You’re A Leader, But Are You Leading?15 March, 2016 / Articles
Every day we hear about the rapidly changing and hyper-connected world. Never before have political, economic, social and cultural leaders been so inter-linked, creating impact across their spheres of traditional influence. However, in this highly globalised and digitised environment, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. As leaders in business, how do we best meet expectations that our business will also contribute to positive social impact?
Fortunately, last year provided a helpful framework in the form of the Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”) – a list of 17 goals that will truly transform our world and all goals that need business at the heart of the strategy to deliver.
In my own market, Nigeria, a range of issues need tackling: access to finance; unreliable and underdeveloped infrastructure; sprawling bureaucracy; shortage of skilled workers in key industries; security; and reliance on imports, to name a few. By creating sustainable business models that address any one of these issues, Nigerian companies can help reduce the economic and social fragmentation that, Lead Africa Economist at the World Bank Punam Chuhan-Pole recently noted at the FT African Infrastructure Financing and Development conference in London, intrinsically adds to the cost of doing business.
This approach is not just important in Nigeria, Africa or emerging markets. Global growth forecasts for 2016 were revised at the end of February by the International Monetary Fund, signalling belts are tightening in the G20 countries as well. The 17 goals and 169 targets of the SDGs offer the most advanced nations and their companies the same comprehensive toolkit to treat their own wounds. It will be by making use of the SDGs as a common language for progress that will allow the international community to measure development progress on the road to and after 2030.
So as a leader, where do you begin?
1) Start local. Consider the core issues that face your community.
To provide an example, Nigeria relies on the petroleum industry to keep its economy and government afloat. Fortunately, the national economic fabric is diversifying, but at present the dependence on oil remains. However, the oil industry still can add significant value to the economy if more of Nigeria’s petroleum is refined locally. One major barrier to increasing refining capacity is the lack of indigenous skilled labour. More Nigerians need to be trained and more knowledge must be transferred from the international companies operating in-country to local companies and workers.
2) Select the SDGs that address the issue(s).
Carrying the labour example forward, SDG 4 – Quality Education – is applicable to this issue because it sets out to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Additionally, target 4.4 within SDG 4 is a useful objective in which to structure a plan: “By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship”.
3) Determine how your business can use the relevant SDGs to influence these issues directly.
For the oil industry, setting up more training academies in and outside the urban centres through private and public sector collaboration in order to equip students with specialised skills like rig and pipeline repair or offshore vessel maintenance, for instance, is one solution. Reversing the brain drain will help alleviate poverty, create jobs, bring more of the diaspora home and allow Nigeria to profit more from its most valuable sector.
4) Involve your team in planning and execution.
Determine who in your company or in your industry can help you achieve your goal, whether skills academies or otherwise. Bring those individuals together to help formulate a sustainable strategy to deliver results. To execute, find your edge. Consider: first mover advantage; how to improve existing models; savings over time through long term investment etc.
5) Press ‘go’.
Get the word out to relevant stakeholders and target partners. Perhaps this involves hosting an event in order to engage with your peers and stakeholders or working with local media. Show them the cost-benefit of joining you.
- Assess impact and progress regularly.
As with any business development endeavour, operational strategy or corporate reshuffle, evaluate your progress, learn from your mistakes and tweak your approach as necessary. Furthermore, keep your ear to the ground. The pressure on companies worldwide to operate sustainably will only increase, making the business case for using the SDGs to build commercial models that align with international development targets that much more persuasive, so make sure you continue to assess and adapt accordingly.