From my world to our world

The forthcoming SDGs offer opportunities for companies to reframe the debate about the role of business in development.

Itinerant diplomats have long had the last weekend in September pencilled into their diaries for New York, before moving on to Paris in December. Their business? An international deal on climate change before year end, and agreement on a new set of development goals by the end of this month.

The build up to New York started at Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, back in 2012. More than a year ago CC Briefing was commenting on the potential (Global goals, fewer squabbles) I was optimistic that the role of the private sector would be hard-wired into the final formulation. More recently it’s clear that some companies are already seeing opportunities, with Clare Griffin from GSK noting that partnership and innovation will be key, when attention turns from the ‘what’ of the goals to the ‘how’ of delivering them.

For the last three months, my colleagues and I have been examining each of the proposed 17 new sustainable development goals in turn, looking at the implications for business. All the preparation since 2012 has fostered a large degree of consensus among the 193 members of the United Nations, so that the Transforming Our World agenda is now largely settled.

And what are the implications for companies, once those diplomats have signed up their governments? My belief is the framework is clear enough, broad enough and robust enough to create a new standard against which the commitment and performance of business can and will be judged.

For some, that will prove painful, especially if they hold to old notions that the business of business is business and no more.

Others will seize the opportunity to move from focusing on their own preoccupations and priorities towards understanding how their contribution fits the bigger picture – in short, a shift from ‘my world’ to ‘our world’. They’ll still need to work out what they themselves are contributing and what more they can do by working in partnership.

But now they can legitimately say what others must do and what changes are needed, notably governments, if we are to close the gap over 15 years between today’s reality and the promise of the SDGs – a world free from the tyranny of poverty, with life on this planet protected and with peace and justice secured.

That’s not a bad outcome from a long weekend’s deliberation in New York.

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