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Public, private sector will have to work together on UN sustainable development goals, WEF hears

Sep 10 2019 08:43
Lameez Omarjee, Fin24

A collaborative effort from both the private and public sector is necessary to achieve the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, the World Economic Forum for Africa heard.

This week business leaders and government officials from across Africa converged in Cape Town to discuss economic issues at the WEF on Africa. Topics of discussion included investment in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs are 17 goals that members of the United Nations in 2015 agreed to achieve by 2030. Goals included targeted developments in several sectors including health, education and tackling climate change.

During a panel discussion on the topic, Mark Suzman – chief strategy officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – commented on the role of policy reforms for SDGs.

"You need - fundamentally - a combination of public and private investment," Suzman said.

He said to have "high quality" impact investing from the private sector, there needs to be an efficiency and effectiveness of spend by governments.

Secondly there needs to be an allowance in government's policy space for private sector resources.

Delivering on SDGs requires new tools and mechanisms, which is often provided by the private sector, he added, using an example of how the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have been working on a new African digital financial inclusion platform in partnership with the African Development Bank.

The innovations do not necessarily have to be high tech, he argued, telling delegates how a new insecticide - to which which malaria-carrying mosquitoes have not yet become resistant - was used on mosquito nets in affected areas.

When it comes to attracting private sector investment, it is necessary that governments have transparent, and open public sector financing, Suzman said. Fiscal financial management is important, he added. "In the end SDGs are public accountability commitments by government to their citizens."

Edward Ndopu, the secretary general's sustainable development goals advocate at the UN, shared views that for the private sector to transform, their business models must be aligned with SDGs, while still being profitable. "The SDGs are not just a blueprint for humanity, but can be a viable business plan," Ndopu said.

Heather Johnson, Ericsson's vice president for sustainability and corporate responsibility, told Fin24 in an interview on the sidelines of the forum, that the SDGs are different in that they form a global framework developed by governments, the private sector and civil society.

"I think the SDGs are powerful … You can be a government minister, an NGO or a company, and come together around a specific goal or challenge," Johnson said.

Such a collaboration can possibly create a commercial solution for a social issue, she suggested. Johnson used an example of mobile financial services – this creates financial inclusion for those who have never been able to bank before, while at the same time yields commercial value.

Ericsson specifically has collaborated with other stakeholders in finding solutions to social issues, Johnston said. The telecommunications company has been involved in the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, along with organisations, the private sector, heads of state and government working together on broadband infrastructure plans in countries.

Sustainable financing

Standard Chartered Bank is another business which has made sustainability a "core" part of its business model, according to Bola Adesola – the vice chairperson of Standard Chartered Africa. Adesola said about eight of the SDGs are a part of the way Standard Chartered runs its business.

In an interview with Fin24, Adesola shared more on the bank's focus on sustainable financing – which is investment that yields social value not just financial value. "As an institution it is something we believe is vital to doing good," she told Fin24. "It is a key focus on our bank and embedded in the way we do business."

As an example Adesola said Standard Chartered took a decision over a year ago to stop financing coal-fired power stations for the benefit of the environment.

"It's not just in terms of our business, the environment or our clients. Even our suppliers must meet certain standards," she added.

"It's important that when you do business – you do no harm and do some good."

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