Vison 2030: The role of the private sector in achieving the SDGs

In the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Report of 2019, the United Nations noted that while considerable progress is being made with respect to fulfilling the goals, the pace is slow when compared to the increasing effect of the pressing issues – poverty, education, health, climate change and others – being addressed. For example, the report stated that more than one-third of workers in sub-Saharan Africa still live on less than $1.90 a day. It also highlighted that despite steady progress being made in the fight against HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, the decrease in its incidence continues to fall short of the set target.
 
The SDGs, a set of targets designed to effectively address various social, cultural, and economic issues, as a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all", was launched in 2015, with an achievement timeline set at 2030. Now in its fifth year, the drive towards reviewing the implementation processes involved in achieving these goals is of top priority more than ever.  To put things into context, the United Nations’ International Labour Organization predicts 1.6 billion informal economy workers could suffer “massive damage” to their livelihoods. In the second quarter of 2020, COVID-19 may cost the equivalent of 305 million full-time jobs. Furthermore, financial inclusion has been a great challenge across the world, especially in Africa. Nigeria contributes significantly to figures on financial exclusion in Africa despite priding itself as the most populous country on the continent and by extension, an economic giant. With a population of over 190 million people, research shows that over 70 million adults representing 41.6% of the adult population in Nigeria are financially excluded.
 
Owing to the immense resources, manpower, expertise, and involvement required to sufficiently achieve these goals, the private sector is being singled out yet again as a key enabler of the kind of progress any State, particularly Nigeria, might seek to make with the Sustainable Development Goals.
 
As Access Bank’s Head, Sustainability, Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan opines on the role of the private sector in the global attainment of the SDG’s in an interview on CNBC Africa’s ‘Closing Bell’, “Achieving success in implementation requires a lot of financial investment. Research has indicated that the estimated cost of eradicating poverty globally is pegged at about $66 billion per year, while the annual investment required to improve infrastructure; that's [clean] water, power, transportation, and agriculture could total to about $7 trillion. That is a substantial amount, and the government alone cannot tackle the SDGs at the national level. Businesses and private institutions also have a key role to play."
 
With Nigeria having begun the process of tackling the major goal of poverty, the task of permanently ending poverty requires breaking down all Goals to fit our local context, which will enable the development of practical and implementable strategies to achieve them. Thus, the commitment of key players in the private sector to the achievement of the SDGs should inspire a chain of collaboration, increased investment, and dedication to rapid growth.
 
As a leading financial institution in Africa, Access Bank is one of the private entities already aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, having enshrined Sustainability into the fabric of all its business operations. In 2018, Access Bank, and twenty-seven other leading global banks spanning 5 continents committed to re-defining the purpose and business model of banks to align the sector with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement. The Global Principles for Responsible Banking which were developed by these banks was launched during the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 22, 2019. It was essentially designed to:
 
  • Direct banks’ efforts to align with society’s goals as expressed in the SDGs, the Paris Agreement, as well as national and regional frameworks
  • Set the global benchmark for sustainable banking
  • Drive ambition by requiring signatory banks to set goals for and report on their contribution to national and international social, environmental and economic targets
  • Ensure accountability and transparency on banks’ impacts
  • Challenge the banking industry to play a leading role in creating a more sustainable future.
 
Access Bank continues to maintain and prove its commitment to these guidelines through various programs and initiatives. The Bank adopts the triple bottom line approach in evaluating its performances as regards the creation of greater business value. Inherent in the Bank’s five-year strategy (2018 - 2022) is the sustainability transformation agenda, which rests on key levers to achieve an enlarged, efficient and digitally led tier-one financial institution. This is evident, among other areas, in: the automation of all Bank’s processes; a deliberate strategy for increased agency banking to reach unbanked/underserved segments; zero downsizing of employees; and an enhanced and restructured sustainability champions network.
 
Proving itself yet again as a leader in sustainable finance, Access Bank issued a 5-year Fixed Rate Senior Unsecured N15 billion Green Bond in 2019, which is the first-ever Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI) fully-certified corporate green bond in Africa. The Green Bond proceeds are used to finance eligible green projects, based on assessment of whether the funds are applied to eligible sectors, in line with CBI standards. Opening its offerings to international stakeholders, the Bank has since gone on to list its green bond on the Luxembourg Stock Exchange.
 
Putting in focus that Nigeria is still navigating an economically crippling pandemic, the path to achieving the SDGs is currently filled with several forms of systemic bottlenecks and other national threats such as terrorism and increased poverty levels. This development continues to cause a decline in the growth targeted by the United Nations but as experts have expressed, the situation can be steered towards change with increased participation and partnership from various actors from across the private and public sectors.
 
Victor-Laniyan also offers her thoughts on how this challenge is a prime opportunity for private entities to demonstrate radical innovation and strategic thinking in trying to play their part in achieving the SDGs.
 
"Issues around development offer opportunities for private sector organizations that are innovative. Challenges require solutions, and as the private sector, we could provide those solutions," she said.
 
“In line with our commitment to sustainable business practices, Access Bank has been at the helm of interventions to help address the pandemic in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. The intervention drive was distilled from the Bank’s corporate strategy which is hinged on Sustainability. As such, the Bank has taken the lead in addressing social issues such as; as malaria, maternal mortality, COVID-19 and poor education,” Victor-Laniyan concluded.
 
In Nigeria, Access Bank Plc is leading the biggest collaborative effort in recent times, involving more than 50 private sector corporates across the country, working with the federal government, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the World Health Organization towards the singular objective of not only fighting the pandemic, but also eliminating it from the country.
 
The partnership, under the umbrella of the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID), is said to be the brainchild of Herbert Wigwe, the managing director and chief executive officer of Access Bank Plc.
 
The initiative is a practical demonstration of how an idea can translate into an unprecedented mobilization of support across sectors for government’s efforts at preserving the lives of Nigerians in the face of a global threat.
 
As the target date for the achievement of the SDGs inches closer, it is becoming increasingly clear that businesses, organizations, and private bodies have a key role to play in generating and implementing solutions that will hasten the process of achieving them.