• Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Purpose-driven businesses and the power of the SDGs

Developing countries face $4 trn investment deficit meeting SDGs – UNCTAD

Africa is on the cusp of a breakthrough. Its young, tech-savvy population is bursting with ideas, and a growing middle class is hungry for progress. But a shadow hangs over this potential, millions still struggle with poverty, limited healthcare, and environmental threats. This is a moral failing, and a roadblock to true prosperity. Here’s where purpose-driven businesses can become the missing piece. If businesses confront these problems directly, they can unleash Africa’s true power and build a better future for everyone.

“This cooperative, driven by a commitment to sustainability, is conserving precious water resources, and also empowering a new generation of farmers. This aligns with SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation).”

This is beyond chasing profits. Today’s consumers and employees care deeply about purpose. Imagine companies working hand-in-hand with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically those most critical for Africa, like ensuring everyone has access to quality healthcare and protecting the environment for future generations. It’s not handouts, it’s a double win. Businesses reach new customers in Africa’s booming communities, attract talented people who want to make a real difference, and build a brand everyone can trust. Think about a young girl in a rural village finally getting the medical care she needs. That’s the kind of impact businesses can have. The result is long-term success for both businesses and Africa.

Read also: Nigeria far behind in meeting SDGs – Reps

Why purpose matters

Millennials and Gen Z, the driving force of the global workforce, are increasingly drawn to companies with a strong social conscience. Studies show purpose can boost employee loyalty by a significant margin, with Gallup research indicating a true score correlation of 0.51 between employee engagement (which is closely linked to purpose) and overall performance. This translates to businesses with highly engaged employees experiencing more than double the odds of success compared to those with low engagement.

Integrating SDGs into business strategy

Transforming purpose into action requires a strategic approach. First, businesses should identify their niche within the SDGs. Analyse the goals and choose one or two that seamlessly align with their core operations. Think of a phone company helping people in rural areas get medical care they can afford, using their phones.

Next comes innovation for impact. Companies should develop products and services that directly address their chosen SDG. A clothing manufacturer, for example, could create a garment recycling program, tackling waste while creating jobs in the waste management sector. Collaboration is key. Building partnerships with NGOs, governments, and other businesses amplifies impact. A pharmaceutical company could partner with healthcare providers to deliver essential medication to underserved communities.

Rounding out this approach is transparency and measurement. Set clear social impact goals, regularly measure progress, and share the results publicly through annual reports and websites. This shows the company is serious about sustainability and lets everyone see their progress.

Here are some resources to equip your business on its journey towards becoming a force for good.

The UN Global Compact offers free online SDG Business Engagement Tools, a framework to identify relevant Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and align your business strategy accordingly. (https://unglobalcompact.org/).

For those seeking practical solutions, Business Fights Poverty’s interactive SDG Action Navigator provides case studies and helps you discover how similar businesses are tackling social and environmental challenges within their core operations.(https://businessfightspoverty.org/).

And if innovation is your passion, Stanford Social Innovation Review is an online treasure trove of articles, case studies, and resources specifically designed to inspire companies to develop solutions for a better world. Dive into their content and get ready to be inspired! (https://ssir.org/).

Examples of success

Across Africa, companies are already leading the way in driving economic development. M-Pesa, a mobile money transfer service in Kenya, has revolutionised financial inclusion, particularly for the unbanked population. This allows individuals to participate more fully in the economy, acting as both consumers and entrepreneurs.

Another example is Jumia, a pan-African e-commerce giant, which has created a thriving online marketplace, empowering countless small businesses and entrepreneurs across the continent. Jumia provides a platform for these businesses to sell their products to a wider customer base, often bypassing geographical limitations. This not only boosts their sales and reach but also fosters a more formal and digitised business environment, propelling them towards long-term growth.

Furthermore, organisations like eHealth Africa are making significant strides in improving public health infrastructure. Building and supporting laboratories across the continent, they contribute to earlier disease detection, improved response times to outbreaks, and ultimately, healthier communities. eHealth’s work strengthens healthcare systems, empowers local medical personnel, and creates a ripple effect of positive health outcomes across Africa.

The Global appeal

African businesses can do good and do well by weaving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their everyday operations. Let’s take agriculture, a major driver of African economies. Picture a group of Kenyan farmers working together in a sunny part of Kenya. These farmers are implementing sustainable water management practices, like capturing rainwater in ingenious rooftop systems. They’re also investing in training local farmers in these techniques, empowering them to become stewards of their land. Now just imagine a seasoned farmer with calloused hands, smiling as he explains the new water management techniques to a group of eager young women. This cooperative, driven by a commitment to sustainability, is conserving precious water resources, and also empowering a new generation of farmers. This aligns with SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation). In this scenario, this practice will attract not only environmentally conscious consumers, but also potential partners and investors seeking to be a part of Africa’s sustainable growth story. This is just one example of how African businesses can lead the way in sustainable development.

Ota Akhigbe is a passionate advocate for sustainable development, she is the Director of Partnerships and Programs at eHealth Africa and is committed to positioning businesses as a force for good in Africa.