Trade Forum Features

How business can help us meet the Global Goals

7 March 2016
ITC News
Businesses should look at the Sustainable Development Goals as opportunities instead of barriers

Think about the state of the world today. One in ten people live on less than US$ 1.90 per day and 20% of people in developing countries exist below the poverty line. Almost 800 million people are undernourished and 57 million children do not attend primary school. Meanwhile, 2.5 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation. Women earn 24% less than men.
With no action on climate change, the world’s temperature could increase by 4.5°C in the future.

Now imagine our world in 2050. Twothirds of the global population will be living in cities and 70% additional agriculture output will be needed. One-fifth of the population is over the age of 60 and 80% of this aging population lives in developed nations. The demand for constrained resources will grow to 130 billion tons (from 50 billion tons today.

These scenarios present profound challenges for governments and the international development sector. In September 2015 the 193 members of the United Nations adopted the most ambitious development agenda yet to address them: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 objectives aimed at ending poverty, reducing inequalities and fixing climate change.

So what does this have to do with the business world? It could help fulfil its social responsibility obligations through philanthropy to help with the challenges above or look at the challenges as opportunities.

Let’s take a different view of the world. By 2020, the organic fruits and vegetables market is expected to be worth US$62.9 billion. The market for telemedicine solutions will grow to US$34 billion. Healthcare solutions for the base of the pyramid will surge to US$87.7 billion. Revenues from micro-grids will soar to nearly US$20 billion. Twenty million electric vehicles will be on the road and fully half of global vehicle production will come from developing countries. Those searching for talented workers will find them in emerging markets.


Leading companies are already turning today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities. The business world can leverage the SDGs as a framework for growth. This was discussed in a new Accenture Strategy report, ‘Corporate Disruptors: How business is turning the world’s greatest challenges into opportunities,’ produced in collaboration with the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders Community.

In the report we discuss how leading companies view the SDGs as a way to help them migrate from corporate social responsibility to corporate social opportunity, thereby becoming more competitive and resilient in an increasingly volatile and complex world. Some companies even view corporate social responsibility as their reason for being, developing new business models to capitalize on the opportunities provided by the Global Goals.

Consider, for example, GlaxoSmith- Kline’s (GSK) re-investment of 20% of its profit in the least developed countries to develop healthcare infrastructure through the training of frontline health workers. Since 2009, the programme trained close to 40,000 medical workers who have reached out to 11 million people across 35 countries. This has positively impacted the GSK brand as a responsible pharmaceutical provider and has helped develop a future market for products and services.


Dangote Group, the largest manufacturing conglomerate in West Africa, is also worthy of mention in this regard. It has invested close to US$6.5 million in the Dangote Academy in Nigeria to address its difficulty in finding employees with the right technical skills. The initiative is helping reduce talent sourcing costs while providing vocational training to young people.

These are just two of the many examples of how leading and innovative companies are responding to global challenges with opportunities that grow and protect their businesses. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The potential for business is massive – from new consumer groups to growing demand for sustainable products and services to clean technologies that reduce cost to a new and talented workforce. The SDGs provide both a guiding light and a practical framework for companies that want to grow their business, increase competiveness and create sustainable value.

Some companies will naturally align with one or two goals, maybe even a handful of them. Others may touch upon all 17. Still others may choose to leverage nonaligned goals (or their underlying business opportunities) to move into new markets or create new businesses. The key is that this is not an all-or-nothing scenario.