Collaborating on the SDGs: Start Here

By Philip Goodwin, CEO, VSO

Collaborating on the SDGs: Start Here

With the jetlag from New York just starting to subside, I’d love to share my thoughts on some of the exciting things to emerge from the recent UN General Assembly at which the world’s leaders signed up to a new global development agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals. Getting to this stage has been a long road for many of us in civil society, with years spent wrangling over the wording of the final declaration so it stands the greatest chance of eradicating poverty by 2030. But actually the really hard work starts here.

Among the endless events that happen on the sidelines of a General Assembly of this importance was the UN Private Sector Forum hosted by Ban ki Moon. This was a high-energy event where I was encouraged to hear Paul Polman, the hugely influential CEO of Unilever, speak passionately about the global imperative for business to align the way they operate in order to support achievement of the SDGs. Bolstered in his view by other speakers, including U2’s Bono, the consensus is definitely that this is the time for everyone to be more open to new collaborations and ways of working.

Openness to new possibilities is something that VSO has in its DNA. Our approach to development puts people first. Inclusion and partnership are at the very heart of how we do things. Which brings me to the idea I have for a concrete action that corporate leaders can consider now in order to start this ball rolling.

Skills-based volunteering in development provides an invaluable insight into the issues at the heart of the SDGs. It provides a very real way to contribute to development but also an experience that will undoubtedly be life changing. We want to work with a whole new generation of corporate innovators who are open to engaging in such an experience and then using it to develop a fresh set of ideas about how the business sector could help contribute to the fight against poverty.

This is not CSR as we once knew it but a new and more flexible approach to some of the challenges of our time.

Jonathan Richards, a Supply Chain Manager at the agrichemical company Syngenta, is one of a new breed of corporate sector employees who has been given the opportunity to volunteer his skills overseas and bring a wealth of experience back into his employer, Syngenta, at the same time. He told me he found his 12 week placement in Bangladesh to be hugely motivating as well as enabling him to gain first-hand experience of what life is like for a smallholder farmer in Bangladesh – an understanding that is key to his day to day work back at Syngenta.

Similarly, IBM has been committed to meaningful community engagement since the company was founded over 100 years ago. Their Corporate Citizenship work aligns very well with the SDGs and they are a founding member of Impact2030. They have been partnering with VSO in India in to place IBM pro-bono consultants into a business that offers employment to people with disabilities.

IBM’s founder Thomas Watson Jr. said way back in 1969: “We serve our interest best when we serve the public interest…we want to be at the forefront of those companies which are working to make our world a better place.”

My hope is for this approach to collaboration between our sectors to become the norm over the course of the Sustainable Development Goals, leaving the world in much better shape for generations to come.

Join us for the VSO Start Here webinar on 12th November from 12-1PM to find out about how you could get started in aligning your business with others dedicated to tackling the SDGs: For more information contact as************@vs****.org and visit

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