sustainable development

The private sector as a force for social transformation

The global success of the Sustainable Development Goals demands diverse and unprecedented resources – public and private, national and international. In this context, the new development agenda highlights the central role the private sector can play, given its economic relevance: today companies account for 60% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 80% of capital flows and 90% of jobs in developing countries.

The Agenda 2030 thus recognizes the importance of the business fabric in the process of sustainable development and calls on all companies to apply their creativity and innovation to addressing sustainable development challenges. Entrepreneurs, SMEs and the private sector in general are consolidating as catalysts for positive social change alongside other key and more traditional development actors and today they are considered a part of the solution.

Sustainable development as an opportunity (and not only as a commitment)

For the business fabric, SDGs should not only be seen as a commitment but also as a great business prospect. They can provide economies with important opportunities for the private sector to open up new market and attract foreign investment.

However, for companies to really contribute to a positive transformation, a reconsideration of their role in society is paramount. For a long time, positive social or environmental impact and positive financial results were considered two separate components, being generally accepted that it was possible to achieve one or the other, but never both simultaneously. For SDGs to succeed, this narrow conception must change.

Instead of adopting an approach overly focused on the short term and on profits, companies have the opportunity to align their core business strategies with sustainable development and work with others to achieve substantial changes at the system level, accomplishing a more humane economy.

Ultimately, it is about understanding that, behind this commitment, there must be the fundamental notion that the well-being and prosperity of companies and societies are interdependent in the long term.

Driving business commitment with SDGs

At country level, it is important to implement a strategy based on several interlinked lines of action that systematically drive business commitment with SDGs:

  • Awareness: to help companies understand the opportunities brought by the SDGs.
  • Training and competencies development: centred on principles of sustainable development.
  • Recognition of leadership: to serve as inspiration through good business practices.
  • Political dialogue: to involve responsible companies in national SDGs action plans and policies.
  • Strategic partnerships with various stakeholders: to facilitate collaboration and collective action.

Of course, individual companies should also undertake their own path. In fact, one of the major challenges for the private sector in relation to the SDGs is overcoming the tendency to reduce this task to an specific issue of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), since it is a bet that should be led by the entrepreneurs and managerial positions themselves, should be included in the business model and integrated in all of the value chain’s processes.

So what, in particular, can be the positive contributions of companies to the Sustainable Development Goals?

Concrete transformative actions

There is no doubt companies can contribute with innovative solutions and resource mobilization, for example by developing sustainable business models (such as circular economy or inclusive business), or by encouraging technological innovations that accelerate the fulfilment of the agenda, harnessing the potential of the digital era, Internet, artificial intelligence, Big Data and Blockchain.

The SGD 8, in particular, which refers to the creation of decent jobs and the promotion of economic growth, is a clear priority for all of Southern Africa, as well as for Mozambique. In this sense, supporting decent work conditions for all employees, encouraging suppliers to do the same, educating and training the workforce and investing in R&D are clear and achievable actions that would greatly contribute to the achievement of this specific goal.

The Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development must become a priority frame of reference for the private sector all around the world, in Africa and in Mozambique. Only in this way will the private sector be able to exploit all its potential as a factor and driving force of social transformation.