Private sector’s role in implementing SDGs

UN Global Compact: Building networks with public-private partnerships worldwide
From Africa Renewal: 
Lise Kingo (centre), Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact  at the UN Global Compact Board Meeting in New York, USA. Photo: UN Global Compact
Lise Kingo (centre), Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact at the UN Global Compact Board Meeting in New York, USA. Photo: UN Global Compact
The UN Private Sector Forum 2017, to be held in New York this September, will bring together corporate CEOs, captains of industry, heads of state and government, UN officials and civil society to explore partnerships and other ways the private sector can finance SDGs. Africa Renewal reached out to Lise Kingo, the executive director of the UN Global Compact (which is mobilizing a global movement of sustainable companies) to discuss the role of public-private partnerships in Africa.

Africa Renewal: A successful sustainable development agenda requires partnerships between governments, the private sector, civil society and others, built on set principles and values. What is the role of the UN Global Compact in driving this agenda?

Ms. Kingo: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is truly transformational and unifying, as it provides us with a blueprint and an action plan for a better world. No single sector will be able to deliver on the SDGs alone, and the private sector shares many of the same interests and goals as governments in terms of creating more resilient and prosperous societies and markets, since business also needs stable societies in order to thrive.

How does your organisation come in?

At the UN Global Compact we want to create a global movement for sustainable companies and stakeholders. Our starting point is to ensure that all our 9,000 business signatories adopt and integrate our ten principles—in the areas of human rights, labour, environment, and anticorruption—into their strategies and operations. And through our ‘Making Global Goals Local Business’ campaign we are pushing to activate business to deliver accelerated impact on the SDGs through areas such as breakthrough innovation, new business models and partnerships.     

The UN Private Sector Forum 2017 in September will focus on the role of the private sector in implementing SDGs. What do you think is the role of the private sector in attaining the SDGs?

The private sector has the power of innovation and ability to create many of the solutions needed to address the challenges the world is facing today. However, with less than 5,000 days left to meet the SDGs, we need to mobilize businesses to scale up their impacts significantly. We need many more companies to accelerate their investments and business activities to deliver on the global goals.

This year’s UN Private Sector Forum will address a key driver for sustainable development—financing for the SDGs. New financial instruments and products that combine development aid with public and private investments can eliminate some of the risks associated with private investments with a long-term return.

African governments are aggressively pursuing partnerships with the private sector for collaborations in various projects, the so-called public-private partnerships (PPPs). What does the continent stand to gain from these partnerships and what are the possible challenges or risks that governments should be cautious about?

Public-private partnerships have the capacity to promote and spur innovation and leverage new technologies that can then be scaled up or replicated for wider impact. For instance, the mobile telecommunications industry in Africa has shown some great examples not only of innovation for development through mobile cash transfers and the use of mobile technology to advance health and education, but also of partnerships with governments to widen the scale of these efforts and then replicating these models in other African countries.

How so?

By 2030, about 60% of people in Africa will be living in cities, with numbers as high as 80% in some countries. This rapid urbanization is an excellent opportunity for public-private partnerships to direct investment towards creating more sustainable cities, new employment opportunities through innovation, entrepreneurship, and improved health and sanitation systems. 

Do you have an example?

For example, over the past decade, public-private partnerships have led to new transportation infrastructure in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Nigeria, linking millions of people in cities and providing cleaner and more energy-efficient means of transport. However, without targeted incentives and objectives for connectivity outside of urban centres, those in rural regions—particularly women, girls and the elderly—can get left behind, thereby increasing economic inequality and social exclusion within countries while further contributing to overpopulation in urban areas.

How can Africa overcome this?

There is a need to leverage local innovation and insights for public-private partnerships. Many of the partnerships we are seeing in Africa now involve large national or multinational firms undertaking costly large-scale projects. However, there is an untapped innovation marketplace in Africa with sustainable local-level solutions already addressing many of the social and infrastructural needs that require the right partner to scale up. 

Going forward, what will be the main focus of the UN Global Compact in Africa?

We launched our Africa Strategy in 2014 that emphasized the role of the private sector in meeting Africa’s infrastructure needs and creating an enabling environment for private-sector development, awareness-raising of responsible business practices and consensus building through key governmental and institutional partnerships.

This Africa Strategy was a first step. We acknowledge that we need to do more on the continent, particularly in terms of building the capacity of our local networks there and their ability to meet the ambitious goals set forth in the 2030 Agenda and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

What are you working on in Africa currently?

We are building strong institutionalized Global Compact local networks in Africa to fully support local businesses and subsidiaries of multinational corporations that contribute to the 2030 Agenda.

In September we will be launching a local network in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which will be our 11th network in Africa. The others are in Egypt, Kenya, Malawi, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia and Uganda.  As we grow our presence in the region, there is new untapped potential in our ability to identify cross-border linkages among networks and companies within Africa.