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November 11, 2016
Universality: What the Sustainable Development Goals mean to business

New report by the United Nations’ SDG Fund offers private sector perspective on development goals and how companies align

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG Fund) in collaboration with its Private Sector Advisory Group and the Global Compact launched today its new report Universality and the SDGs: A Business Perspective. The report highlights varied perspectives from both large and small companies working to understand the commonality of the new development agenda.

The report coincided with a special meeting that brought together the private sector, government officials, relevant United Nations entities, and local authorities to examine implementation of the SDGs and the concept of Universality. The event at UN Headquarters in New York (ECOSOC Chamber) offered a forum to examine various barriers and opportunities in implementing the SDGs, which included issues linked to partnerships, governance, leadership, monitoring and evaluation, as well alignment with the 2030 Agenda.

The program is timely as the one-year mark of the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals approaches in January. Uniquely, the report focuses on the important notion of universality as a potential driver to impact engagement with the private sector. Universality in this context is defined by the UN as “applicable to all countries, while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development that respect national policies and principles.”

This report is based on interviews and input from private sector leaders through workshops in Africa, Latin America, Europe and the United States, with more than 100 firms representing various regions and industry sectors. The year-long series of workshops and interactive discussions provided valuable insight in to how companies were working to address the new set of goals. It also suggests many firms are working in the areas of SDGs, yet their work is not always linked to the goals or articulated as such.

“Looking forward, it’s clear the SDG Fund has an important role in continuing to advocate for expanded implementation of the SDGs and to build meaningful cross-cutting programs with the private sector, especially those companies who are keen to leverage synergies in the field,” said Paloma Duran, Director of the SDG Fund.

Key findings

The findings of the report reveal three key conclusions. First, companies of all sizes and sectors have shown interest in engaging with the SDGs, but did not fully comprehend the complexity and depth of the SDGs in context of their operations. For most firms, while philanthropic and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives remain customary, there are added benefits to framing sustainability initiatives through the SDGs, as they provide a clear and unified set of globally-accepted goals and related targets. Last, the private sector is recognizing the importance of sustainability projects, (not necessarily the SDGs) and in devising opportunities to build stronger relationships with the established “development sector” including the UN in order to leverage complimentary expertise.

The report indicates that the UN can play an important role in better educating and informing companies on the universal dimensions of the SDGs, as well as in facilitating the resources, tools and learning to better promote implementation and alignment across sectors.

Included in the report are short case stu­­­­­dies with the SDG Fund’s Private Sector Advisory Group which highlight the value of implementing the SDGs, initiating multi-stakeholder collaboration and efforts to leverage the complementary expertise of new actors.

More broadly, the SDG Fund is already investing in 23 countries engaging a wide variety of stakeholders. The SDG Fund works to establish greater collaboration among UN agencies and in bringing business into the forefront of the universal 2030 Agenda. A number of successful multi-stakeholder partnerships are now underway, building the case for deepening the engagement with new actors, especially the private sector.

The Sustainable Development Goals Funds is a multi-donor and multi-agency mechanism created in 2014 by UNDP on behalf of the UN System to support sustainable development activities through integrated and multidimensional joint programmes. Its main objective is to bring together UN agencies, governments, academia, civil society and business to address the challenges of poverty, promote the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieve SDGs. Follow us on twitter at @SDGFund