Last week I had the pleasure of attending the United Nations Global Compact Network USA Symposium in New York City. If you’re unfamiliar with UN Global Compact, I would encourage you to learn more as it’s a leading example of how the private sector, in collaboration with the social and public sectors, can be a driving force in achieving social change. A specific focus of the organization is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As I heard from financial organizations, nonprofits, United Nations leaders, and others, one particular phrase that I kept hearing a few weeks ago at the Social Innovation Summit came to mind: Be intentional. Below are a few takeaways I’d encourage you to consider as inspiration for what can be achieved when your organization not only links your current activities to achieving these global goals, but actively maps future activities to these goals, as well.
First, let’s discuss the facts, and, frankly, your motivation: we need $5-$7 trillion every year to drive the Goals to success. Right now, we’re seeing about $1 trillion being directed towards them. As Lise Kingo, CEO and executive director of UN Global Compact observes, the amount needed to finance the SDGs is about 50% of all global capital. That’s a significant amount, but let’s also consider the several opportunities that arise with the achievement of the SDGs. First, closing the gender gap alone could add $28 trillion to the global GDP. There is $12 trillion in market opportunities in energy, cities, food and agriculture, and health and wellness. Finally, according to a Morgan Stanley study, 9 out of 10 millennials want to invest in areas that impact social change, like the SDGs.
Lise shared many more statistics similar to those above, all stressing the critical need for the private sector to help support the world in the achievement of these global goals. 9,500 companies today have joined the UN Global Compact, and 75% of them have taken action toward achieving the SDGs. Yet we’re still in danger of not achieving our goals, which would have devastating results. So what else can we do? What else can YOU do?
Look long-term. A female panel of leaders from PRI, Datamaran, KPMG, and FCLT Global spoke extensively to the importance of guiding internal conversations with your stakeholders as well as external conversations with investors toward long-term strategy. A key area of focus to have success in shifting this conversation with investors away from short-term gains, and towards long-term success? Your board. Make sure your board of directors is educated so they can drive impactful dialogue with key stakeholders.
Other members of leadership are crucial as well. Has your CEO communicated about why your organization aligning with the SDGs or other sustainability goals will have significant business impact? Furthermore, do you have methods in place to measure your efforts against long-term business goals? Katherine Blue from KPMG pointed to a research study done with the largest 250 companies for SDG reporting, and only 8% of them could quantify long-term impact on their business. Sustainability is an area that is not going to go away, whether you’re a large financial institution, a service provider like Hilton, or a small retailer. A quote that came early in the day from Brian R Lowry of Monsanto Company was this: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”. For investors and internal buy-in, it is imperative you can connect your sustainability efforts to the bottom line. It is also extremely important in the quest to achieve the Global Goals that you have the ability to detail the status of your efforts, positive and negative. Bernhard Frey from UN Global Compact shared that reporting can be used as a tool for change, identifying areas of improvement and direction for future goals. One resource that organizations can leverage to help map their impact to the SDGs is Global Goals Mapping: A Resource for Social Good Organizations, created through a collaboration by Blackbaud, Council on Foundations, Foundation Center and Global Impact.
As pressure continues to come from stakeholders like investors and consumers, as well as regulations and organizations like UN Global Compact, solidify your strategy as to where you’d like to prioritize your efforts and how you’re going to measure them. The most crucial first step? Have everyone at the table. In the case of financial organizations seeking to help finance the achievement of the SDGs, that means more dialogue between the investment relations, sustainability, legal, operational and risk management teams, amongst others. For all companies, this means all leadership. What are the goals or focus areas where you can have the most impact based on your area of business?
Just remember – only 12 years left until 2030! We look forward to continuing to see the exemplary practices of some of the world’s leading companies, and are confident more will join them.