Do you know what Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are?
Most people don’t, including journalists who are supposed to be covering this beat and businessmen who are supposed to be at the vanguard of implementation.
Then there are multinationals that devote a lot of time, energy and resources to developing reports and having conferences to raise awareness about their efforts of SDGs. And those efforts undoubtedly bring meaningful change to the lives of the people they impact. For example, Nestlé Pakistan claims to have improved skills and livelihood of 75,000 farmers directly or indirectly, Engro has educated over 10,000 children and Habib Bank Limited aims to have a 50 per cent ratio for female candidates when hiring at a junior level.
However, at the core, the understanding is missing that SDGs are not the new buzzword for Corporate Social Responsibility.
Limited exercises of philanthropy help people in the now, but when the altruistic programme ends, its benefits will taper off
Think of it this way: you can lose weight through a fad diet and two-hour gym sessions for a month but if your lifestyle is not going to change, the lost weight will indubitably find its way back. Similarly, if SDGs are not incorporated along the value chain and become a form of doing business, limited exercises of philanthropy help people in the now, but when the altruistic programme ends, its benefits will taper off.
According to S&P Global, putting SDGs at the heart of the world’s economic strategy could offer opportunities of $12 trillion and 380 million jobs a year by 2030. However, the emphasis on SDGs is not is in economic terms as much as on social terms.
Multinationals and export-oriented companies are well aware of the importance of SDGs in terms of global perception. This is why many are the vanguards for climate change and trumpet around about the number of trees planted — an affliction that the current premier is addicted to as well.
As wise as Greta Thunberg is about the importance of climate change — and by extension trees — the motivation is based more on participating in easy, non-controversial, image-building that is accepted at the international stage than invest in harder, more messy problems at home such as increasing gender parity in an increasingly conservative environment with the masses nodding approval at Taliban’s anti-female policies.
No wonder that Goal 13 — Climate Change is the one goal that has been met —the multifarious reports that indicate Pakistan is among the top 10 countries that are most vulnerable to climate change notwithstanding.
One argument presented in the defense of the corporate sector is that that the West has its share of the blame, implicitly if not explicitly. Pakistan competes on the basis of price in terms of exports. How then are companies to invest heavily in SDG goals when they are slashing prices to enable the lower-income classes of the US to garb themselves in Pakistani-made apparel?
While government efforts are politically motivated and corporate efforts motivated by tax credits and global perceptions, lasting, substantial change will remain missing and SDGs will be rebranded in the next decade the way their predecessor Millennium Development Goals were.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 27th, 2021