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Progress towards the SDGs: The role of the private sector

By Mia Zickerman-White

A number of recent developments have highlighted the fragility of the progress made towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Today it is clear that progress towards the SDGs and 2030 Agenda is dependent on the private sector’s contributions. 

2020 offered the world an unexpected turn. The onset of COVID-19 has resulted in over 4 million deaths worldwide. Despite this, we continue to be in the midst of this challenge close to two years since its discovery. In addition to the death toll, COVID-19 has born witness to a complex array of challenges and consequences. Where the global community may previously have been confident in development progress, today’s pandemic reality has shown the fragility of aid and development systems.


Children in Yemen

Yemen is regarded one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.



SDG Regressions

It is within this context that new challenges have emerged. These challenges are continuing to undermine the progress that has been made by the public sector and development community towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  

For example, last year the crisis in Yemen was named the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. But this year, the multi-faceted crisis has deteriorated further. We have also seen increased tensions and violence in Gaza as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Each of these incidents alone have resulted in regression in SDGs such as 1 No Poverty, 2 Zero Hunger and 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

The recent recapturing of Afghanistan by Taliban forces has been reflected in significant changes across the country, particularly for gender equality. Not only are there uncertainties over the future of women and girls’ access to education, but the Taliban’s final list of government appointees also included no women. Many Afghan women are continuing to protest these changes. But, the situation suggests a substantial change in the country’s approach to women’s rights and progress towards SDG 5 Gender Equality.


The Private Sector is More Important Than Ever

These events not only demonstrate the fragility of progress towards the SDGs, but more importantly the need for more urgent and effective progress. This is to combat reversals and to accelerate the long-term and sustainable change that the world requires. The unfolding of global events over the last couple of years has made it clear that one key element is missing from the 2030 Agenda: real and efficient private sector commitment. With the private sector’s commitment, additional time and resources can be devoted to the cause. 

The 17 SDGs, their 169 targets and 247 indicators were originally designed to serve governments and nation states. Despite this, and as we are continuing to see, the success of the SDGs will not be realised without the private sector’s contribution. Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, acknowledged this when declaring the private sector ‘more important than ever’.   



Antonio Guterres believes the private sector is more important than ever


Economic Possibilities

The World Economic Forum states that the funding gap for the SDGs equates to trillions of dollars each year. Yet, according to the IMF, the private sector accounts for over 60% of GDP in most countries. The private sector is as diverse as the development challenges the world is facing. This offers vast opportunities for harnessing their capabilities to promote local and international welfare, for people and the environment.

Private sector contributions to support the Agenda do not need to be a financial burden for businesses either. Businesses can adopt a Shared Value Approach, as CTG has done. This approach embeds sustainability into the heart of a long-term business strategy. Businesses can harness the power of actions that support business growth, while simultaneously supporting community development. This therefore creates Shared Value for businesses and local communities. 


Round table discussion to promote progress towards the SDGs at the CTG summit

CTG strives to promote multi-stakeholder collaboration to promote progress towards the SDGs through events like the Committed to Good Summit.


Eliminating Poverty and Promoting Decent Work

The private sector has long been a key player in reducing poverty. It is said that the private sector provides 90% of jobs in developing countries. While this does not distinguish between the formal and informal economy, it demonstrates the huge scope of potential that exists for the private sector to mobilise individuals into decent work. This itself brings a dual incentive by contributing to the reduction of poverty through job and financial security. Something as simple as job security can offer huge benefits for deprived communities. With the knowledge of guaranteed income, individuals can plan ahead, budget and therefore pay for ‘luxuries’, such as education for their children, that are often otherwise out of reach. 

Gender Equality and Inclusion

Aside from decent work and poverty, the private sector can make strides in contributing to SDG 5 Gender Equality and SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities. Organisations can increase the representation of excluded or minority groups across their workforce by making considered choices when hiring. Such as, how you are hiring people and who you are hiring.  

CTG believes in the ripple effect. By empowering people through positive change, we can make substantial contributions to local development that spreads far beyond our direct reach. For example, promoting gender equality and equal representation across our organisation can help set a community standard that harnesses the productive potential of female community members. By subverting traditional gender stereotypes, simply by working or by working in roles that don’t coincide with gender roles, our female professionals inspire younger generations of girls to seek work in the formal economy.

The same applies to minority groups. By creating safe and welcoming workplaces for all, businesses can create environments where people are able to come together across national and ethnic divides for a shared purpose and prosperous future. This is especially true in our countries of operation where clan or tribe dynamics can cause tension that diffuses and impacts the wider political situation of the country. 


CTG Career Development Workshop Gaza promoting progress towards SDG 5

The private sector promote progress towards the SDGs  by striving for gender-equal representation in their workforce.


How to Realise Private Sector SDG Action  

As mentioned earlier, progress towards the SDGs so far which has been predominantly driven by the public sector has been slow and is fragile. To realise change and valuable progress, the private sector must ramp up its contributions. More important than that, and in testament to SDG 17 Partnerships For The Goals, the public sector must encourage private sector contributions. Mobilising public-private partnerships with the specific purpose of advancing progress towards the SDGs can be a good way to do this.

The SDGs were originally designed for the public sector and governments. This can make private sector alignment with the SDGs a challenge for those who are unfamiliar. However there are many resources that exist to help organisations align its business with the goals and take steps to further SDG Action. Below you will find some examples pulled from the United Nations Global Compact website:

For more information on the SDGs and how to align them with your business, feel free to reach out to discuss this further by emailing Mia at mia@ctg.org