Monday, October 26, 2020

Private sector crucial to achieve UN sustainable development goals

Oct 13. 2020
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By Gita Sabharwal, Suphachai Chearavanont
Special to The Nation

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us clearly how our societies are bound together and our welfares are interdependent.

We must be committed to a recovery that leaves no one behind and restores progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs). To reach those goals by 2030 will require strong partnerships among all stakeholders and remarkable innovation to ensure that we all are included.  

The 17 interlinking SDGs are vital to ensure inclusive development for all, covering such areas as poverty reduction, gender equality and humanity’s relationship with the environment, to name just a few aspects. As we have seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, the most marginalised and vulnerable groups are the most affected in times of crisis, but the crisis also starkly shows that everyone’s welfare is connected and the well-being of the poorest among us directly affects us all.

Progress towards the SDGs will determine the welfare of people and communities across the world, including in Thailand. Yet a recent survey in the country found that there is relatively low awareness about the SDGs, especially among young people who are so crucial to the future of sustainable development. 

Polling suggests that only 26 per cent of people in Thailand are aware of the United Nations, and only 19 per cent of young people. Clearly more needs to be done to raise awareness that the SDGs are fundamentally about people and communities, not some rarified theoretical concept.

The UN estimates that Bt50  per day per person would achieve the SDGs in Thailand. To achieve that benchmark, partnerships are essential. In fact, all of the UN’s work depends on building strong partnerships with and between governments, the private sector, non-governmental organisations, civil society and the general public, including young people. These coalitions must be based on the principles of inclusiveness and equality, ensuring that no one is left behind.

In Thailand, as elsewhere, the private sector has an essential role to advance the SDGs, address poverty and inequalities, and work collectively to weather the pandemic and build back better. 

A critical coalition within the private sector in the country is represented by the Global Compact Network Thailand, which brings together nearly 60 business leaders from across the country, representing major companies that are mainstays of the economy.

Members of the network have already pledged their commitment to sustainable projects spanning nearly 1,000 projects and investments totaling Bt1.2 trillion. This is putting the SDGs into practice and having a tangible impact on people’s lives. More needs to be done.

Business leaders, at all levels of the organisation, can help to affect change in their own enterprises and in the wider community. As we raise awareness about the importance of the SDGs to Thailand and everyone in this society, leaders themselves need to be better informed about how to implement the goals and the barriers that still must be overcome.  

For leaders in the private sector to fulfill their social responsibility, they must not only steer their own enterprises, but also help to affect positive change for society as a whole, addressing both sustainability and equality to ensure that no one is left behind. In other words, we need more “change agents”, who are aware of the global challenges around themselves. With determination and partnerships, raising awareness among these change agents can contribute to the resilience that we need to face and overcome challenges even on the scale of this pandemic while continuing to move forward on progress towards the SDGs.

This year marks the year of action, set in unprecedented times due to Covid-19, the climate crisis and other challenges. There is just a single decade ahead of us to fulfill the promises of Agenda 2030. The time to act is now.

We cannot lose sight, however, that the pandemic is occurring in the context of other crises that are affecting our region and humanity as a whole. There remain, however, longer-lasting global threats pressing upon us all: social inequality and discrimination, the global threat of climate change and environmental degradation, and many economic and human security emergencies, to name just a few. They, in fact, have been wrought by our unbalanced lifestyles. Many of the problems that we now face are driven by human behaviour – which means, of course, that we can find solutions by changing behaviours, but there must be a sense of urgency in the current environment.

UN Thailand sees three crucial pillars to our response moving forward, both to address the pandemic and these other challenges. We must create strong partnerships with a shared responsibility to advance the SDGs and implement them on the ground. In the context of the pandemic, there is also an opportunity to build back better for a greener and more equitable “new normal”. Innovation will play a crucial role in building back better and greener: it goes beyond just technological innovation to include innovation of business models; methods of work; organisational behaviours; and even ways to upskill and reskill our employees. And lastly, this response must be inclusive, ensuring that no one is left behind as the country moves forward.

This response must be global, regional and at the national level, but it also must involve communities and civil society at every level as well. In Thailand and elsewhere, partnerships with the private sector is absolutely essential to ensure that collaboration and development are reaching every sector and community.

This year marks both the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and the 20th anniversary of the Global Compact. This is a remarkable opportunity for us together to unite and set out the pathway for Thailand to meet the SDGs.

Gita Sabharwal is UN Resident Coordinator in Thailand and Suphachai Chearavanont is the chairperson of the Global Compact Network Thailand

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