This week, I am attending the National Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Conference in Abuja with the theme “Going Beyond Monitoring: Evaluation of the achievements of the SDGs in Nigeria.” The three-day conference is organized by a collaboration of public and private sector organisations including the Federal Ministry of Budget and National Planning (MBNP), Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDG’s (OSSAP -SDGs), UNICEF, PwC Nigeria, NBS and a host of other local and international development agencies.
The truth is that one year on, the SGDs are yet to catch on with the general public and is popular only among those whose daily activities and means of livelihood revolves around the development world. Many, yours sincerely inclusive, have just a passing knowledge of it. It is thus important to give here, some background and attempt a robust introduction of the goals.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of global goals adopted by the UN 193 member states. They’re the successors of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were good at least on paper but fell short because they were focused on poverty alleviation in the developing world and even there, as in the case of Nigeria, the goals were not met despite all the rhetoric. The SDGs, on the other hand, are globally applicable and integrate economic, social and environmental aspects. They are composed of 17 goals with 169 indicators to help define progress and businesses as well as society, rather than governments, are expected to drive their achievement.
Governments who’ve signed on to the SDGs, which includes Nigeria, are thus going to devise means such as regulation, taxes, communication campaigns etc and working in consonance with the private sector to achieve the goals. In other words, governments will set the tone, create the enabling environment and then workout a framework under which the private sector will drive the goals. Governments will also measure and monitor progress and manage the effectiveness of their interventions.
In the NGO community, there is so much excitement and expectations for the SDGs. One may say this is because a new programme like this guarantees more flow of grants, endless travels to workshops and conferences with juicy estacodes and other such opportunities which people in this sector enjoy. I have heard jokes about the fact that the MDGs aimed at fighting poverty only ended up making a few people involved with the programme rich as the funds were not trickling down to the people who really needed it. But that is one thought. Looking at the goals, one cannot help but observe that they are a game changer for the planet. However, like in all things, it is not about what has been written on paper, it is all about translating them into tangible development for the society.
Like I mentioned earlier, the SDGs have been designed to be Private sector led. However, we all know that businesses are profit oriented and will seek to cut all corners possible to make profit, including damaging the environment. While the thinking around the goals is that if business key into the goals and deliver, they will be able to do business and be more profitable for a longer period. This is not something many businesses, especially in these parts, care about, indeed, that is not how they think. We continue to see examples of businesses that degrade the environment, subject employees to debilitating conditions, promote harmful behaviour and give nothing back to their host communities. Even today, the culture of corporate responsibility is still something not many companies have a proper strategy around. For many, it is something they do annually, spend some money on some obscure projects for the opportunity of the Photo op without creating any impact at all. It thus appears to me like a tall order to expect these same businesses to key in and drive the attainment of the SDGs.
So how do we ensure that at the end of the day the SDGs are not just another feel-good rhetoric and a complete waste of everybody’s time?
I believe some of these are what this National Conference aims to define and it will be interesting to read the communique that comes out of it. However, one must note that like in most things, we are already running late. Oftentimes our leaders are quick to sign up to global agreements in a show of how great a global player we are but when they return, bureaucracy and our general penchant for running down good ideas especially when it behoves on the civil service to implement, ensures we hardly register any success.
I have however read about how the SDGs presents a great opportunity for business who will now need to collect, assure and report new data and evolving their reporting too. This is in addition to having to rethink their strategy and change their business behaviour so they can clearly show how they are contributing towards the attainment of the goals. This essentially involves overhauling business visions, long-term strategy and processes towards becoming more sustainable and profitable for the long term. The SDGs are also a framework to identify opportunities perhaps in new markets or create a demand for new or alternative products and to expose risks too. These are the thoughts Nigerian businesses must begin to consider as they consider whether or not to key into the SDGs.
On the other hand, to ‘force’ compliance, the public — customers, suppliers, civil society and government — must engage and essentially put pressure on businesses to evidence how they are helping or hindering the achievement of the Global Goals, and hear what they are doing about them. For this to happen, however, the people have to be informed about the goals and what they seek to achieve. Right now, this has not even started in Nigeria. One only hopes that the agencies of government and the NGOs will do the needful in engaging all stakeholders and publicising the goals and that businesses will respond accordingly for us to make this country and the plant itself, a better place for our children and the generation to come.