Christmas Wishes and Sustainable Goals through 2030

December 21, 2015Dulce Pedroso

A magic set and an ice-cream maker are apparently on their way to the top of my eight-year-old’s Christmas wish list and she has been agonising over whether throwing this critical document to the flames of a bonfire is the most effective way to ensure delivery.

The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been celebrated by some and bah-humbugged by others. The newer and more diverse version of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) consist of 169 targets (as opposed to the 18 MDG targets). But one of the more interesting things about these goals is how they will be delivered – not through a bonfire, but via the Amazons of the world.

The private sector is expected to play a big part in the future of the SDGs: from policy design to implementation and evaluation. However, it is no longer just about attracting corporate cash or appealing to the most philanthropic soul in the boardroom. Both the public and the private sector recognise that for businesses to have a meaningful role in sustainable development, one needs to look beyond tight definitions of Corporate Social Responsibility.

This is not new. For a long time, businesses have been something of a muse in development and, perhaps unfairly to government, seen as the sole source of creativity and innovation. But the delivery of development goals for the new generation, calls for a more equal marriage. It needs the heart of businesses to beat not just for its own interests, and for the governments to engage with the private sector as a partner rather than just a supplier while protecting the interests of the most vulnerable. For some goals this is easier than others. For example, the growing competition for global energy sources combined with a relatively short pay-back period means that improving energy efficiency has almost become a no-brainer.

But how do we make this shift when the focus is on social and not just economic development goals? How is a business to make a financially viable case for protecting a primary school-aged girl from a forced marriage instead of selling ice-cream makers and magic sets to another 5,000 miles away?

The Girls’ Education Challenge is a £300m programme set up by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to help up to a million of the world’s poorest girls improve their lives through education. One of the distinctive features of the programme, is the creation of strategic partnerships with the private sector. The funding available (with the requirement to be matched by the businesses) is sending a strong signal that the government is serious about working with the non-state parties on delivery of social outcomes. Two years into the programme, however, the private partners have proven very different from the rest of the portfolio in their language, focus, and sometimes perhaps their ability and willingness to adapt to the vagaries of development priorities. Yet there’s a global scale that some companies could potentially have, that could by-pass any national government’s efforts for example in building skills and employability of the most impoverished girls.

As the fund manager for the GEC initiative, Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) helps participants navigate the unique strengths and weaknesses of each private sector partnership. This requires a shared vision. We have also driven thinking on matching policy priorities and private sector initiatives, and on how to align business proposition with the organisational structures of donors, which don’t always lend themselves to cross-sectoral work - and larger companies tend to prefer more flexibility. Thirdly, while on other non-profit led projects we are already starting to see what interventions are the most effective in helping girls stay in education, this is an area where we are still learning how this partnership is supposed to work. Focusing only on the success of the projects at the expense of that of the partnership, would miss some important lessons about engaging the private sector in the delivery of SDGs. Finally, and not least because they have taken a lot more time to mobilise than their non-profit making counterparts, we have found that a long-term view is important to the private sector partners. While time is tax-payers' money, reaching the remotest markets and building a skilled local workforce won't happen overnight.

Good thing the SDGs are around for fifteen years, not just for Christmas.

Dulce Pedroso is a member of the PwC International Development team, working in particular with private sector partners to deliver public services. She is currently working on the Girls’ Education Challenge.

Photo Credit: UNHCR, Brian Sokol

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