SEATTLE — The Borgen Project had the opportunity to sit in on the first International Entrepreneurship Summit held on June 25 and 26, 2019 where approximately 150 members of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) from all around the world met at the U.N.’s Headquarters for EOs. The purpose of this event was to address the U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The focus was not on policy or philanthropy, but rather the initiatives businesses can take to help achieve these SDGs. In order to achieve all 17 goals, the U.N. would need to invest approximately $2.5 trillion.
As explained by Shamina Singh, the Founder and President of the Center for Inclusive Growth at Mastercard, “No amount of philanthropy can cover that kind of gap. Businesses must be involved.” The ultimate goal for the members of the EO, therefore, is to promote businesses that are both profitable and sustainable. Although the EO hopes to address all 17 goals, this first summit focused on four of the SDGs: (1) quality education, (2) gender equality, (3) clean water and sanitation (4) and economic growth and decent work. Here are the pledges the EO members made for these four SDGs:
The EO focused on the importance of accessing quality education due to education’s direct link with success and wealth. The three main goals that members of the EO pledged to achieve were the creation and development of an EO Children Education Program, the creation of an EO-SDG education platform, and the creation of an Impact Track with increased participation of EO member companies in the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC). One of the principal leaders of this initiative is Marc Stockli, a Swiss entrepreneur. Stockli explained that Switzerland’s wealth and success can be attributed to the high-quality education that Switzerland provides its citizens. Stockli stated, “Education is the one thing that if you can get it right, it can never be taken away.”
Additionally, Adrienne Palmer, Founder and President of Global Impact Advisory, stated that education not only promotes success and wealth, but awareness as well. Awareness is essential, Palmer explains, because it promotes business ideas that aren’t necessarily intuitive. For example, many individuals lack an understanding of the positive economic impacts sustainable considerations can have on a business or an entire economy. Companies that focus on social impact see an increase in profit because increasingly more consumers are making decisions based on social considerations. Currently, Americans prioritize companies that are responsible (86 percent), caring (85 percent), advocate for issues (81 percent), protect the environment (79 percent) and give back to important causes (73 percent).
The EO members also viewed gender equality as an essential element in developing a truly sustainable society. At the International Entrepreneurship Summit, the men were equally involved in brainstorming initiatives to promote gender equality throughout the world. Sarah Endline, the founder and CEO of RIOT Strategic Advisory, stated, “Women want men on this journey with them.” In order to promote gender equality, members of the EO pledged to support more women in leadership positions, place more women front and center in EO external relations, and create a gender equality certification program. Ms. Endline explained that the first two initiatives are particularly important because women seek role models and mentors. EO members agreed that, currently, there aren’t enough women in the limelight within EO to inspire young women and girls around the world.
Clean Water and Sanitation
The EO felt the most sense of urgency when it came to addressing issues of clean water and sanitation at the International Entrepreneurship Summit. The members recognized that without clean water and sanitation, the rest of the SDGs cannot be achieved in any meaningful way. However, as entrepreneurs, they also acknowledged that “The world’s biggest challenges are the world’s biggest business opportunities.” Clean water and sanitation are one of the world’s greatest challenges not only because they are a matter of life and death, but also because there are so many different angles this issue must be addressed from. At the summit, the EO members discussed the need to focus on reducing pesticides, waste, litter, nutrient-loading and plastic usage. For this reason, the members could not agree on just three initiatives to pledge. The need to focus on promoting awareness for this issue, reducing plastic waste as an organization, planting trees and funding sustainable water supplies were all equally important to the members.
Economic Growth and Decent Work
For the final SDG pledge, the EO members felt especially confident that their entrepreneurial experience would play an integral role in promoting economic growth and decent work. In order to promote this goal, the EO members pledged to create awards and public recognition for those who promoted economic growth and decent work through business initiatives. They also pledged that each Chapter in EO would hold at least one learning event on the four SDG’s every year to inform EO members how a conscious business model is more beneficial. For this reason, EO also pledged to require all EO members to address the SDGs in their businesses. The principal objective that came out of the International Entrepreneurship Summit, therefore, was to raise the standards for entrepreneurs and businesses.
One of the main takeaways from the International Entrepreneurship Summit was that all 17 SDGs are interconnected to a certain extent and that addressing one SDG can cause a ripple effect that will positively impact all other SDGs. For instance, in countries where access to clean water is a challenge, girls have to spend the day walking long distances to retrieve water instead of attending school with the boys. In that sense, addressing clean water and sanitation may be the first step to promoting gender equality and quality education, which could then lead to economic development, decent work, and more.
– Ariana Howard