Assessing Progress: Can Africa Achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals?
Much has been written about the importance of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework to concentrate and unite efforts to make the world a better, healthier, more inclusive place. The SDGs unpack the challenges facing mankind into well-defined targets, with each element of each goal carefully defined to help governments, businesses and even individuals understand what is required to achieve them. Something as broad as “zero hunger” is broken down into specific targets, with precise definitions of what success looks like. Many in Africa see the SDGs as a way to build a better, more sustainable continent – but what progress has really been made since the Goals were first adopted in 2015?
As a continent, Africa is just over halfway to achieving the SDGs, according to the Africa SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2018 (“Africa Index”). However, progress has not been effectively linked with economic achievement – for example, Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation and one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, is ranked 39th, well behind comparatively tiny nations like Mauritius (3rd), Cape Verde (5th) and even Swaziland (24th).
In addition, progress on key goals, such as food security and sustainable agriculture (SDG 2), is falling behind the rest of the world (2017 Africa Sustainable Development Report). As the Africa Index puts it, “[f]or 14 of the 17 goals, not a single African country has achieved green status” (an indication of goal achievement) – and trends show stagnation, not growth. Not one country reported lack of political support as a challenge to completing the goals, not even those last on the list – so the political will is there, but can these countries muster the financial resources, good-quality data, and interdepartmental coordination and cooperation to reach their targets by 2030?
That is where the business community can step in, through a holistically-implemented Shared Value strategy. There are holes that government alone cannot plug. It will take a functional ecosystem founded on mutually-beneficial partnerships that transcend the boundaries of public and private sector to meet the 2030 deadline in just twelve years. Shared Value gives businesses a framework for turning addressing the SDGs into a sustainable business opportunity and source of growth, acknowledging that profit is – and cannot cease to be – a primary business objective. It is how they achieve this aim that can position them as drivers of lasting positive change, rather than roadblocks to it or enforcers of lacklustre “business as usual”.
One of the biggest challenges in measuring true progress on the SDGs is the lack of available and/or complete data. Business has a role to play in strengthening the data ecosystem on the continent, using the tools and reach at its disposal to collaborate with government, non-government and civil society organisations. It is a basic business requirement to track progress on any campaign, product line or initiative, and SDG impact should be no different. Without accurate and current information, businesses will not be able to effectively address the needs of their communities, their countries, their environment and their continent. Thoughtful analysis of data can also bring to light new opportunities for products, services, or partnerships, even across country borders.
The overarching purpose of the Shared Value Africa Initiative (SVAI) is to create collective impact through empowering businesses across the continent to use Shared Value to achieve a common purpose: building Africa’s economy and creating a better future for all its in inhabitants. Through the creation of cross-continental Shared Value networks, businesses will be able to scale their impact, both through provision of products and services to underserved consumers as well as optimisation of the entire value chain for impact as well as efficiency. Businesses can even play a role in reshaping cultural norms that adversely affect our continent’s most vulnerable citizens. The SVAI also champions the vital research needed to understand the African context from homegrown perspectives, both economic and social.
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