Pakistan’s track record on inclusive development has not been enviable. However, the endorsement of the Sustainable Development Goals by the private sector has rekindled hope of extended ownership and better performance.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) embody the current global social contract and ends in 2030. It was launched at the UN annual meeting in Washington in 2015, the final year for the ‘Millennium Development Goals’.

Pakistan struggled with the MDGs. While there was some progress all eight goals were missed, some by a wide margin. The performance was poor despite a detailed strategy paper, complete with yearly benchmarks in place.

The country underperformed on the MDGs under both military and civilian rule as the progress was tardy throughout the 15 year period.

Experts, supported by United Nation Development Programme (UNDP), maintained that the lack of public awareness — which could have pressurised the government to deliver on its MDG commitments — and the limited participation of the private sector in the transformational endeavour were two key reasons for the underperformance.


“We aim to do well in business by doing good for the community” — Hussain Ali Talib


The situation appears slightly different this time around. Prime Minister Nawaz’s government moved swiftly to broaden the ownership of the SDGs by getting them endorsed unanimously by the National Assembly as early as February 2016. This committed all political parties to the development agenda 2030.

Subsequently, parliamentary task forces at both tiers (federal and provincial) were constituted to initiate the process for legislation if and when required. The federal government also created an SDG secretariat to coordinate and monitor progress.

According to information gathered from multiple official and business sources including stakeholders; the private sector, civil rights organisations, NGOs, think tanks, academia and development partners have been invited multiple times to discuss and debate national and provincial plans for better results.

At the press conference for the launch of the SDGs, companies such as Unilever Pakistan and Standard Chartered Bank participated as co-sponsors. Both the bank and the company said their principals have woven the SDG sustainability agenda into their business model.

Explaining their position, Hussain Ali Talib, senior manager corporate affairs at Unilever said: “It means that our business model is now driven by purpose-driven products that embody sustainability as a key performance indicator. We aim to do well in business by doing good for the community.

“We moved away from CSR (corporate social responsibility) towards a more holistic approach”, he said mentioning the Unilever livelihood project ‘Guddi Baji’ over the phone. For the project the company trained village women and invested in establishing home based beauty parlours that used Unilever beauty products.

“It empowered women by equipping them with skills, establishing a business in their premises while expanding the reach of our brand”, he said. He also referred to ice cream selling trikes in this regard.

The company claimed in the material mailed to Dawn: “Unilever has reduced the environmental impact of its operations, cutting CO2 emissions by 33pc; water by 34pc; and has also become a zero-waste-to-landfill organisation”.

In May 2016 Unilever partnered with Google, Standard Chartered Bank, Plan International and some European missions in Pakistan for a round table conference focused on taking collaborative action to increase the impact of various development projects initiated by the participants.

An SCB executive informed that the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI) had announced its support of the SDGs and that effort was afoot to get endorsements from local business forums.

“There are at least 50 firms and social organisations in our network, including some telcoms like Telenor, ready to cooperate and collaborate to achieve the SDGs in Pakistan.

Planning Commission (PC) insiders told Dawn that a separate SDG cell is being set up. “The real work: taking stock of the current status with comparable data in each of the 17 goal areas and setting realistic targets and annual benchmarks to monitor progress, has yet to start for which funds will be provided by the UNDP” an economist at the PC said.

According to information provided by the UNDP the federal and provincial governments have already committed $15.5m as co-financing to set up SDG Support Units, which will coordinate activities at two tiers.

The UN agency would match the amount from its sources. It will be used for: (1) mainstreaming the SDGs policy and plans; (2) data and reporting; (3) inclusive budgeting process and tracking expenditure; (4) innovation.

Experts believe a demanding issue would, however, be to develop a model for private companies committed to achieving the SDGs and their terms of engagement with the public sector.

There is a need to develop and achieve scales in new patterns of sustainable production. The effort will involve a short term cost for long term development. It would be important to forge partnerships with donors and financial institutions to close the resource gap.

All this will require increased effort to achieve innovation in technology and business models.

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, December 19th, 2016

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