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New Global Commission Aimed at Quantifying Business Case for Helping to Achieve SDGs

Image credit: United Nations

Businesses that join global efforts to end extreme poverty and protect the planet’s finite natural resources can reap great rewards and protect their long-term performance, a proposition that will be tested by a new commission launched today at the World Economic Forum.

Created by the former United Nations Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch-Brown and Unilever CEO Paul Polman, the Global Commission on Business and Sustainable Development will work over the next year to articulate and quantify the compelling economic case for businesses to engage in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including:

  • Significant economic rewards — through new markets, investment opportunities and innovations — if the world tackles challenges including poverty, inequality and environmental stress
  • Risks to business performance and stability — and increased fragmentation, resource competition and fragility — if the world fails to address these risks
  • The necessity to work with governments, international organizations and civil society in order to build a future where businesses can perform — with inclusive, sustainable growth and widespread job creation

“A massive prize awaits business if it successfully ushers in an era of shared prosperity and increased sustainability,” Commission Co-Chair Malloch-Brown said. “Governments and international organizations alone cannot build the future we need. Business is the key to accelerating the transition.”

The Global Commission brings together international leaders from business, labor, financial institutions and civil society, who will present a comprehensive report in one year’s time, outlining new business and financial models, as well as market opportunities for companies who are invested in sustainable approaches.

Since 2000, the world has seen extreme poverty more than halved. Business — which provides 60 percent of GDP, 80 percent of inward capital flows and 90 percent of jobs in developing countries — has been central to this success story but can play a greater and more constructive role in realizing growth and development opportunities.

“There is no business case for enduring poverty," Polman said. "We have an opportunity to unlock trillions of dollars through new markets, investments and innovation — but to do so, we must challenge our current practices and address poverty, inequality and environmental challenges. Every business will benefit from operating in a more equitable, resilient world if we achieve the Sustainable Development Goals."

“There is a case to be made that vast economic incentives exist for changing business as usual,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. “Business can create the fair wage jobs to propel societal development that leaves no one behind. Business innovation can deliver the technological advancements needed to achieve an efficient, net zero emissions economy. And business and society could both win, if more businesses recognize this and act upon it.”

In addition to co-founders Malloch-Brown and Polman, members of the Commission include Burrow; Laura Alfaro, Professor, Harvard Business School; Peter Bakker, President, World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD); Bob Collymore, CEO of Safaricom; John Danilovich, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC); Hendrik du Toit, CEO, Investec Asset Management; John Fallon, CEO of Pearson PLCKen Frazier, CEO of Merck & Co.Mo Ibrahim, Founder of Celtel and the Mo Ibrahim FoundationDonald Kaberuka, President, African Development Bank; Sam Mostyn, President of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID);  Roberto Oliveira de Lima, CEO of NaturaDr. Amy Jadesimi, Managing Director and CEO of Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics Base (LADOL); Lise Kingo, Executive Director of the UN Global CompactArif Naqvi, Founder and Group Chief Executive of The Abraaj GroupVineet Rai, co-founder and Chairman, Intellecap; and Gavin Wilson, CEO of IFC Asset Management Company LLC.

Malloch-Brown will act as Co-Chair of the Commission, while Jeremy Oppenheim — who led the development of the influential New Climate Economy report — will act as Program Director.

The Global Commission has five key objectives:

  • First, to decode the SDGs and show why it makes sense for business to engage on sustainable development at a far more strategic level than it has to date.
  • Second, to show how new business models can align profitability with social purpose.
  • Third, to map out how new financial tools can crowd in private capital and align economic and social returns.
  • Fourth, to show how business, government, and society can work effectively together to build the partnerships needed for SDG delivery.
  • Fifth, to quantify the efficiency gains in achieving sustainable development if business is fully aligned with the SDGs.

The Commission will conduct foundational research, and engage in fact-finding dialogue with a diverse cross-section of key stakeholders, including business leaders, investors, civil society representatives, social entrepreneurs and academic experts. The initiative aims to explore current and future disruptive business models, understanding what they mean for sustainable development, and to map out new financing mechanisms the world will need to reach the SDGs. It will investigate changes in core business operations and behaviors that go far beyond traditional CSR and voluntary partnerships.

The UN Foundation, the WBCSD, the Overseas Development Institute and The B Team are supporting the Commission, which is also receiving funding support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the governments of Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The Commission is the latest initiative aimed at enabling business to understand and engage with the SDGs, which will shape the global development agenda from now until 2030 and explicitly call on business to use creativity and innovation to address sustainable development challenges. Just after their release in September, GRI, the UN Global Compact and the WBCSD launched a tool to help companies navigate and contribute to the Goals: The SDG Compass is a guide that companies can use to align their strategies with the relevant SDGs, and measure and manage their impacts. It is supported by a live and constantly updated inventory of business indicators and tools.


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