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Highlights from SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals at RBF Singapore 2016

OpenGov was at the Responsible Business Forum for Sustainable Development (RBF) held on 23 and 24 November 2016 in Singapore and attended a few workshops based on the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to be achieved by the year 2030. SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals emphasise building on existing initiatives to develop measurements of progress on sustainable development that complement GDP, and support statistical capacity-building in developing countries.

The workshop panel (above photo, from left) consisted of: 

Mr. Mark Devadason, Senior Advisor, BSR (panel moderator)           
Mr. Jake Layes, Global Director, Entrepreneur Impact, Autodesk           
Mr. Anthony Hehir, Director Nutrition Improvement Program, Human Nutrition and Health, DSM           
Mr. Shinobu Yamaguchi, Deputy Director, Global Issues Cooperation, International Cooperation Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan   
Ms. Jenny Costelloe, Director, Country Partnerships, Grow Asia

Mr. Devadason started the session by commenting that that there is a much greater sense that engagement by governments, for both rich and poor nations, civil society and the private sector is critical in achieving SDG 17. He cited David Galipeau’s quote: “Change will not happen without partnerships but partnerships will have to change.”  

Mr. Layes from Autodesk spoke about how his organisation is supporting the next generation of innovators through working with government agencies, industry associations, incubators and accelerators across various regions in the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific.This is done through providing relevant software, training and pro-bono activities.          

Explaining that DSM is a life materials science company, Mr. Hehir said that the specific work under his team is addressing micronutrient deficiencies in developing countries, that nutrition is a big part in unlocking human potential. As a B2B company, Mr. Hehir mentioned that they cannot do anything without partnerships and it begins with their customers through developing products. Working in partnership with DSM to deliver on the SDGs is not “nice to have” but an absolute necessity. At the same time, partnerships are not easy, not always simple and it is important to learn from failures, not just successes. Mr. Hehir prompted the floor to think about the changes required to achieve real impact through partnerships.

Coming from the government perspective, Mr. Yamaguchi from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan talked about how the Japanese government is looking at how to foster or encourage public-private partnerships and the challenges that they are facing, in particular when it comes to the SDGs. Specifically, Mr. Yamaguchi shared about how the Japanese government can encourage Public Private Activated Partnerships (PPAP). What has been done since the adoption of the SDGs and hosting the G7 Summit in May 2016 was that the Japanese government has established a headquarters for the promotion of SDGs, an inter-ministerial body to engage in and implement the SDGs. 

Mr. Yamaguchi (above) said that SDGs cannot be achieved by the government alone so a volunteer group was formed which consisted of various representatives/stakeholders including business, civil society, cooperatives and trade unions. Extensive discussions were done and public opinion was gathered from specially-created websites. On the ground, the government’s pension fund, which is the biggest cooperative equity investor in the market, signed up the UN principle for responsible investment and is also focusing on ESG (Environment, Social and Government) investment as one of the top priority portfolios. He hopes that this move encourages local and foreign companies to be more ESG oriented.

Commenting that while bigger companies may have the resources to engage in the SDGs, Mr. Yamaguchi said that the challenge was how to encourage SMEs to engage in the SDGs, particularly with their involvement in developing countries. In order to mobilise Japanese SMEs in their engagement of SDG-related activities, a start up fund was created by the Japanese government for the testing of technologies and carrying out of experiments in the hope of reducing the risks of entering new business and to promote their SDG engagement.

Ms. Costelloe began by explaining that just from listening to other panelists, her organisation differs from them by being a platform for partnerships, not partners themselves. SDG 17 is also different from other SDGs in that it is a mechanism in helping to achieve other SDGs. Grow Asia exists to bring together stakeholders in agriculture to effect systemic change, trying to ‘de-jargonise’ that and getting businesses, governments, NGOs, farmers, academia and all kinds of stakeholders to work together to ensure that food distribution is appropriate and done sustainably.

Her challenge for every sector is to think about partnership behaviour and how to partner effectively, since SDG 17 does not address that specifically. Grow Asia has partnerships with 5 countries in the region- Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar and over 260 different partners from private sector and government. The approach is to prioritise food crops in those 5 countries and building partnerships among different stakeholders to effect change.

Responding on the question posed on the characteristics of successful partnerships by the moderator, Ms. Costelloe felt that businesses do not have all the answers, and it is easy to assume they have all the resources and know what to do. There is some humility required from the business perspective in asking for help from governments and NGOs. Businesses could also improve their behaviour by trusting other partners more and recognising that NGOs can advice. NGOs could be less cynical and start to engage with businesses at face value, see how to build on existing initiatives.

Last and not least, governments have a huge role to play in creating an enabling environment, listening to the needs of different sectors and to help them be better at what they do, which could be something as simple as enforcing regulation on the appropriate use of agro-chemicals, for instance. It could also be having consultation with the private sector to discuss policies, such as how the Minister of Agriculture of Myanmar asked Grow Asia to bring the private sector to them to advise them on what good policy would look like.             

Read about our coverage of SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure at RBF 2016 here

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