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Financing the SDGs - collaboration and partnerships are key

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

We are in the middle of a sustainability revolution, and an impact revolution in global investment [1]. So why are we struggling to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by 193 governments in 2015 and in fact backsliding [2]?

Globally, the finance for sustainable development is available. Gross world product and private sector finance is estimated to be over US$ 80 trillion (World Bank Databank, 2017). In 2019 the finance gap to achieve the SDGs was estimated between $2 trillion and $4 trillion per annum up to 2030.

The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals give us an agreed framework to set, measure and report on our economic, social, environmental journey to 2030. Globally though there is a problem, and the problem appears to be a lack of purpose-led leadership, collaboration, and ability to channel available finance towards projects and innovations which would help to achieve the SDG targets.

Back in April 2019, the UN Secretary-General, President of the General Assembly and President of the Economic and Social Council António Guterres, emphasised the importance of unlocking more and better-aligned private capital for SDG advancement. Yet it was clear in February 2021’s OECD Blended Finance Impact Week that inequities in the global finance system were meaning capital was still not reaching those most in need. [3]

However, the impact of COVID-19 on the world’s markets and value chains has shown us business as usual does not work anymore, and to survive we need to radically transform our relationship with the natural world and our business models.

While governments and the public sector will continue to play a key financing role, there is a much wider scope – and need - for the private sector and in particular SMEs to engage in and to help close the SDG funding gap.

Driven by intelligent financing, collaboration and knowledge sharing to develop innovative services and products, businesses of all sizes and structures could play a transformative role in solving the problems described in the 17 SDGs.

To close the gap, responsible leadership and regulatory reform at national and global levels is necessary. However mobilising investment into the SDG sectors while maximizing investment impact and minimizing the risks, does not need to wait for all the jigsaw pieces to be neatly fitted into place. Driving capital to where it is needed most; and addressing the issues in the finance system which drive inequalities is happening, but it needs to accelerate, and it needs to become mainstream.

The ambition and the challenges of achieving the SDGs by 2030 can seem both inspirational and overwhelming and the need to coalesce efforts has only been reinforced with the COVID-19 pandemic and backsliding on SDG achievements.

Thankfully, and in line with the calls from the UN and others to forge a multi-sectoral collaborative approach, we are seeing the emergence of a diverse set of actors, large and small, donors and investors, NGOs, social enterprises, SMEs and larger corporates, who are both required and inspired to play their part together.

However, several systemic issues remain around the embedding of SDGs, including understanding how they relate to localised priorities. There is a fundamental need to move beyond philanthropy, fund raising for a local or international charity, or an employee volunteer day, and to make purpose central to business models rather than a bolt-on initiative to pursue sustainability.

The SDGs are our collective yardstick for what needs to happen. But we need to have a common language that philanthropists, corporates, NGOs, SMEs, social enterprises, charities, and governments all understand.

SDG Changemakers was established to forge a bridge between the increased SDG fluency in large-scale private sector and institutional investment houses and the limited SDG awareness, fluency and impact tracking within SMEs (both for and not for profit) within developed and developing countries.

As SMEs make up 95% of the private sector business and economic activity in both developed and developing countries, they are critical partners in achieving the Goals, whether an African SME start-up in Africa, an infrastructure SME in the Netherlands, an Indian community organisation, a Latin American social enterprise or a B Corp SME in New Zealand. All are naturally designing and delivering impact consistent with the SDGs as a core part of their work, but often need access to finance or investment to bring their sustainably focused, innovative ideas to fruition.

The OECD estimates that in some emerging economics, including the informal sector, SMEs can contribute up to 90% of the GDP, and as drivers of innovation are major contributors to SDGs if provided with access to capital and global value chains. [4]

Supporting SMEs to understand the SDG framework, to align themselves with it, and to ensure that the strategic decisions they take in their work are informed by this ready-made north-star of sustainability and impact, is key for SDG Changemakers.

“We need to support those who are delivering impact to use SDG-aligned impact tracking as much as those providing the resources. We then need to activate and empower those delivering that impact to make it visible to donors and investors who say they are in search of the ‘deals’,” says Felicity Jones, Co-Founder of SDG Changemakers.

The scale of that market and the coalescence around SDG-alignment for investment makes this is a critical connection point for proactive purpose-focuser organisations across sectors. The latest GIIN Annual Investor Survey conservatively estimates the value of impact investment assets at over USD 715 billion, up over USD 200 billion from the previous year [5]. Taking a broader focus on the rise of ESG assets, this is projected to rise to USD 53 trillion, a THIRD of global assets under management. [6]

The further up the spectrum, the stronger the core focus is on intentionality and this is becoming increasingly mainstream – to intend to do good rather than simply minimise harm. This creates new openings for organisations driven by purpose who can illustrate their impact and who have a vision and roadmap to drive change.

Felicity continues, “In our work supporting (mostly African) NGOs and SMEs through our social enterprise arm, we realised that while we were advising clients to become fluent in SDGs to monitor their impact, few were routinely doing this and there were also a deeper set of issues (including digital literacy) but also opportunities.”

SDG Changemakers is adept at spotting opportunities. One client, a UK micro-charity, Beyond FGM and their linked Kenyan community organisation and social enterprise typifies the example. A small grassroots organisation, they could not invest in fundraising or communications, nor were they really tracking impact using the SDGs. In a nut shell they were invisible to donors, investors and resource partners. However, they have a scalable model of community engagement, demonstrable need and are exactly the sort of organisation donors and partners say they want to invest in. By applying SDG monitoring, and expressing the value of their work clearly using these metrics, the organisation is now more visible to those impact investment partners whose missions align.

For SDG Changemakers focusing on SDG 17 Partnerships to Achieve the Goals is crucial to unlock the impasse of resource flow between global players and the critical SMEs and community-led organisations on the ground.

As friend to SDG Changemakers, Professor Steve Kempster says, “business has the very real potential to use its assets (or capitals) to enhance, communities, society, and humanity. It just needs leadership commitment and some ideas to move that commitment into action.”

To learn more about what SDG Changemakers do and how we support organisations like yours, get in touch.


[1] Sir Ronald Cohen - Impact: Reshaping Capitalism to Drive Real Change (2020)

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