Why Kenyan firms must champion SDGs agenda

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BY JOSHUA OIGARA

When the UN General Assembly met in September last year to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this marked a turning point in the search for solutions to address today world’s most pressing problems.

Four months down the line, focus is shifting towards the steps countries globally must take in investments to service the new goals which could radically improve the lives of billions of people while ushering in a better, more stable and less precarious world.

For starters, the SDGs are a set of 17 goals and 169 targets aimed at resolving the social, economic and environmental problems troubling the world. Covering the next 15 years, the SDGs replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which expired last year.

The new SDGs, and the broader sustainability agenda, go much further than the MDGs in addressing the root causes of poverty and the universal need for development that works for all people.

While the MDGs, adopted in 2000 were aimed at eradicating an array of issues that included reducing poverty, hunger, disease, gender inequality, and access to water and sanitation, substantial progress has been made on the MDGs, showing the value of a unifying agenda underpinned by goals and targets by the various nations.

Even though it is easy to sign on to programs like the SDGs; integrating them into a business model is another matter altogether. For the SDGs to be successful, leaders have to think beyond creating bespoke programs that address the SDGs, but actually embed them into the ethos of an organization and its people.

The shift in the perceived role of corporations as solely profit generators to agents of transformative change has become clearer than ever before with the new UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).Business, from micro-enterprises to multinationals, has a vital role to play in achieving each of the SDGs. For businesses, this means fostering “a dynamic and well-functioning business sector, while protecting labour rights and environmental and health standards”.

The SDGs do not only present business with duties, they should be seen as a source of great opportunities. Successful implementation of the SDGs will strengthen the environment for doing business and building markets. Even the most responsible companies struggle to thrive in communities marked by instability and conflict, to find skilled labour where adequate education is lacking, or to withstand natural disasters stemming from climate change.

The SDGs focus on the greatest challenges faced by humanity with the aim of ending poverty and hunger, misery and war, unfairness and inequality. Clearly, governments alone cannot achieve this big agenda by themselves. Businesses have enormous power, resources and knowledge to assist. Corporate responsibility is no longer about doing less harm, or giving money to charity.

While the trillion-dollar question has been how the goals will be funded, stakeholders are in agreement that there is need for the establishment of bold measures to overhaul global finance practices and generate investment for tackling the challenges facing sustainable development.

Why Support for SDGs
Achieving the SDGs not only requires strong leadership and political will; more importantly, it requires citizen commitment and action. When people are involved, they are empowered and used in their collective voices for development and progress, and build a community united towards a shared goal. This is what as corporate we aim to do.

SDGs represent a growth opportunity for companies and is estimated that consumers in emerging and frontier markets could be worth $30 trillion by 2025, up from $12 trillion in 2010. Therefore, taking action on the global goals could help address several of these obstacles that are giving rise to ‘trapped value’ in the emerging markets.

By embracing SDGs, companies are poised to gain a first-mover advantage by positioning themselves as SDG leaders. KCB Group’s approach to the SDGs, for example, starts with integrating the sustainability agenda into our Group Corporate Structure and contributes towards our financial, economic, social and environmental growth and the maintenance of a stable society in line with our corporate values. On the flip side, being slow to take action puts companies at a competitive disadvantage.

Sustainability should be anchored on daily actions
As corporates our core responsibility is to do business responsibly and then pursue opportunities to solve societal challenges through business innovation and collaboration. Stakeholders must not make our world’s problems worse before they try to make them better.

Goal 12, aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns by encouraging industries, businesses and consumers to recycle and reduce waste and supporting developing countries to move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption by 2030. The SDGs do not only present business with duties, they can be seen as great opportunities. Successful implementation of the SDGs will strengthen the environment for doing business and building markets.

Going into the future, the monitoring progress towards the SDGs and targets will require substantial efforts, not only from developing countries but also from developed ones. The awareness that the existing statistical data are insufficient to monitor all the proposed SDGs and targets and that significant efforts are needed to fill the gaps that have risen overtime.

The SDGs present business with unprecedented duties and opportunities to change our world beyond recognition, but this time for the better. They offer a blueprint for what our society should look like 15 years from now.

At the end of the day, for corporate bodies, business is no longer about just making money but about transforming the lives and experiences of communities around them – in this case investing in projects which would help address the World’s top challenges.
If achieved, the world would be better for all of us – including for businesses.

(The writer is the KCB Group Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Kenya Bankers Association)

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