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Global Compact Announces Tools to Support Business Involvement in SDGs

Photo: UN Photo / Rick Bajornas

Content by: South-South News

21 September 2015, New York, USA | Brendan Pastor — Development officials and policy-makers from the United Nations and the governments of its member states have been eager to include businesses in the implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals.

However, a lack of clarity on what exactly the role for business should be has left many executives from the private sector scratching their heads wondering where to get involved, and how.

During the financing for development conference in Addis Ababa this past July, many business leaders told South-South News that they were eager to take up the mantra of sustainability and incorporate it into their operations, but did not quite understand how the SDGs — 17 goals and 169 targets, far and away more ambitious and complex than the previous Millennium Development Goals — would work. Some even expressed mild concern at the possibility that their inclusion in the negotiation process comes from a desire of policy-makers to see private sector money channeled to the developing world like charity. After all, official development assistance (ODA) from developed country governments to developing countries has more or less plateaued around $130 billion a year. Compare that with the over $25 trillion in global capital markets and savings accounts that could be unleashed by the private sector.

So to some extent, yes, the inclusion of the business community in the SDG process was motivated as much by a desire to see them shoulder the financing burden as much as it was about harnessing their experience and input. But that leaves business leaders — most of whom are not development practitioners or UN experts — wondering how they can join the global sustainability movement.

The United Nations Global Compact, the UN's business and partnerships arm, has resolved to motivate companies to learn about the SDGs, to embrace the relevant goals and targets, and to incorporate their central premise into business operations. To do so, it has announced the release of a series of tools aimed at helping business leaders better understand the SDGs and how they can guide corporate strategy.

"The new 17 SDGs is a clear lighthouse provided by the UN that shows where global development throughout the world is focused and where it is going forward," Lise Kingo, the executive director of the Global Compact, told reporters during a press conference at the UN today. "The advantage for business is knowing where this is going forward and how to tune into it."

Kingo explained that a new tool, called the SDG Compass, will teach executives about the goals in a way that speaks to their business potential.

"What we encourage business to do and what is clearly described in new Compass is to have a look at the new 17 SDGs, do a mapping of which are relevant for your business, such as which pose risks or opportunities, and then choose a few you would find are relevant to use as a platform for inspiration and growth in your business," Kingo said.

Incidentally, the core concept of the SDGs may not be so difficult to grasp for companies. A Global Compact survey of over 800 members found that 90 percent of companies were aware of the SDGs in their final form, and expressed an interest in taking strategic action. It suggests that businesses are ready to act, even if they cannot directly identify how to do so or in what way.

The Compass is therefore a tool that officials hope will help incorporate the specifics of various SDGs into business plans and strategies. Its official launch will be at the annual Private Sector Forum, held on the eve of the General Assembly this Saturday in New York. Among its dignified guests are the UN Secretary-General, the German Chancellor, and chief executives from companies ranging from tech giants like Facebook to extractive industries like mining firms.

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