On September 25th, one hundred ninety-three world leaders convened at the United Nations to adopt the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals, a group of 17 goals encompassing 169 targets aimed at achieving a “supremely ambitious and transformational vision.” This vision foretells a world in the year 2030 significantly improved in 5 key areas: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.
I had the privilege of attending a closed-session meeting hosted by Unicef and The Guardian of global professionals who have been influencing and working on the creation of the SDGs during the past two years, and many of whom will be tasked with implementing them. What was clear coming out of the meeting is business leaders would be wise to familiarize themselves with these Goals, and to begin anticipating the call for global accountability, leadership and unique new partnerships in the business sector towards their successful implementation.
As Amina J. Mohammed, Special Advisor of Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning for the United Nations advised, “Business as usual is not going to work.” She urged business to look inward and challenge the preexisting notions of sustainable development, and to “take partnerships to the max.” She went on to express her belief that “equality is the quintessential universal challenge,” and that we as a people must thrive for all, keenly noting that “breaking down walls starts from the inside out.”
Ms. Mohammed observed that the 17 Goals are inextricably linked, and as a team member of a company at the cutting edge of women’s empowerment, I can attest to this. Efforts by businesses to help actualize one of the Goals will, invariably, contribute to the effort to actualize others.
And this is where the ripple effect of one person, one leadership team, and one company becomes exciting…if we, as leaders, commit personally to supporting the actualization of just one Goal, we will create and attract opportunities, partnerships and innovative new ideas that will have a multiplying effect, advancing and accelerating a number of the Goals. These efforts will have a direct benefit on our brands and, if pursued conscientiously, will benefit our people, company culture and bottom lines.
Admittedly, there is a reality here for business and government to face. As asserted by Jordan Levy, Chief External Relations Officer, Ubuntu Education Fund, “The ‘new disruptive’ is admitting things. To do this takes real money. There has to be investment and action for things to change.”
Levy’s sentiments dovetailed with those of Rt. Hon David Miliband, President and CEO, International Rescue Committee, who had just returned from Lesbos, Greece where 3000 refugees had arrived the prior day. Miliband posed, “How do we turn the applause in the UN Chamber when these SDGs are adopted into action?” And then he advised, “We have to go from applause to accountability to action. Targets have an important role to play, but targets without accountability are not worth having.” This audience intrinsically understands this.
One of the most poignant moments of the event was when Chernor Bah, Youth Advocate for Global Education, Girl Champion, and former refugee from Sierra Leone revealed, “Most young people do not think their leaders are there to represent them.” While he was referring to government leaders, it’s a critical insight for business leaders to ponder.
What and who do we represent? Knowing these SDGs represent a transformed future for our children’s generation and for their children, what will we do about it? Will we, as leaders, choose to take action on these Goals and hold ourselves accountable?