SACRAMENTO, California — Businesses play key roles in the advancement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially in countries that lack adequate government funds like Nigeria. Per Nigeria’s 2020 Voluntary National Review priorities, the nation focuses on issues of poverty (SDG-1), an inclusive economy (SDG-8), health and wellbeing (SDG-3), education (SDG-4), gender equality (SDG-5), peace and security (SDG-16) and partnerships (SDG-17).
The COVID-19 pandemic has hindered the Nigerian government’s attempts to raise the necessary funds to achieve these goals. There is currently a funding gap of more than $300 billion standing in the way of Nigeria reaching the SDG goals by 2030. The Nigerian government plans to close the funding gap by galvanizing the private sector. By doing so, businesses and the government aim to increase SDG progress in Nigeria.
Local Businesses Are Close to the Issues
The SDGs create a shared blueprint for all nations to achieve peace and prosperity for the world. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The United Nations Global Compact stresses the need for businesses, regardless of size, to scale and engage with global goals. From the outside, sustainable development professionals can only reach a limited understanding of the Nigerian people’s needs. Furthermore, Nigerians in situations that force them to survive day to day cannot effectively prioritize sustainable development goals.
Local businesses can better understand the plight of the Nigerian people because they work closer to the issues. If Nigerian businesses realign their policies with the SDGs, then they could possess the power to enact serious change. They could reduce unemployment, provide healthcare and reduce gender inequality. Furthermore, businesses could empower citizens to be agents of change and make significant SDG progress in Nigeria.
Former Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility Analyst at The Nigerian Stock Exchange Tobi Oyewole spoke with The Borgen Project on this matter. Oyewole, who was also recognized as a 2020 United Nations SDG Pioneer (Nigeria) Winner, explained that the international community wants to have climate-based discussions; however, one cannot expect a community to focus on sustainable measures while their basic needs remain unmet. The people cannot fathom the discussion of climate change and sustainability when they are starving.
Shifting From Corporate Philanthropy Alone
As previously mentioned, many Nigerian citizens live in situations that make it difficult to focus on sustainable changes. World Bank Lead Economist for Nigeria Marco Hernandez stated that the pandemic “was expected to push” more Nigerians into poverty. As such, an estimated half of Nigeria’s population might itself in poverty within the next year. The government cannot fund sustainable development projects and programs without taking money away from necessary, yet transient, relief packages. Businesses, however, hold a unique position to break the cycle of poverty and create sustainable changes. Businesses can ignite SDG progress in Nigeria through jobs or internships and increase economic activity as a result.
Regarding the shift away from corporate philanthropy, Oyewole believes that corporate philanthropy does not fix problems; it merely pushes them back. It may help communities get by, but they will never achieve the means for sustainable development. When businesses integrate the SDGs into their everyday actions, they can make real sustainable changes and improvements for their communities.
Creating Stable Societies and Markets
Businesses in Nigeria can thrive in a nation built on the SDGs. According to the Business & Sustainable Development Commission, reaching the SDGs by 2030 could unlock $12 trillion in economic opportunities and create 380 million new jobs. It is simply impossible for Nigerian businesses to thrive in a nation weighed down by poverty and inequality.
The Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) looks to lead the way for corporate sustainability and responsibility by positioning itself as “the sustainable exchange championing Africa’s growth.” Oyewole believes that the Nigerian Stock Exchange plays a critical role in sustainable development because “[it is]in a position of influence, connecting investors, connecting businesses, connecting the general public.” The NSE sits in the center of Nigeria’s economy, which is Africa’s largest economy. Moreover, the NSE promotes SDG progress in Nigeria and seeks to responsibly and sustainably champion Africa’s growth.
The Nigerian Stock Exchange Promotes SDG Progress
- Closing the gender gap: In a nation still plagued by extreme gender inequality, the NSE boasts a 1:2 female to male ratio among all staff members. The NSE National Council has a representation rate of 27% for women. The Council serves as “the highest decision-making body of the Exchange.” Equal pay and conscious efforts to increase female presence in the workplace are staples of the NSE work environment.
- Increasing financial literacy: The NSE hosts Global Money Week and the X-tours to connect with communities across the nation. These educational events invite everyone from students to curious professionals to the NSE facility. There, those attending learn about careers in finance and business. The programs have provided nearly 50,000 students with financial literacy knowledge, per the NSE’s Head of Corporate Communications.
- Promoting environmental sustainability: Promoting SDG progress in Nigeria and Africa starts at home, so to speak. The NSE partnered with RecyclePoints’ Corporate Recycling Program to promote sustainability, starting at its own office. The NSE collected nearly 4,000 pounds of recyclables at its headquarters in 2019.
On the importance of businesses in Nigeria’s SDG progress, Oyewole said, “Every business needs to make a decision that profits [are]not the whole essence of the business.” Businesses need to act responsibly and begin choosing people and progress over profits. The way businesses choose to conduct themselves plays a major role in our collective future. Reaching the SDGs by 2030 will require all sectors to make systemic changes and reinvest in the community. Everyone benefits from greater overall health and wealth. Businesses redefine themselves in light of the SDGs. If they do, businesses can capitalize on their significant power to lead the world into an era of peace and prosperity.
– Ella LeRoy