in Ethiopia and Bangladesh".

What is the SDG-F’s current budget?

At the moment we have a budget of more than 60 million American dollars, which we dedicate in their overwhelming majority to our development programs in the field. Counterpart funds are a novel aspect of financing these programs, consisting in the fact that national and local counterparts contribute at least 50% of the money that the SDG-F puts up to implement the project. We have two fundamental objectives with this: first, double the budget’s scope and, second, encourage the fundamental principle of national ownership in all programs. When the beneficiaries cease to be mere recipients of funding and become an active part of the search for and contribution of resources, they come to consider the program as their own, which increases the chances that it will expand and/or extend in time, even without the SDG-F’s input.

How is the SDG-F’s Private Sector Advisory Group working out?

One of the goals of the New Agenda 2030 are public-private partnerships, achieve that companies become more actively involved in the joint development initiatives in cooperation with governments, civil society and United Nations. In order to contribute to this goal, the Fund ODS has set up what we call private-sector advisory group, composed of leaders of large companies in various sectors at the global level that are offering strategic guidance and support in this matter. The experience of this group, which also serves as a platform for dialog between the companies and the partners of the Fund ODS, has already proved to be essential in the development of our last report 'Companies and United Nations: Working together toward the goals of sustainable development', which we presented in November 2015. . Next to this, the Advisory Group collaborates with the Fund in research and dissemination of knowledge, provision of resources - including financial, human and natural, generating networks and alliances or providing consulting services specific to the various joint programs in the field.

What do you think are the key factors in making public-private alliances successful in contributing to solving our societies’ main problems?

In our aforementioned report 'Business and the United Nations', a series of practical recommendations are spelled out that can improve collaboration between these two fundamental actors in the new era of sustainable development. Unlike traditional studies, the document reflects businesses’ point of view i.e.: what could the United Nations do to facilitate partnerships with the corporate sector. For example, companies ask the UN for simpler, more consistent and more transparent procedures than those that currently exist, which can vary greatly from one agency to another. Another thing they ask is UN involvement in development programs and activities from their outset, i.e. sitting at the table with the rest of the actors to discuss the programs’ planning and design. This is something we already do in our SDG-F programs.  And a third key element for companies would be to have a single, clearly identified UN interlocutor, at the country level, to negotiate partnerships. Currently, many companies that are willing to collaborate with the UN do not do so simply because they do not know who to deal with.


This interview was originally published in issue 45 of the magazine Corresponsables, in July, 2016. Read it here in Spanish.