Last week the great and the good descended upon Manhattan in a rare show of solidarity for a common purpose. The common purpose is the global aspiration among all nations to achieve equitable prosperity for all mankind, and in our lifetime.
World leaders adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that seek to do two things: advance equitable prosperity and end extreme poverty; and, save the humankind and other forms of life from the peril of dangerous climate change.
The SDGs, unlike their predecessors, were framed on a broad consensus forged by wide grass-roots consultation and inter-governmental negotiations. The SDGs provide a broad platform for citizens, private sector and civil society to partner with government to provide services, create value, and promote accountability and equitable prosperity.
In the SDGs, cities matter because more than 50 percent of kind now lives in cities, and the pace of urbanization in Africa is unprecedented. The SDGs recognize that our patterns of consumption and production are unsustainable and that we must take urgent action to end our addiction to fossil fuels, which is causing dangerous climate change. The SDGs recognize that it is not enough to end poverty. All nations must promote inclusive economic growth and not just employment but decent work for all.
Overall, these goals are novel. These goals are non negotiable. These goals are inextricably bound with the basic human aspirations of wellbeing, justice liberty and equality. Framing the goals was the easy part. Even easier was gathering all the world leaders to pontificate about their endorsement and renewed commitment to deliver on the SDGs. But we all remember this time 15 years ago when world leaders gathered and endorsed the now defunct MDGs. Will this time be different?
Delivering SDGs will take more than pontificating at the UN General Assembly. Delivering the SDGs, especially for the countries in this part of the world, will require political commitment at the highest level. Delivering SDGs will demand re-framing national development priorities, combating corruption and upholding fundamental freedoms and liberties for all citizens. Delivering SDGs will require active, engaged citizens.
Delivering SDGs will require a fundamental shift in business-society relations. We must forge unconventional partnerships, and we must go beyond business as usual. Business must go beyond corporate social responsibility, public relations and compunction. There must be a robust, compelling business case. I was a CEO I would just call the SDGs business development goals. Every SDG is a business proposition. Think about new investments in clean energy, new portable technology for delivering clean and safe water, new models for delivering education and health services to underserved populations. Think about deploying modern technology that combines satellite applications, cellphones and spectroscopy to deliver real-time agricultural advisory to smallholder farmers. How about a solar panel on the roofs of the billion households in Africa?
The SDGs also provide an opportunity to re-set the relationship between private sector and NGOs. For decades what we have seen is mistrust between these two communities. Private sector often have the money but they are motivated by the financial bottom-line, the shareholder value and hence short-term profit. NGOs especially those working in the developing world, have deep knowledge of the needs of local communities in the growth markets of the future. A new partnership between omnipresent NGOs and business could unlock tremendous value for business, delivering long-term profits for business and achieving sustainable development goals for hundreds of millions of families.
Moreover, delivering SDGs, especially in Africa, will require a new relationship between citizens and their elected leaders. States must be less extractive and more accountable. Power must be more distributed and less concentrated in the hands of the privileged elite, hence more accountable, servant leadership.
Delivering SDGs will require deep structural reform in most governments to encourage policy integration and cross-sectoral coordination. In Kenya, this will be especially complex, requiring political and managerial skills to achieve policy integration on one hand and inter-governmental coordination on the other.
Delivering SDGs will require knowledge institutions, including universities to build and deepen a new culture of, interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary thinking to support formulation, coordination and implementation of integrated policies.
The SDGs are ambitious and onerous but now we own them. Delivering SDGs will demand planetary stewardship and responsible consumption from all of us. We must never forget that we are not proprietors but trustees of mother earth, our common heritage.