How the Private Sector Can Help Achieve Sustainable Development

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SEATTLE — The U.N. 2030 Sustainable Development Goals are unachievable without corporate involvement. The private sector can uniquely leverage nonprofit partnerships and investment in order to achieve sustainable development.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDG’s, aim to create an inclusive, prosperous and sustainable world, emphasizing peace, growth, conservation and equality.

After deliberation from a diverse set of stakeholders, 17 goals were drafted in 2015 to follow and enhance the Millennium Development Goals of the U.N. Millennium Declaration in 2000.

The global business community is one of the major stakeholders in the agenda, as the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals builds and expands new markets. Eliminating poverty, hunger and preventable diseases allows developing nations to thrive, innovate and contribute to the international economy.

At the U.N. Forum in 2015, international leaders highlighted how the private sector can help achieve sustainable development, introducing the Sustainable Development Goal Compass. This tool helps businesses worldwide strategically align their own interests with sustainable development.

The private sector plays a special role in sustainable development, as it can use resources and partnerships to amplify the impact of various international development agencies.

In order to maximize business contribution, however, governments need to create policies that enable the private sector to pursue economic growth and success. Simultaneously, these policies need to hold businesses accountable for their corporate social responsibility.

Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, links economic interests with societal responsibility. There is no one right answer as to how these aspects should be aligned, but the coordination of CSR with public policy has transformative potential.

Developing nations should proactively accept CSR as a method for change within their countries, all the while maintaining caution. Some corporate actions have adverse effects on nations, such as imposed international supply chains, so aligning businesses with the economic, environmental and social interests of a nation is essential.

While poorly understood, public-private partnerships can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. These partnerships are multi-stakeholder projects that build large-scale infrastructures, such as schools, hospitals or sanitation systems. There is general mistrust about the costliness and effectiveness of these joint ventures, but when conducted correctly, they can create large-scale impact.

DuPont, a science and engineering company dedicated to solving global challenges, has fostered one such partnership with the government of Ethiopia and USAID. As a contribution to the first goal in the Sustainable Development Goals — to end poverty — DuPont is working to improve maize productivity through specialized agricultural training and market access. By 2020, DuPont hopes to improve the lives of 3 million farmers and rural communities all around Ethiopia.

Employees also have the power to inspire everyday change. Nearly 65 percent of Fortune 500 companies match employee donations to non-profits that work to achieve this goal, doubling the impact.

Globally, the role of the private sector is weighted with responsibility. The cooperation of corporations is needed to achieve sustainable development. The global business community is realizing the immense economic benefits of a healthy people and a healthy planet, so by 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals may be within reach.

Larkin Smith

Photo: Flickr

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Larkin Smith

Larkin writes for The Borgen Project from Chicago, where she studies at the University of Chicago. She is an improvisational actor and sings in an a cappella group.

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