Over half of young people think that humanity is doomed, according to a new climate change survey. Since I was born just over 50 years ago, global surface temperatures have risen faster than in any other 50-year period over the past 2,000 years. Clearly, my generation has a lot to answer for.
At the same time, the pandemic has abruptly stalled progress on many of the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals. According to the World Bank, extreme poverty has increased for the first time in 20 years. UNCTAD fears that we may see the reversal of decades of progress on women’s empowerment.
What is one to do in the face of such dire challenges? For business, the message from employees, customers and their other stakeholders is clear: do something. According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, 86% of people believe that CEOs must lead on societal issues. The question for business, then, is how.
As we prepare for our Global Goals Summit (20 – 24 September), this is a question that is at the front of our minds. I invite you to register for free as my guest with the code ZAHIDSDGS21. This is our tenth virtual summit since the pandemic began, with the next being our Climate Justice Summit at COP 26.
These events have given me the chance to listen to perspectives across our community and reflect on priorities for action. Despite the challenges, I am confident that together we can protect the gains already made and accelerate progress towards the equitable and resilient future envisioned in the SDGs.
Here are my four pillars for action, that I believe can enable us to rebuild better:
Philanthropy is important, and often the most visible sign of corporate engagement on issues that people care about. But it is not the biggest way in which business can make a difference. Where purpose is embedded across the business, the opportunities are opened for scalable and sustainable impact.
In practice, this can be using your brand to stand up, influence policy and shift consumer behaviour on social and environmental issues. It can mean creating products – such as digital payments – that help small businesses thrive. It can mean commiting to a living wage across your workforce and suppliers. It can mean investing in the sustainability skills of your employees.
The pandemic has hit the most vulnerable people the hardest. This has reflected deep inequities, such as gender, race and income. Being intentionally inclusive in the way challenges are understood and responded to, is central to building resilience – not just of individuals and communities, but of global value chains.
In practice, this can include supporting survivors of gender-based violence in the workplace and taking steps to prevent it. It can mean investing in the care economy to address the gender disparities in the burden of unpaid care. It can mean supporting diversity and inclusion through hiring and procurement. It can mean giving voice to young people and those most proximate to the challenges.
While it is common for companies to focus on specific Sustainable Development Goals – ones that are most material to their business and where they can have the biggest impact – the risk is that we miss the bigger picture. In particular, there is a need to connect the social and environmental dimensions, if we are to succeed.
In practice, this can mean taking a people-centred approach to understand how social inequities drive impacts of climate change and climate actions. It can mean taking an integrated approach to food systems strengthening, from nutrition to equitable livelihoods to nature-positive production. It can mean reflecting on the intersectionality between gender, disability, race and income.
The pandemic has shown our ability to work together rapidly when faced with a shared challenge. The systemic nature of the issues we care about – not least climate change – requires us to find new ways to collaborate and co-create solutions. We must make time to build trust while acting with a sense of urgency.
In practice, this can mean creating agile structures that bring together the right partners – from business, civil society and government – to address an urgent issue such as vaccine access and literacy. It can mean working with peers to understand what skills are needed for a sustainable future. It can mean business-donor partnerships that create economic opportunities for women.
We’ll be picking up on many of these themes at our Global Goals Summit. Please join us to share your perspectives, access new insights and make new connections. At last year’s event, 98% of people say they learnt something valuable, and 98% said they would recommend it. I hope to see you there!